My name is Liz Rowe, and I am a housing and landlord-tenant attorney—I have handled all manner of landlord-tenant cases continuously and almost exclusively for 14 years.
I am not a Delaware native, but I moved here in 2006 and am proud to call Delaware my home. In 2006, my husband and I were at a cross-roads. I had just finished law school and he was looking to pursue a master’s degree in Applied Mathematics. He applied to many schools in the greater Philadelphia area, including the University of Delaware. By the time he made this decision to be a Blue Hen, it was too late for me to sit for the Delaware Bar exam, but it wasn’t too late to sit for New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So, in July of 2006, I became a Delaware resident and shortly thereafter, I was admitted to practice law in both NJ and PA.
For as long as I had thought about going to law school, I had also longed to be an immigration attorney because I am an immigrant. My parents emigrated from Portugal in 1984 when I was just 9 years old. I started at an under-resourced school in the fourth grade, and I learned English by immersion. Although I was only a child, I vividly recall some of the challenges that my parents and I faced as we tried to assimilate into American life and culture. I thought I would be well-equipped to assist clients who were facing some of the same challenges.
That summer, I found a job as an immigration associate attorney at the law firm of Rapposelli & Gonzales, in Wilmington. I worked for Vivian Rapposelli (now: The Honorable Vivian Medinilla) and the other principal of the firm, Peter Gonzales. During my tenure there, just about every case that I accepted for legal representation wound up being handled by the firm on a reduced fee or pro-bono basis. My preference of rooting for the underdog was reflected in the types of cases that I accepted for legal representation, and it became obvious to my employer that I was interested in making a difference and not just making a living. Vivian, being a perceptive mentor, suggested that I consider a career in non-profit—knowing I was committed to doing good, and working with clients whose life experiences reflected my own. Not long after we had this conversation, I applied for a staff attorney position at Legal Services Corporation of Delaware, Inc. I sat for the Delaware Bar in 2008 and was admitted in 2009; I am currently licensed to practice law in 4 states, but I am happy to be working in my home state, in non-profit law, helping those who need it most.
One of the challenges I currently face in this work is assuring our clients that they are not helpless in the face of the judicial system. Our clients often express feeling that it is not worth their time to speak with an attorney because they believe their case has no merit; however, our involvement is often the edge that our clients need. This pervasive hopelessness is often an obstacle to a client getting the assistance they need.
I represented a gentleman who had inherited a fair amount of money, but he was on a fixed income of Social Security Disability. He decided to buy a piece of land and a brand-new mobile home to place on it— a lovely place to spend the rest of his days. Shortly after the mobile home was installed, it became clear to him that it had major defects. The client tried to rectify these issues with the manufacturer, but his efforts were not enough. Eventually, he filed suit against the manufacturer, the installer, and the retailer of the mobile home. His case was almost immediately dismissed. The client was at his wits end and angry, with no belief that he could find any semblance of relief. We got involved, and we filed an amended complaint as our first order of business, to get his case back on track. We advised him to obtain an estimate for all the repairs. The manufacturer, after consulting with its attorneys, decided that litigating the case would probably be costly and the outcome uncertain. So, they settled with the client and gave him a check for over $22K. It was enough to cover all the repairs. I can say with confidence that without counsel, he would never have received a settlement adequate to meet his needs. It’s not every day that we can get somebody $22,000; and it would have been arduous, painful, and nearly impossible to find this relief on his own.
Every day, the attorneys at LSCD, CLASI and DVLS are able to gain the trust of clients who feel their cases are not winnable, who feel their situation is hopeless, who are vulnerable and sometimes, really angry. Through our advocacy we are often able to make a difference beyond just “winning their case.” We all know that winning cases is important, but when you are able to make a difference in the life of a person who is in an untenable and stressful situation, then we have truly achieved our mission.
Sometimes, our efforts involve zealous advocacy short of litigation. I had a case in which I represented an elderly client who applied for a credit card and in a very short time, used about
$7K of credit for multiple car repairs. She didn’t own a car, and it appeared that her family members were exploiting her sense of generosity by asking her to cover their car repairs. She wasn’t able to pay the credit card bill and the creditor sued her. She was terrified of being incarcerated (debtor’s prison) and anxious about the prospect of going to court. She was embarrassed. She was on a fixed income and had serious health issues, so I submitted a hardship request to the creditor – and it was approved. The creditor dismissed its claim against my client, and she did not need to go to court; this didn’t even entail entering my appearance in the case, but it was more effective; we were able to resolve her situation with a well-worded letter and supporting documents.
We specialize in helping clients in dire situations. My colleagues at LSCD, DVLS and CLASI are some of the smartest, most zealous, and dedicated attorneys that I’ve come across. They often go above and beyond to help our clients. I’m proud to be in their ranks, and I hope that you find it in yourself to root for the underdog, too.
Elizabeth Rowe, Esq.
Legal Services Corporation of Delaware, Inc.