OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Category Archives: Help for Low-Income Children & Youth

You did something very special…

Last week, the OneJustice Network came together and brought help, hope, and justice to Californians in need — and we couldn’t be more grateful!

Through the generosity of donors like you, along with law firms, corporations, and our nonprofit partners, we raised over $286,000 to bring mobile legal clinics to four high priority counties: Butte, Solano, Tulare, and San Joaquin.

On behalf of the OneJustice staff, Board of Directors, Advisory Board, and most importantly, the individuals who will receive vital legal help because of your support, thank you!

In case you weren’t able to attend, below are some photos from the inspiring evening, and be sure to visit our Facebook page for the full album!

You can also click here to watch the videos we made for Honorees Suk and Chris and the Fund-A-Need Challenge.

Thank you again for bringing help, hope, and justice to vulnerable communities. We look forward to keeping you informed about the impact your generosity will make!

With appreciation,

The OneJustice Team

P.S. Didn’t get a chance to bid on any items at the event? There are still a few items up for grabs during our fire sale, which will run through July 6 at midnight! Click here to bid now!

IMAGE: Photos from Opening Doors to Justice event.

Bridging the justice gap with technology

Rural Immigrant Connect launches its first pilot case.

Over the past few years, the number of human beings fleeing horrifying violence in parts of Central America and Mexico for the U.S. has escalated dramatically. In 2014, the number of women crossing the U.S. border multiplied by more than three times compared to 2013, while the number of separated or unaccompanied children reached over 66,000 in 2014, up from an average of 6,775 children in the years 2003-2011. This stream of refugees fleeing Central America and Mexico has not ceased, and many arrive in California on a daily basis.

IMAGE: Image explaining to clients how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

Image explaining to clients how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

Unfortunately, arriving in the U.S. is only half the battle — not only do immigrants face constant worries about family left behind, but many are placed into deportation proceedings in immigration court, where even very young children are not guaranteed a lawyer. It’s even worse for immigrants who reside in California’s Central Valley, a region with few legal organizations offering services within its vast geographic expanse.

The need for innovative models to connect pro bono attorneys with immigrant clients in rural California has never been greater. Through a generous Equal Justice Works fellowship sponsored by the law firm Fenwick & West LLP, OneJustice recently launched the project Rural Immigrant Connect, putting technology to creative use by connecting pro bono attorneys in the Bay Area with immigrant clients in need in the Central Valley.

Rural Immigrant Connect addresses the dearth of legal representation for low-income immigrants in the Central Valley by tapping the resources of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, home to law firms and corporations that can provide an incredible amount of resources to serve Central Valley clients. To bridge the geographic gap, the project uses videoconferencing for the majority of communication between pro bono attorneys and clients, following an initial in-person meeting. In addition, OneJustice places laptops at community organizations in the Central Valley to provide clients with easy access and in-person technology support.

Thanks to the wonderful work of Fenwick & West LLP attorneys Vikram Iyengar and Rajendra Panwar with support from Partner Lynn Pasahow and the mentorship of Director and Immigration Attorney Emily Abraham of Social Justice Collaborative, Rural Immigrant Connect took on its first pilot case this spring — leading the way for the marriage of pro bono and technology to bridge the justice gap for immigrant communities throughout the Central Valley.

UPDATED_Rural Immigrant Connect Pro Bono Attorneys_061316_SMH

Rural Immigrant Connect is more than simply a means through which we can connect more Central American and Mexican refugees in the Central Valley with vital pro bono legal representation. This innovative project also provides us with a means of gathering data regarding the efficacy of videoconferencing to demonstrate a model that can be replicable throughout the U.S. A project like this can bridge the often daunting urban-rural divide separating many rural low-income communities from access to affordable legal services.

