April 15, 2012
Nate Treadwell (’09) had a client who was severely mentally ill and couldn’t write checks or mail them. She consequently fell behind on her rent and was on the verge of losing her home. In one of his first big cases, Treadwell successfully defended her against that eviction.
Most of Treadwell’s clients come to him because they need support resolving landlord/tenant issues or because they’ve encountered problems receiving their public assistance benefits. He credits the Economic Justice Project (EJP) with leading him to where he is today. “EJP wound up selling me on the virtue of doing poverty work,” he said.
As a staff attorney at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Treadwell takes a holistic approach with his clients. “In EJP, we did work with an eye toward structural change and with a great amount of respect for what clients can do. It’s very different from the Band-Aid approach to benefits work, where you’re keeping someone afloat without helping them change their material circumstances for the better,” he said. “It gave me an approach to client counseling that really acknowledges clients’ strengths and abilities.”
Fighting for people’s rights is something that has always been a passion for Treadwell. Before law school, he was involved in the labor movement working at unions.
“I found I was a lousy organizer,” said Treadwell. “But I wanted to do social justice work, and I enjoyed arguing. So I decided to go to law school.”
Treadwell recalled a lecture he heard in college from Dean Spade, former Haywood Burns Chair at CUNY Law. “He said something like, ‘Don’t go to law school if you want to do social justice work—unless you go to CUNY.’”
Getting clinic experience was Treadwell’s top priority once he arrived at CUNY Law. “I heard great things about the supervision in EJP, and some EJP alums told me I would get a lot of client and hearing experience,” he said. “They were very enthusiastic about the project.”
Treadwell remembers his EJP experience fondly. “It was a hightension environment, but it generated a real sense of camaraderie. We grew a lot as advocates through that interaction,” he said.
Most of his clients were young mothers, trying to support their families while going to school. “When I was going to school, I had the full support of my family. My clients were doing it without much support and were raising a child at the same time. They were really impressive,” he said.
He reflected that the fair hearings that determine whether someone will continue receiving his or her benefits are often treated as if they’re not important. “But EJP refused to do that,” Treadwell said. “Our supervisors emphasized that we needed to work with clients. That was one of the major things I took away from EJP. Clients have a lot of knowledge we can draw on to help protect their rights.”