A mom caring for her child with cancer.
She launched my path to public interest work.
“What drew you to public interest work?”
For Cheryl, it all started with one caller to the Cancer Legal Resource Center.
I have been asked this question more times than I can count since graduating from law school. I used to never have one answer to this question. My litany of responses has included: I want to help others who lack access to legal services. I want to do my part to close the “justice gap.” I want to be able to do something that matters.
More recently, when I am I asked this question I think to myself, “why wouldn’t I be interested in public interest work?” However, that internal response would have never come to me that naturally when I started law school.
I will be honest that when I started law school, I did not know where my legal career would take me. Before law school, I worked at a major movie studio and then for the City of Los Angeles. Two places where I had very little exposure to the law and definitely had no exposure to public interest other than knowing that there were legal non-profits out there, but I definitely could not give you their names.
So where did it all begin?
During the summer after my 1L year, I had the opportunity to extern at the Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC) of the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles. It was there where I started learning more about pro bono and the public interest world. I worked primarily on the CLRC Intake line, where day in and day out I talked to people who had been impacted by cancer, either being diagnosed themselves or family members and even friends of those with cancer.
It was one caller in particular that really helped me understand the impact of the CLRC and the work I was doing. A mother called distraught because her employer was not allowing her to take time off from work to care for her child who had cancer. As I had done with many other callers, I spoke with the supervising attorney about her situation, and then I provided her with information and additional resources that would allow her to advocate for herself to her employer. However, unlike any other caller before, she got a little choked-up, and I could hear the huge sense of relief in her voice knowing that there was a way for her to be able to care for her child.
Now Cheryl runs the Justice Bus Project bringing legal services to isolated communities, such as this recent successful expungement clinic in Watsonville.
My experience at the CLRC is what motivated me to continue to seek other opportunities in public interest. Furthermore, I think the real reason I work in public interest is because of the people I meet and the stories they tell. This is what has kept me coming back.
That is also what drew me to work with OneJustice, running the Justice Bus Project in Southern California. It is an opportunity to work on a project where the work is always “moving” (no pun intended) and changing. In the short time I have been at OneJustice, I have worked with the Justice Bus team and partners to provide free legal services to seniors, families, veterans, and youth eligible for new federal immigration programs. I’ve met people from all walks of life and have visited towns and cities in Southern California I had never been to or even heard of. Each trip, there are new people to help with their own stories to tell.
So I guess when I am asked, “what drew you to public interest work?” It really boils down to one simple answer, “the people.”
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Our guest author, Cheryl Banares, is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow and member of the national Equal Justice Works Veterans Legal Corps. She joined OneJustice in the fall of 2013 and runs the Justice Bus Project in Southern California, bringing life-changing legal assistance to low-income Californians in rural and isolated communities.