Rural Immigrant Connect is at its core a collaborative project that has only been made possible through incredible partnerships with legal services organizations Social Justice Collaborative and Centro Legal de la Raza; community organizations El Concilio and Centro La Familia; the law firm Fenwick & West LLP; and national organization Equal Justice Works. Thanks to the dedication of pro bono volunteers like Vikram and Rajendra, partnerships like those mentioned above, and the collaboration of the OneJustice network, we can work together to bring help, hope, and justice to individuals escaping the violence that continues to plague our neighbors in parts of Mexico and in regions of Central America.

IMAGE: Image explaining to pro bono attorneys how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

Image explaining to pro bono attorneys how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

To view the full infographic presented above, please click here.


Renee_Grid PicRenée Schomp is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Fenwick & West LLP and Staff Attorney at OneJustice. She currently spearheads the Rural Immigrant Connect project in California’s Central Valley.

She hears their calls…

Welcome to our new Pro Bono Justice Program Associate, Lyla Bugara!

We’re super excited to introduce you to the newest member of our team! Lyla will be working with the Pro Bono Justice Program, which fosters volunteerism in the legal profession and builds innovative, private/nonprofit collaborations that deliver free legal services to vulnerable communities. So to get to know her better, we sat down with Lyla this week and asked her a few questions!

Please join us in welcoming her to the OneJustice network!


Photo: Lyla Bugara, the new Pro Bono Justice Program Associate in the San Francisco office.

Meet Lyla Bugara, the new Pro Bono Justice Program Associate in the San Francisco office.

Thank you for joining us today, Lyla! Tell us what drew you to the work of OneJustice?

I was extremely excited by the opportunity to work at OneJustice because of the organization’s commitment to systemic and transformative change. OneJustice is a unique nonprofit in that it takes a bird’s-eye view of the legal aid system in California and works to develop innovative solutions to the many problems that plague our state’s justice system. Millions of people live their lives every day without access to legal resources just because of where they live, how much money they make, where they were born, what language they speak, the color of their skin, and their gender identity. It’s wildly unjust, and the time for change was yesterday! The good news is that we are living in historic times. Thousands of Black and brown people across the country are rising up to say “enough!” to systemic racism and oppression. I hear their calls. And OneJustice’s work plays such an important part in the fight for equal justice, economic justice, and racial justice. I am honored to work here.

We’re honored to have you on the team! What will you be doing in your role at OneJustice?

As the Pro Bono Justice Program Associate, I will be responsible for managing the Justice Bus Project in Northern California and clinic coordination for the Rural Justice Collaborative. Both of these programs provide essential legal services to people living in rural areas who might otherwise never be served. I hope to ensure these projects best serve the needs of oppressed and marginalized Californians, while transforming the legal aid system in California.

We look forward to hearing about this work in the near future! What were you up to before coming to OneJustice? 

In 2011, I worked at the Correctional Association of New York advocating for an end to the incarceration of domestic violence survivors. From 2012-2016, I worked at ColorOfChange, the country’s largest online civil rights organization, as Criminal Justice Campaign Manager where I managed campaigns relating to ending for-profit prisons and anti-Black police violence.

It sounds like really rewarding work! And final question, tell us something about you that is not work-related!

I was born and raised Macrobiotic — a Japanese diet based on the power of whole foods to heal and nourish the body. From ages 10-13, I went to “Macro Camp” every summer. 🙂

Thank you so much for your time, Lyla! We’re happy to welcome you to the OneJustice team!

It’s never too late for a fresh start…

Over 100 individuals receive free legal help in Los Angeles!

IMAGE: Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

On Saturday, March 19, 2016, OneJustice, in partnership with Jenesse Center Legal Advisory CommitteeAlternate Public Defender, Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Californians for Safety and JusticeICE out of LAIMPACT LA, the John M. Langston Bar Association, Legal Aid Foundation of Los AngelesLos Angeles Public DefenderNeighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, A New Way of Life Reentry ProjectOne LA I.A.F., and other Los Angeles-based community organizations helped give Angelenos a Fresh Start.

At the newly created Fresh Start Legal Clinic, South LA residents completed applications for the Traffic Ticket Amnesty program, which allows individuals with unpaid fines on traffic and non-traffic infraction tickets to get a reduction of up to 80% of the amount owed to the court or collections agency. Clients also filled out applications for Proposition 47, a program that changes low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors.

