OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

A pro bono pioneer in Silicon Valley

Create an inaugural Pro Bono Coordinator position?

All kinds of amazing things happen!

OneJustice supports a statewide network of nonprofits, law schools, law firms, and businesses that provide life-changing legal help to hundreds of thousands of Californians facing legal barriers to basic necessities.  You – like everyone in our network – are an essential part of this collective effort!

This month we’re excited to feature another example of how “It Takes a Network” to achieve access to justice for Californians in need. We’re so proud that Allison Barnum, the first ever Pro Bono Coordinator at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley,  is a member of the OneJustice network and a frequent partner on new pro bono projects.  We were able to connect with Allison for a quick Q&A about the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and her work to support and expand its Pro Bono Program.

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Headshot of Allison Barnum

Allison Barnum is the first ever Pro Bono Coordinator at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley

Allison, could you tell us a bit about the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and your role as Pro Bono Coordinator?

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, is the largest provider of free legal services in Silicon Valley. Our mission is to advance the rights of under-represented individuals and families in our diverse community through legal services, strategic advocacy, and educational outreach. The Law Foundation is comprised of five programs in addition to our Pro Bono Program: Fair Housing Law Project, Health Legal Services, Legal Advocates for Children & Youth, Mental Health Advocacy Project and Public Interest Law Firm. The Law Foundation specializes in housing law, health and public benefits, mental health and disability law, dependency, education, guardianship and family law. In 2013, the Law Foundation’s 43 attorneys, 30 support staff and many, many pro bono volunteers served over 8,000 low-income and underrepresented individuals in Silicon Valley.

The Law Foundation has a long history of providing much-needed legal services to our community’s most vulnerable populations. Since its inception, the Law Foundation has partnered with pro bono attorneys throughout the Bay Area to help achieve its mission. In 2011, the Law Foundation created a pro bono coordinator position, a realization of our long-time goal of significantly expanding our pro bono program. After spending six years as an attorney with the Legal Advocates for Children & Youth program, I took on the challenge of further developing the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Program as our first hired pro bono coordinator.

The last two years have been extremely busy and we have accomplished a ton! We launched six new pro bono projects, including our School Discipline Legal Assistance Project, the Loan Modification Scam Redress Project, the Nonprofit Legal Assistance Project, and the Volunteer Eviction Assistance Collaborative. We have also partnered with OneJustice and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo) to launch the Rural Justice Collaborative and are working with Skadden Arps on a ground-breaking educational outreach project to local high schools entitled, “Know Your Rights & Know the Law: Sexual and Social Media Misconduct.” These pro bono programs are in addition to our long-standing Guardianship Representation Project and impact litigation co-counsel opportunities.

And how does your position at the Law Foundation intersect with OneJustice’s work?

Though I had heard of OneJustice prior to assuming my role as pro bono coordinator, I admit I knew little about the organization. My first true exposure was the OneJustice Pro Bono Managers group. After the first meeting, I knew that OneJustice was not only an incredible resource for me as a new pro bono coordinator, but also to the larger legal services community. I immediately felt as though the Law Foundation had found a soul-mate organization – one that shared our values of providing high-quality legal services to all members of society. For the last two years, I have participated in OneJustice Pro Bono Manager meetings, attended OneJustice Pro Bono conferences and summits, and most significantly, partnered with OneJustice and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo) to develop and launch the Rural Justice Collaborative, an effort to provide legal services to those in rural communities that have extremely limited access to legal assistance.

Tell us about a recent “win” in pro bono at the Law Foundation.

Nikki Dossman and Allison Barnum standing together

Nikki Dossman received an award from her firm, Lowenstein Sandler, for her pro bono work with the Law Foundation.

As I mentioned, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is composed of five individual programs, one of which is Legal Advocates for Children & Youth (LACY).  LACY refers cases to volunteer attorneys through several different projects, including the School Discipline Legal Assistance Project launched in 2012.  Through our school discipline project, LACY has connected over a dozen students in Silicon Valley with pro bono attorneys who help to ensure that students’ educational rights are adequately protected.

We have had many successes through the School Discipline Legal Assistance Project.  However, I would say the biggest “win” is finding a pro bono attorney at a supportive firm who is committed to taking on multiple cases and developing his or her own expertise, which increases our organization’s capacity to serve even more students facing expulsion.  In the case of our school discipline project, Nikki Dossman from Lowenstein Sandler LLP is our “win.”  She has taken three school discipline cases through LACY in the last year.  In each case, she has achieved remarkable results – a suspended expulsion after an evidentiary hearing in a case with very difficult facts, and two wins on appeal!  She is a tremendous resource to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley as well as the larger community.  A true partnership is the best “win” in the eyes of a legal services pro bono manager!

What aspect of your participation in the OneJustice network is the most exciting to you right now?

Well, as you know, the Law Foundation worked very closely with OneJustice on the development and implementation of the Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC). The goals of the collaborative were completely aligned with several of the Law Foundation’s strategic objectives including better meeting the needs of individuals and families living in South Santa Clara County (Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy) and engaging the larger legal community to increase access to legal services within our region. Consequently, partnering with OneJustice on this project was an obvious fit.

Allison Barnum with Rachel Burns of Latham & Watkins.

Allison with Rachel Burns of Latham & Watkins, a repeat volunteer at the Gilroy Rural Justice Clinic on housing.

The collaboration has been remarkable – from design to development and implementation, the Rural Justice Collaborative has been an example of true best practices in leveraging pro bono support to serve an unmet legal need. Though the collaborative has already been very successful, the partnering organizations are committed to on-going evaluation and improvement in order to provide the highest quality legal services to as many individuals and families as possible. This includes examining the possibility of incorporating technology in order to increase the number of clients we are able to serve. When committed and capable legal services organizations and pro bono volunteers form true partnerships, the possibilities seem endless – I look forward to our continued collaboration in this endeavor and am excited to see just how big of an impact we can have on providing access to justice to folks in rural communities.

Thanks so much, Allison, for chatting with us, for your important role in the OneJustice network, and for your terrific work at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley!

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