OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Category Archives: Help for Small Businesses

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!

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.

 

Rural Justice: it’s not just for people!

Nonprofit corporations suffer from legal problems, too!

We’ve learned that rural justice isn’t just for veterans, seniors, and kids.Expert attorneys provided advice.

I know, it’s kind-of our constant refrain here at OneJustice. We’re pretty much always going on about rural justice and the urban/rural divide. We can’t help it! We care a lot about the legal needs of rural Californians – and we are all about addressing the fact that nonprofits providing civil legal aid in rural areas have less funding, less access to volunteer attorneys, and larger geographic regions to cover.

So you’ve heard us talk before about veterans, children with disabilities, seniors, and families living in rural and isolated areas of the state. Reaching those folks is the whole point of our statewide Rural Justice Initiative, including the Justice Bus Project.

And yet, we never really thought about the legal needs of the rural nonprofit organizations serving those same isolated communities. Until yesterday.

Volunteers working with a nonprofit client.Our staff had the amazing experience this week of working with volunteer attorneys from Hewlett-Packard Company and Morgan Lewis & Bockius to put together the first-ever Rural Justice Clinic for Nonprofits. Yesterday a terrific group of attorneys from HP and Morgan Lewis – together with the entire national class of Morgan Lewis summer associates, from all of the firm’s offices, came together for a high-octane free legal clinic for nonprofits serving the North Bay counties.

In just 3 hours, the volunteers assisted 12 nonprofits – walking them through a comprehensive legal “audit” (like a health check-up on their legal needs) – and then providing individualized advice. It was beyond awesome. The volunteers brought incredible understanding and expertise to help these nonprofits, whose missions range from cultivating healthy families to providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence to ensuring affordable housing for persons with development disabilities.

And here is our big takeaway from yesterday: rural justice isn’t just for individuals. It is also for nonprofit organizations – and in these isolated communities, the local network of nonprofits  serves as an essential safety net of services and assistance to the same individuals that the OneJustice network reaches through the Rural Justice Initiative.

It was pretty much an eye-opener for us. And we’re already working up the idea of replicating this clinic in other rural areas.  More to come, both in our Rural Justice Initiative and on this blog!

So, a most heartfelt “thank you” to the attorneys at Hewlett-Packard Company and Morgan Lewis, both for providing all the volunteers to make yesterday’s clinic possible, but even more importantly for opening our eyes to the need for this kind of rural justice.

Small Business Owner Saved from Bankruptcy After Violent Robbery

Held at gunpoint and robbed, Maya found pro bono counsel to face the creditors who demanded that she repay what was stolen from her.

In this season of giving, you can give the gift of justice to others like Maya – donate now online or download a printable donation form.

OneJustice supports a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses that work together to remove legal barriers to basic life necessities for over 270,000 Californians each year.  For thousands of Californians, the attorneys who volunteer with this network make all the difference to clients facing overwhelming legal problems. A donation to OneJustice supports this entire network – spreading the gift of justice throughout the state.

In this guest blog, we are proud to highlight the pro bono work of just one of those wonderful volunteer attorneys – our very own Advisory Board member Mark Conrad.

Guest Blog by OneJustice Advisory Board member Mark Conrad

Mark Conrad provided pro bono legal representation to a small business owner and foster mom after she experienced a violent robbery.

In a violent robbery that lasted less than two minutes, Maya* lost more than $50,000.  Unfortunately for Maya, the money was not hers to lose.  She was taking the money to the bank to deposit, as she did every night after closing up her small storefront, where she offered wire-transfer services.  The money belonged to her customers, and it was supposed to get wired to their loved ones—to friends and family in places like Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.  Now it was gone.  Maya called the police immediately and filed a report, but the gunman was never found.

Days later, three financial institutions were knocking on her door, demanding that she repay the stolen money.  The banks had wired the money to the intended recipients, and now they were turning to Maya to pay them back.  That was how the contract worked, they explained.  Maya was uninsured, on the brink of insolvency, and desperate.

Fortunately, a safety net of pro bono legal counsel came to her rescue.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area,  a nonprofit in OneJustice’s statewide network, referred Maya’s case to a network of lawyers at downtown San Francisco law firms, and my former firm agreed to take the case as a pro bono (or volunteer) matter.

We helped Maya quickly negotiate a repayment plan with two of the companies making claims against her.  These repayment plans took into account Maya’s modest income, so even though she did not have a lot of cash to spare, she was able to save, little by little, and make her monthly payments.  She met her obligations under these plans, all while supporting a foster child, with only the modest income she earned selling jewelry and cell phone cases at her store.

For many low-income clients like Maya, justice is only made possible by the tireless efforts of volunteer attorneys.