Having a suspended driver’s license or felony criminal record can be a barrier to employment that keeps individuals and families trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. Without the ability to work and earn a living, families are forced to make difficult decisions about housing, transportation, and other life necessities. Traffic Ticket Amnesty and Proposition 47 programs can help end this cycle. Both programs are crucial to bettering individuals’ lives. Participants in these time-limited programs are able to improve their employment prospects, regain driver’s licenses, remove immigration barriers, and reduce old debts all through a brief application and short post-clinic process.

IMAGE: Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys hard at work at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys hard at work at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

At the clinic, about 70 volunteers helped over 100 South Los Angeles community members with Proposition 47 reclassification and Traffic Ticket Amnesty. Volunteer attorneys helped clients with the support of community organizations. Thanks to the Fresh Start Legal Clinic, South LA residents face fewer barriers to success in their futures.

“[The clinic was] extremely helpful and it helps people to achieve what they always wanted to do,” said one client.

Thank you to our wonderful partners, supporters, and volunteers for making this clinic a reality!

For more information about Proposition 47, please visit http://myprop47.org/.

To learn more about Traffic Ticket Amnesty, please visit http://www.backontheroadca.org/.

Justice Bus Rider Spotlight: Kyuli Oh

Electronic Arts Inc.’s Associate General Counsel tells us about her experience aboard the Justice Bus.

Before we start, we just want to thank all our volunteers from Electronic Arts Inc. and Covington & Burling LLP for bringing life-changing legal assistance to 18 clients in Modesto this past November! Because of their hard work, these clients are more informed about their immigration options and many are ready to submit their applications! Volunteers like these really make all the difference for Californians in need.

Now, please welcome this month’s featured Justice Bus Rider, Kyuli Oh!


Photo: Kyuli Oh, Associate General Counsel at Electronic Arts Inc.

Kyuli Oh, Associate General Counsel at Electronic Arts Inc.

Welcome, Kyuli! Tell us about yourself. What type of law do you practice and why are immigration issues like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) important to you?

I’m the Associate General Counsel at Electronic Arts Inc. with responsibility over all corporate matters, including securities, M&A, and corporate governance. I’ve got 2 young boys (ages 5 and 2), who keep me busy. I came to the US when I was 4 years old and became a naturalized citizen, so I identify with the immigrants that we help on the Justice Bus.  I was lucky to have had legal status and to become a naturalized citizen.

Thank you so much for giving us a sneak peek into your life! Why does pro bono matter to you and what motivates you to do pro bono work?

Living and working in Silicon Valley, there’s so much wealth around you. It’s easy to lose perspective. Doing pro bono work helps me realize that my problems do not compare to those truly struggling – people worried about deportation, unemployment, having enough money to pay rent and buy groceries.

Photo: Kyuli and EA and Fenwick & West LLP attorneys at the Justice Bus clinic in Greenfield, CA.

Kyuli and EA and Fenwick & West LLP attorneys at the Justice Bus clinic in Greenfield, CA.

We couldn’t agree more! Pro bono really makes the difference for low-income individuals everyday. Why do you participate in the Justice Bus model of pro bono?

They make it so easy for you – you get on the bus; they provide breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner; they train you; they provide expert advisors to answer all your questions and review your work; and it’s a one-day commitment. There are no excuses not to do this!

We’re happy to hear the process was so easy for you! During your time at the Justice Bus Clinic, which client story resonated with you the most?

My first client was a berry picker in the Salinas Valley. I helped him with his naturalization application and his fee waiver request since the $680 fee was a true hardship for him and his family. He had 2 young kids, who were close in age to my 2 boys. I remember speaking to him about his income and his assets and I was stunned. It was really humbling to think about how hard it must be for his family to live at that level and why it was so important that we helped him that day.

