OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Tag Archives: justice gap

Paving a path for a just life

OneJustice’s newly appointed Board Chair Jennifer Chaloemtiarana tells us about her work in providing a helping hand to fellow Californians. 

This week, we’re honored to introduce you to our recently appointed Chair of our Board of Directors, Jennifer Chaloemtiarana! She currently leads the legal function of Castlight Health as its General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, and has served on our Board of Directors for over 5 years. Thanks to our Board’s guidance, the OneJustice network is able to continue bringing help, hope, and justice to Californians in need.

We asked Jennifer to share with us a little bit about her new role and why equal access to justice is so important to her. Please join us in welcoming Jennifer!


IMAGE:Jennifer Chaloemtiarana, OneJustice Board of Directors Chair.

Jennifer Chaloemtiarana, OneJustice Board of Directors Chair.

Welcome, Jennifer! Tell us about how you became involved with OneJustice? What is your role as the new Board Chair?

I have always been involved in social service in some manner, including full time summer jobs in nonprofits serving low-income individuals all throughout college and then significant levels of volunteering as I entered the workforce. As a lawyer, I kept this connection through active pro bono work supported by the law firm I worked for. When I went in-house, pro bono work became harder to incorporate into my work life. I had become familiar with the work that OneJustice does through colleagues and friends, and the approach and business model of the organization really appealed to me. I attended several Opening Doors to Justice events before engaging with Julia Wilson, the CEO, about coming onto the Board. It was just the right fit at just the right time.

I have been so pleased to be on the Board with so many smart, motivated people. I just completed a term as a member of the Governance & Nominating Committee and then moved into the Board Chair role. At a high level, my role as chair is two-fold. One function is to lead the Board in making sure that the organization’s actions are in line with its mission and that the organization is appropriately managing the assets to which it is entrusted. Secondly, my role is to provide resources and assistance to management. Are there tools, skills, or knowledge that they might need that the Board can provide? How can the Board be an extension of staff in promoting the goals of the organization? There are a lot of sub-parts to each of those primary functions, and fortunately, OneJustice has a very engaged Board and skilled staff that make the work seem easy.

Thank you for all of your hard work and support, Jennifer! We look forward to working with you as our Board Chair! Can you now tell us why you support OneJustice? 

The level of unmet need for legal resources and access to justice in the state of California is overwhelming. There is only 1 lawyer for every 351 low-income persons in the state, and only 100 legal aid organizations in California. There is just no way for all of the needed legal services to be provided. OneJustice does so many things to fill in those gaps, including linking law firms and law students to legal aid organizations which expands their reach without stretching their limited resources, providing training and tools so that the organizations can do more with less, and serving as a center for innovation and ideas to move the entire legal aid industry forward to do more, better, and faster. The unique set of strategic services that OneJustice provides really appeals to me as a business lawyer. And the “prize” is really worth going for: if we could level out the playing field for the 8 million low-income individuals in California, think about how the quality of life for our entire state would be lifted!

We couldn’t agree more! Every individual should have access to legal help. Finally, what does justice mean to you? Why is equal access to justice so important? 

One of my favorite quotes comes from Cornel West: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” We have all experienced it, that moment where we put aside our own troubles, challenges, and prejudices and reached out to another person, whether friend or stranger, offering our hand for no other reason than simply being available when help was needed. To me, justice is what happens in that moment, when we recognize that we are all equally worthy of a chance to simply live a satisfied life. Legal barriers can be especially daunting and can compound other challenges that low-income individuals may be facing. Lawyers are uniquely equipped to help remove those barriers; we can pave that path to a satisfied life. It is our honor, opportunity, and responsibility to provide a helping hand to fellow Californians.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us, Jennifer! We can’t wait to see how you lead our Board and organization!

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.

 

85 trips and counting…

Our very own Justice Bus Program Coordinator, Ruby Kimberly, tells us about bringing vital legal assistance to Hollister.

In her time at OneJustice, Ruby has coordinated 85 Justice Bus trips around the state! These trips are made possible by our amazing volunteers, partner organizations, corporations, and firms, who join forces to bring life-changing legal help to communities all over the state. As a valuable member of our Pro Bono Justice program, we asked Ruby to share a trip that resonated with her the most during her time at OneJustice.


Guest Blogger: Ruby Kimberly, OneJustice Justice Bus Program Coordinator

[Photo: Hollister-CA]

Photo credit: Realty World

I had been an employee of OneJustice for less than eight months when I boarded a bus to Hollister in July 2014. Before this trip, I had already attended over 20 Justice Bus trips bringing free legal services to nearly 600 low-income individuals throughout the state. Since joining the Pro Bono Justice team as the Justice Bus Program Associate the previous October, I had traveled to and helped organize free legal clinics in communities as far flung and geographically diverse as the Klamath, just south of the Oregon border, to Pixley, a census designated place at the far end of California’s drought-ridden Central Valley. And while each mile traveled proved as critical as the next, I felt something special on this particular day as we made our way down the 101, through Santa Clara County and into the sparsely populated San Benito Valley. This was the first time that the Justice Bus had ever traveled to Hollister, but it would not be the last.

The story of Hollister for me is one of a justice gap and how to fill it. For those who have never heard it, “justice gap” is a term used to describe the discrepancy between the concentration of legal resources in urban areas versus the concentration of low-income and particularly vulnerable populations in rural ones. For example, where as in San Francisco there is one attorney for every six low-income individuals, San Benito County has just one attorney for every 120 low-income individuals. Bridging gaps such as this is the entire raison d’etre for the Justice Bus Project, and it is a goal which requires the effort of a diverse group of stakeholders, usually located in multiple different regions, as well as dexterity and mobility (hence the bus!). And, never had it been more evident to me how well suited the Justice Bus Project is for this seemingly insurmountable task than in the case of Hollister.

[Photo: Lowenstein Sandler LLP attorney volunteers assist a client with citizenship matters at the July 2014 clinic.]

Lowenstein Sandler LLP attorney volunteers assist a client with citizenship matters at the July 2014 clinic.

Our journey to Hollister had begun several months earlier when we received a call from a teacher at the local community college. He heard about a Justice Bus clinic we were holding in a neighboring town to assist Green Card holders with their applications for citizenship and wanted to sign some of his students up. Despite the dearth of resources in San Benito County, we would not be able to serve his students, because funding restrictions on this particular clinic limited appointments to locals only.

But the thing I love most about the Justice Bus Project is that where there’s a will, there’s usually a way, and -– after piecing together four different partners from four different counties -– a way we found! Now just over a year later, we’ve held two immigration-focused clinics there, delivering free services to 42 individuals and helping to build a permanent network dedicated to serving the Hollister community.

We continue to receive phone calls from organizations across the County inquiring about our services and how they can help, and together, we’re watching as day-by-day this gap slowly shrinks.

“I am so thankful for this event because much of the time I don’t have the resources necessary to take care of things like [my immigration paperwork]. For me, it is very important to vote but I couldn’t for lack of money to apply for citizenship. Thank you for coming to our community and changing this.” – Client from Hollister clinic


Ruby KimberlyAs the Justice Bus Program Coordinator in the Pro Bono Justice Program, Ruby Kimberly coordinates Justice Bus trips in Northern and Southern California, mobilizing attorney and law school student volunteers to bring life-changing legal help to isolated communities in the state.

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