For many low-income clients like Maya, justice is only made possible by the tireless efforts of volunteer attorneys.

The third company, however, referred Maya’s case to a collection agency, which sent letters threatening legal action.  Maya’s livelihood was put at risk by these threats.  Only after litigation ensued did it come to light that the third claim was owned by an affiliate of one of the initial two companies that had previously settled their claims against Maya.  As a result, we learned, this third claimant had already released its claim against Maya and was seeking an additional windfall recovery.  We went to court, arguing that Maya’s debt had already been discharged.  The suit was dropped shortly after we filed our papers.

Maya’s case did not make headlines; it did not set any legal precedent.  As a matter of dollars and cents, it is among the smallest matters I ever handled in private practice.  But I can think of no other case in which I had a larger influence on the final outcome. 

Without the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and without the commitment of my former firm to provide pro bono services, Maya would have been on her own.  She would have had difficulty negotiating a fair deal with her creditors.  It likely would have been impossible for her to get the documents she needed to discover the basis for her defenses in the debt collection action.  A motion for summary judgment would have been unthinkable for someone like her, an immigrant with no familiarity with the legal system and little English.  In short, without the pro bono safety net, Maya could have lost her business and her ability to support herself and her foster daughter.

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

This is why I work with OneJustice.  More than any other organization I know, OneJustice strengthens the pro bono safety net that improves the lives and protects the livelihoods of people like Maya.  It supports the legal services providers who are on the front lines working with clients like her.  It is building bridges to the firms that have resources to seek discovery and file summary judgment motions on their behalf.  Its lofty goal is to meet the legal needs of all low-income Californians, yet it pursues this goal with its feet planted firmly on the ground, meeting with legislators, scrutinizing balance sheets, and crunching census data to ensure that more people like Maya find the help they need.

 * Names changed for the sake of confidentiality.

What do small businesses need to thrive?

Are you surprised to hear that low-income business owners and entrepreneurs get help from nonprofit legal organizations?

Today is Small Business Saturday, a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for our communities, designed as a complement to Black Friday, Cyber Small Business SaturdayMonday, and the new Giving Tuesday.  Today the U.S. Small Business Administration urges all of us to shop at small, locally-owned businesses to support our neighbors and strengthen our local economy.

Small businesses have a powerful impact on our communities and larger society. OneJustice supports using our consumer power to support small, local businesses – which are frequently a road out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency for low-income entrepreneurs and small business owners. (For more about entrepreneurship as a poverty alieviation strategy, read here.)

Just like large multi-national corporations, who access legal advice and representation by large law firms, small business owners and micro-entreprenuers often face pressing legal problems.  For small businesses, a legal problem can be the difference between thriving and failure – but they usually cannot afford law firm billing rates.  The free legal help provided to low-income small businesses and micro-entrepreneurs by organizations in the OneJustice network –  like Public Law Center, Public Counsel, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, Volunteer Legal Services Program (legal help for non-profits), and others – can make all the difference.

The 2011 California Civil Justice Crisis Hearings — which were staffed by OneJustice — documented that businesses rely on a fully-funded civil court system – and small businesses and entrepreneurs need the help of nonprofit legal organizations.  The Hearings Report found that:

“Small businesses, which often do not have the resources to pay for an attorney, depend on courts and the assistance of legal services to protect their interests and enforce their rights when they become subject to a wrongful increase in taxes or involved in a lawsuit.”

Small Business Owner Nina Jun testifies.

Nina Jun, small business owner, testifies about the important legal help she received from the Public Law Center and the pro bono firm Crowell & Moring, during the California Civil Justice Crisis Hearings.

A wonderful example is the testimony provided by Nina Jun, the owner of a small laundry business in Santa Ana.  We were inspired to hear Nina’s testimony about how Public Law Center and pro bono attorneys from the firm of Crowell & Moring helped her fight the wrongful increase of her taxes by approximately $4,000.  You can hear Nina’s testimony first-hand in the video above.

Nina reported that – “For a small business like mine, an increase of this amount in tax is big . . . It was not only a monetary victory, but it was a triumph [of] spirit and the pride of . . . small businesses, who are looking for justice.”

Infographic showing the power of small businesses

The Power of Small Businesses – they contribute positively to their local communities and create new jobs!

So, SHOP SMALL AND LOCAL today on Small Business Saturday.  Our community small businesses need all of us – consumers and nonprofit legal organizations – to help them survive and thrive in today’s complex and competitive business sector.  And not only will you be supporting the local economy – you might just be supporting someone’s path out of poverty to self-sufficiency.

WE WANT TO KNOW – what is your favorite local, small business that you can support today?  Share in the comments here or on our facebook page or LinkedIn page!  (You can also find maps of small businesses in your area participating in Small Business Saturday here.)

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