It’s amazing how being a parent can be the shared common experience among people of different backgrounds! Final question, who is your favorite social justice hero and why?

Oprah – my mom learned English watching the Oprah show. Oprah was the first African American person she “knew”. Later in her life, my mom branched out of her Korean community and became involved in a racially diverse church and became very close friends with an African American woman from church.  I think Oprah had that impact on so many women and I think that opened the door for more acceptance.


Thank you for joining us, Kyuli! This work is possible thanks to volunteers, like you!

I could see happiness in their eyes

Healthy Nonprofits Program’s Christopher McConkey tells us about the civil justice shortfall and the need for free legal assistance.

We asked our Staff Attorney Christopher McConkey to give us his insight on why it’s necessary for organizations and programs in the legal sector to transform the civil legal aid delivery system.


Guest Blogger: Christopher McConkey, OneJustice Staff Attorney for the Healthy Nonprofits Program

[Photo: Huffington Post]

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

There is a phenomenon in our society where people who are less able to afford legal help are often the people who need it the most. These low-income individuals struggle every day to find the legal assistance they need to preserve basic life necessities like housing, health care, economic security, and child custody.

This is not a minor phenomenon. Over 60 million people in the United States might qualify for free civil legal services because they live at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. However, people are less likely to access these services due to limited resources, mental health issues, and inexperience with our legal system.

Worsening this crisis, insufficient funding prevents many legal aid programs from serving 50% or more of the people who actively seek their help, leaving attorneys to address less than 20% of lower-income people’s legal needs.1 All of these shortfalls ultimately leave low-income individuals without critical legal assistance.

The Civil Justice Shortfall

The civil justice shortage is especially acute in California. As a legal aid attorney right after law school, I encountered hundreds of people slowly moving from one legal services project to another with the same issues. The recurring problem was program capacity. Staff attorneys reached full caseloads, projects offered fewer services to help more people, and funders carved programs to reflect their priorities. Even waves of talented and eager volunteers could expand an organization’s capacity only superficially, and only to a point.

I recall a monthly legal clinic I helped coordinate in Los Angeles. This clinic aimed to reduce an overwhelming and countywide need for immigration legal aid. The immigration attorneys who volunteered–I was not one of them–helped numerous lower-income Angelenos to understand and pursue their legal options. Limited capacity, however, left some clients on the waitlist for months. Those who persevered accessed expert immigration services for free. Those who dropped off the waitlist continued the long search for assistance or, worse, gave up.

For the clients who received assistance, legal help gave them their safety, jobs, family cohesion, dignity, and peace of mind; I could see happiness in their eyes. To me, this clinic exemplifies why finally eliminating the justice gap is worth our collective effort, resources, and ingenuity.

Transforming the Legal Services Sector through Innovation

As with all solvable problems, we should be optimistic! Our resourceful and morally ambitious society can overcome this justice shortfall. More funding is necessary, but for now, we can and should innovate additional ways to expand legal services for people who are lower-income.

[Photo: Legal Services Nonprofit leaders discussing trainings.]

Legal Services Nonprofit leaders discussing trainings.

OneJustice is already strengthening California’s legal services infrastructure to provide greater access to the legal system. In the Healthy Nonprofits Program (“HNP”), we are supplying nonprofit management consulting, legal technical support, and public policy advocacy to legal services organizations throughout the state.

Additionally, we help connect hundreds of public-interest-minded law students to nonprofit and government employers every year. We are invigorating legal nonprofits while enhancing the environment in which they operate—all so we can transform the legal services sector.

Individual attorneys will close the justice gap one client at a time. Several factors can coalesce to make that possible: additional funding, robust nonprofit management, public policies that value legal services organizations, and the gumption to innovate strategies that will solve one of the most stubborn justice crises of our time.

