Monday, May 20, 2013

Why Are Alaska Village Cases Challenging?

     I am in the process of finishing a case for a client from Wainwright, Alaska.  I also currently have cases involving accidents in Newtok, Kasiglok, and Kwigillingok.   Each of these communities are Alaska Native communities not accessible by the road system with small populations.    Even straightforward cases involving bush communities are challenging.  Here are a few of the reasons why. 

   Because the clients and witnesses live far away, in-person meetings are few and difficult to schedule.  There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings to discuss the legal and factual issues of a case.  If a client does not understand his case, locating witnesses, supporting evidence and making settlement decisions is more challenging. 

   The alternative to face-to face meetings is using the phone.  However, phone service to the smaller communities is not always reliable.  It is not uncommon to have to try several times before a connection is made.  If the person is not home, you may have no knowledge as to when he will be home. 

   In this day, people often maintain contact and send documents by e-mail.  However, internet service in the smaller communities operates either through phone lines or satellites and is slow. It is not uncommon for village residents to rely on community computers to check email which raises confidentiality issues.

   The last resort is always mail.  But mail delivery takes a week and can be to a General Delivery address which again raises issues of confidentiality.  If the mail requests a phone call or e-mail response, the concerns raised about these issues are raised again. 

   One is always reminded that the residents of small communities do not live the 8 to 5 existence.  Instead, they lead a subsistence life style which means that they can be gone to fish camp or may be hunting and fishing at night.  They "make hay when the sun shines" at different times than we do. 

   Trial becomes another challenge.  Just as it is challenging to communicate with clients, it is more challenging to locate and communicate with witnesses who do not have a direct interest in the case.  When trial comes, one also has to recognize the logistics of bringing the clients and witnesses to trial, including housing while in trial. Finally, one has to be careful with the costs which in the end are paid by the client. 

   The challenge is there but it can be met.  One just has to remember to play one's card hand smartly.  See