1 For more information about this civil justice gap, please see the Legal Services Corporation’s report titled Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans


Chris_CROPPED

As a Staff Attorney in the Healthy Nonprofits Program, Chris helps guide legal services organizations on matters of nonprofit law and management. He also advocates for public policies that foster the growth of legal nonprofits and–through them–meaningful access to justice for all Californians. In this way, his work bolsters California’s infrastructure for civil legal assistance at the organizational and systemic levels. As part of his role, Chris provides legal support for OneJustice’s consulting and policy work. Additionally, he provides policy briefings and advocacy for OneJustice’s statewide community of legal services organizations.

 

The longest hug ever

It’s simple.  We feel.  We’re human.  And we can.

A personal reflection on the power of pro bono

OneJustice’s very own Lauren Roberts and Renée Schomp recently handled on a pro bono case with Pangea Legal Services that resulted in an eleven-year-old boy winning asylum and a shot at finally just being a kid. We asked Renée and Lauren to share their reflections in this guest blog post.

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One young kid.  Two attorneys.  One life changed, forever.

Guest Blog Post by Lauren Roberts, Staff Attorney, & Renée Schomp, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Lauren & Renee with client & Family

Renee Schomp, Ivan & his mother, and Lauren Roberts on the steps of City Hall after Ivan provided public comments before the Board of Supervisors

A young woman recently gave us the longest hugs we’ve ever received. Her 11 year-old son, whom we’ll call Ivan*, was our pro bono client.  He had just been granted asylum.   She was hugging us because we had just found out that Ivan would no longer have to fear being returned to El Salvador.  He was no longer facing a forced return to an uncertain future in a once-safe community now transformed by gang-enforced terror. Instead, he could—for the first time in his life—have a simple shot at just being a kid.  And so believe us, we were hugging back!

We both became lawyers because we wanted to use our skills to “do good.” And while we spend our careers at OneJustice striving to do just that, there are still certain cases and clients who stand out — cases that really hit us hard. Ivan’s case is one of them.

Ivan was just a young child, fleeing terrible violence in his community

This summer saw a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied minors and families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.  In 2014 alone, over 40,000 unaccompanied children have made the treacherous journey to seek safety and a more stable life in the U.S.  This “surge” triggered significant changes in the process through which unaccompanied minors (technically termed Unaccompanied Alien Children or “UAC”) are moved through the immigration system.  Special court dockets, commonly referred to as “rocket dockets” because of their expedited nature, were created to handle the surge. And immigration legal services organizations, already under-resourced, saw a sharp increase in demand for services.

Something about Ivan’s simple yet powerful words—his ability to tap into how he felt in an unvarnished way that so many adults cannot—struck us deeply

There is no right to counsel in immigration proceedings.  So an Attorney of the Day program, staffed by volunteers and immigration attorneys from local legal aid organizations, ensures that children and parents have some representation and screening for relief on the day of their hearing.  However, they are still left with the task of finding long-term representation.  This is where the great need for pro bono attorneys comes in.  With this backdrop, we decided it was time for us to step up and take on a pro bono case ourselves.

Ivan’s case was placed in the “rocket docket” for kids

Ivan

Ivan in City Hall after telling his story before the Board of Supervisors

In 2013, Ivan crossed the border unaccompanied and was thus deemed a UAC.  This allowed him to apply for asylum “affirmatively” through the Asylum Office rather than go to immigration court.  Also, although he is not technically part of the unaccompanied minor surge, due to his UAC status and because his case was filed amidst the “surge crisis,” his asylum application was placed in the so-called “rocket docket” — as we quickly learned!

We met Ivan for the first time in August and from the beginning, his story struck us to the core, even though he often spoke in one-word replies. Something about Ivan’s simple yet powerful words—his ability to tap into how he felt in an unvarnished way that so many adults cannot—struck us deeply. So did the incredible, visceral relief that poured over his face, tears in his eyes, when he received asylum.

In the pro bono programs we run at OneJustice, we always tell volunteers that they don’t need specialized expertise in order to take on pro bono work — they just need to be able to connect with other people in a genuine way. Representing Ivan reinforced that belief for us. Neither of us had ever done an asylum case before — so when we decided to, we reached out to our colleagues at the fantastic San Francisco-based organization Pangea Legal Services. Within a week, we were meeting with them to go over intake notes from their initial consultation with Ivan. And within two weeks, we were sitting down to meet with Ivan and his parents for the very first time.

We met frequently with Ivan and his parents over the course of the next two months to complete his asylum application form and later his declaration and supporting evidence for the case, including letters from his therapist, teacher, family members in El Salvador, and his father — and extensive State Department and other news and academic reports on El Salvador’s horrific country conditions.

It’s simple: We feel. We’re human. And we can.

As first-timers working on an asylum case, we were impressed not only by Pangea’s mentorship but also by the willingness on the part of the Bay Area immigration legal community to help us out with our case. For example, attorneys at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies revised our declaration at a moment’s notice — while attorneys over at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights walked us through our fear of calling USCIS for procedural calls about the case. All of this support from top-notch legal services nonprofits made it possible for us to take on an asylum case for a child under an expedited immigration processing system — and win.

Taking of Ivan’s case was a career turning point for both of us – his case expanded our expertise, but more importantly taught us a lot about what it means to be a an advocate and the power of being a pro bono attorney, using your legal skills to give back. In the moment that Ivan’s mother hugged us, we knew that anyone who could be there—witness her pure, exhausted, overwhelmed relief—would understand why we took on a pro bono asylum case for her child. It’s simple: We feel. We’re human. And we can.

And there are more kids like Ivan . . . they need us all to act!

The face of immigration policy is shifting as we write.  With recent immigration action by President Obama, millions of undocumented people could be eligible for deferred action.  And, the rocket docket continues.  There’s a continual need for pro bono attorneys to step up and help increase access to free legal help.   This need exists with respect to the many unaccompanied minors and families still being moved swiftly through the immigration courts, and at limited scope clinics to assist individuals with deferred action applications.

So we strongly encourage attorneys around the state to volunteer!  An amazing network of legal aid nonprofits offer pro bono opportunities ranging from a three-hour clinic to full representation of a kid like Ivan.  The benefits to the clients are breath-taking, and the personal satisfaction of being involved is tremendous.  And there are lots more kids like Ivan who need our help – so you, too, could be on the receiving end of the longest hug of your life!

For more information on how to get involved with OneJustice’s immigration clinics through the Justice Bus Project and Bay Area Rural Justice Collaborative, visit www.one-justice.org.

* Client’s name changed for confidentiality.

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Renee SchompLauren Roberts Renée Schomp is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow and leads Justice Bus trips throughout Northern California, bringing teams of volunteers to serve rural communities.  Lauren Roberts manages the Bay Area Rural Justice Collaborative at OneJustice, engaging law firms and in-house counsel in a network of monthly mobile legal clinics.  Together, they bring life-changing legal assistance to hundreds of rural Californians facing pressing legal problems.

 

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!

7 fun facts about the farthest we’ve gone

They boarded the bus this morning

And will travel 706 miles before they return

In our March Justice contest, we asked you all to guess the number of miles a group of law student volunteers will travel over the course of the two-day Justice Bus Trip to bring free legal help to persons with disabilities in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

The correct answer?  706 miles

Students from Pacific McGeorge School of Law boarded the Justice Bus this morning.

Students from Pacific McGeorge School of Law boarded the Justice Bus this morning.

And we are delighted to report that Karen Dwyer-Meadow won our March contest, with her closest guess of 728 miles.  Congratulations Karen!

And yep, you heard that right.

These amazing law students from Pacific McGeorge School of Law will spend their spring break traveling a total of 706 miles in their quest to bring life-changing legal help to residents of Humboldt and Del Norte counties.  Today they were at a Yurok Tribe building in Eureka (Humboldt County) providing free legal assistance on special education issues to nine families of children with disabilities.  Tomorrow morning they will get up and travel to Klamath (Del Norte County) and set up a free legal clinic for children and adults with disabilities – and then travel home to Sacramento.

We are also delighted to bring you 7 fun facts about these counties, which represent the farthest that Justice Bus have ever traveled!

  1. Number of prior Justice Bus Trips to these counties: 1 prior trip (in January of this year)
  2. Total hours of service that each student will perform during the trip: 8 hours (13 if you also count the hours they will spend in training on the areas of law)
  3. Percent of population living below the poverty level in Del Norte County: 21.5%  (compared to 15.3% for the state as a whole)
  4. Percent of population living below the poverty level in Humboldt County: 19.7
  5. Number of incorporated cities in Del Norte County: only 1 (Crescent City, with a total population of 7,394)
  6. Number of Justice Bus trips McGeorge students have gone on: 15 trips (This trip is the law school’s 16th!)
  7. Final Interesting Fact: Humboldt County contains eight Indian reservations within its borders. Only four other counties in the United States contain a greater number. And in fact, the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation (located in Del Norte County) is the largest in the state of California.
This family was all smiles after receiving help at the Justice Bus special education clinic today in Humboldt County.

This family was all smiles after receiving help at the Justice Bus special education clinic today in Humboldt County.

Thank you to Pacific McGeorge School of Law and their amazing law students who are willing to travel serious distance to make a difference for those in need.

Thank you all to all the amazing partners on this trip!  Huge thanks to Legal Services of Northern California and Disability Rights California for providing the expert supervising attorneys and the trainings for the law students.  Thank you to Chief Judge Abby Abinanti and all the amazing staff at the Yurok Tribal Court and the Yurok Tribe for their incredible partnership.

And a heartfelt thank you to the California Endowment and a group of generous donors for making this trip possible.  You are creating the change we all hope to see in the world.  Thank you!

The hope that now embodied her was beautiful

Volunteers bring hope to those suffering from legal problems throughout our state.

Jennifer shares her story of volunteering to bring immigration assistance to her community in Humboldt.

Jennifer Alejo is a student at Humboldt State University and a Justice Bus Project volunteer

Jennifer Alejo is a student at Humboldt State University and a Justice Bus Project volunteer

Jennifer Alejo was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Currently she is attending Humboldt State University pursuing a double major in Political Science and International Studies with a minor in Communications. Jennifer enjoys advocating for immigration rights and works every day to dismantle systems of oppression.  She is also a co-founder of Finding Resources and Empowerment through Education (FREE), the on-the-ground partner for a recent Justice Bus Trip to Humboldt County. When she’s not busy with school, work, and organizing Jennifer enjoys spending time with family and friends. We are honored that Jennifer allowed us to interview her for this guest blog post, one of our series during National Volunteer Month.

Jennifer, why did you volunteer with the Justice Bus trip to bring services to Humboldt County?  

I love volunteering to be able to help those who are not represented. While I currently live in Humboldt County, I grew up in Los Angeles County, and my family is still there. Living in Humboldt County has been really different not only because of the environment but because unlike Los Angeles, Humboldt County has no resources for underrepresented communities. My community in Humboldt really needs access to legal assistance,  particularly for immigration services now that there is the new immigration relief program for youth who came to the US as children (“DACA” or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”) However, for people living in Humboldt, the closest immigration attorney is 300 miles away. People already have trouble paying for a lawyer, now imagine paying for traveling and lodging on top of that. It was impossible for my community members to fix their immigration status in this situation.

So, during my last visit to Los Angeles over the holidays, I made it my mission to look for resources for my community in Humboldt. I called different non-profits, sent out emails, looked for networks on facebook – basically I did anything possible to see if I could find at least one organization to help bring immigration services into Humboldt County. The problem was that the organizations that I could find,  don’t have enough funding to bring their services all the way to Humboldt. I refused to let this discourage me, and I am really glad I didn’t because someone mentioned that I should look into a project called Justice Bus.

Students from University School of Law traveled over 300 miles to Humboldt County, where they partners with Jennifer and FREE to deliver two days of free legal clinics.

Students from University School of Law traveled with the Justice Bus Project over 300 miles to Humboldt, where they partnered with Jennifer and FREE to deliver two days of free legal clinics.

The name itself already was interesting, and so I quickly contacted OneJustice and told them about Humboldt County’s situation. I remember being really worried about the money. I explained that I was a student and that I had no money, but that I would be more than willing to look for donors, I was relieved when Lauren, a Legal Fellow at OneJustice, told me that no money was needed.

The type of work that the Justice Bus Project provides for isolated rural areas is so important in so many different levels. It reminds people that there are amazing individuals out there who still care about them.  It not only acknowledges them as humans, but acknowledges their struggle. We live in a time where humanity is not always seen and knowing that there is a group of future attorneys and attorneys out there who truly aspire to be advocates for human rights is empowering and inspirational. As I worked closely with the OneJustice staff to plan the Justice Bus trip,  it reminded me that there are people who are willing to use their knowledge to help those in need and expect nothing in return. It inspired me to maybe even pursue a law degree and maybe one day be part of the Justice Bus and be the one helping families.

What motivated you personally to volunteer during the clinics in Humboldt?

People often ask me why I do the work I do, and I ask why not? It is my job as a citizen of this world to help those who are silenced, and as someone who holds privileges myself, it is important to be able to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. When I see people who have been silenced, I think of my family and the barriers that they have overcome thanks to non-profit organizations in Los Angeles. I might not be able to eliminate the systems of oppression that my community members go through, but I can provide the tools they need to empower themselves and those around them.

What was the experience like during the days of the clinic?

USF Humboldt Justice Bus

Law student volunteers from University of San Francisco School of Law join OneJustice staff on the Justice Bus trip.

Busy! We were all running around everywhere trying to get organized. There were people waiting at the hall for their appointments, we were waiting for our Spanish interpreters to arrive, and just as everything would calm down, then  more people came for appointments and more interpreters were needed.  My phone didn’t stop ringing, as folks who needed directions were calling me, folks who were curious about the confidentiality level wanted to know more about the Justice Bus, and more.

Overall, the experience was fantastic! I don’t think there are words that could express how happy I was when people were coming in and out after receiving legal advice. A lot of my community members live in fear that their undocumented status will come to light with terrible consequences. Being able to see them willing to talk to attorneys was the first step many of them took to come out as undocumented.  I was really proud of all my community members who took the risk to discuss their status.

Was there one particularly meaningful moment for you over the two days?

There were so many meaningful moments, but in particular there was one of a youth. She came to find me after she was done with her appointment, and she told me how happy she was that she was able to get advice on her case.  She told me that suddenly she felt really strong and that the future wasn’t as cloudy as she thought. That’s exactly the feeling I wanted her to feel. I wanted her to be able to know that as a scholar she would be able to succeed in her education. What made the moment perfect was the big smile in her face, and the hope I could see in her eyes that she would have the proper documentation to be able to apply for a job. There was something about that moment that gave me so much strength to continue the work that I am doing. It wasn’t the thank you, nor the big hug, but the hope I could feel now embodied her—it was beautiful.

What would you say to lawyers and law students living in more urban areas who are considering volunteering for a Justice Bus trip

Please please volunteer – you don’t know how much this means to misrepresented communities who don’t have someone to speak out for them or at least explain their case in a legal sense. Families feel so empowered after receiving this advice.  It gives them strength to continue with their life regardless of what barriers are thrown at them.  And even though at times some of the advice given is not positive, it is still important to them to know what their status is and what to expect from the future. To any lawyers or law students who are thinking about volunteering, please now that there are so many people who are need your help – and you can use your skills and knowledge to be the change in someone’s life! I can assure you that after volunteering with the Justice Bus  Project you will want to do it again, because the work is so important and so rewarding.  Thank you!

Jennifer, from all of us at OneJustice, thank YOU for volunteering and for creating real change in the world.

Thank you to Jennifer and all the amazing volunteers from FREE and USF School of Law!

Thank you to Jennifer and all the amazing volunteers from FREE and USF School of Law!


 

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