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Tag Archives: legal services

Wouldn’t you want a second chance?

This National Reentry Week, Prop 47 and expungement clinics allow individuals to move past their offenses and rejoin our communities.

By Maureen Slack, OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Almost one in three Americans has a criminal record. In fact, roughly the same number of Americans have criminal records as do four-year college diplomas. Before I started working on criminal record clearance clinics with the Justice Bus Project and our amazing partners, I didn’t realize the depth of the damage.

IMAGE: OneJustice Board member and Justice Bus Volunteer at a clinic in Napa County.

OneJustice Board member and Justice Bus Volunteer at a clinic in Napa County.

In many ways, a criminal record punishes someone long after she’s completed her sentence. And convictions from 20 or 30 years ago, minor offenses, or just arrests, carry criminal records and serious turmoil. The Proposition 47 and expungement clinics that the Justice Bus holds along with legal and community organizations provide at least some form of relief. However, as the law stands, there is no complete remedy for someone to move on.

Much of a record’s harm is economic. Most housing and employment sources require background checks and providers can make harsh snap judgments based on little information. This was our client from Napa’s experience: “I was in a volatile marriage and received a DUI in my own driveway as I got in my car for safety from my abusive husband. I lost my nursing license due to this.” And she’s not alone. Depending on the survey, up to 90% of prospective employers perform criminal background checks, as do 80% of landlords. Some research indicates that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by almost 50%. And this negative impact is more pronounced for African-American men than white men. Many clients come to clinics hoping for meaningful, full-time employment.

Beyond these economic barriers, a criminal record can also do serious emotional damage. A major part of this emotional strain comes from the economic and housing instability. Many clients also feel hurt by the stigma of being forever labeled as criminals. As one of our clients put it, “When I was young I made a mistake and got a felony conviction. That was about 15 years ago. I am now mature, a father, and hardworking… [by getting this expunged] I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” Even when someone feels they’ve moved forward from past mistakes, a record is a constant reminder of how society labels them.

While these economic and emotional barriers are severe and often unyielding, the law currently makes it really difficult to remove them. Criminal expungements and Proposition 47 offer at least some relief. Through expungement, someone can get their old conviction case re-opened and dismissed. It won’t completely erase their record, and the case will still show up on state background checks — but it won’t show up on private criminal background checks. The person can now accurately answer on most applications that they’ve never been convicted of a crime. Additionally, Prop 47 is a piece of legislation that reclassifies certain non-violent felonies as misdemeanors. Through Prop 47 relief, individuals may be able to restore their ability to get certain professional licenses and public benefits. It may also make DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) available to immigrants previously ineligible because of felony convictions.

IMAGE: Stanford Law School students helping a client at a mobile legal clinic in Shasta County.

Stanford Law School students helping a client at a mobile legal clinic in Shasta County.

In 2015, the Justice Bus Project began working with veterans’ advocates in Fresno and Stockton, Public Defender’s offices, community organizations, and private criminal defense attorneys to emphasize serving veterans with criminal records in those regions. Last year it became clear to us that the need extended beyond the veteran community when non-veterans began attending these limited-scope criminal record expungement and Prop 47 clinics seeking assistance. In April 2015, the Justice Bus Project successfully piloted using the records clearance clinic model we had developed to serve veterans to help others in need of assistance.  The need was so great that over the last year we began to open up many of our records clearance clinics to both veterans and civilian residents of rural and isolated communities.

Over the last year, our volunteers staffed 15 criminal record clinics in San Joaquin, Napa, Fresno, Butte, and Shasta Counties. The clients we see are overwhelmingly relieved to confront their criminal pasts and move forward.  And the demand is so great that we often have a waiting list of clients whom we cannot serve at the clinics.  In response, we are in the planning stages for a new series of “Rural Second Chance” clinics to try to meet more of the need around the state.

While expungements and Prop 47 provide some relief, barriers still remain, and at this point, there’s no way for a client to have a truly clean slate. We need more research on the impact of expungements and Prop 47 on people’s lives, but, anecdotally, the people who come to our clinics are hopeful for a fresh start. With the right legislation, there is hope for stronger programs to help those individuals successfully start their lives again.  Until then, we will continue to bring life-changing help to those in need of  these serves in rural and isolated communities.


Maureen_Blog Post photoMaureen Slack is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow and a proud participant in Equal Justice Work’s national Veterans Legal Corps. At OneJustice, she is responsible for leading Justice Bus trips throughout Northern California, working to bring attorney and law student volunteers from urban areas to serve isolated communities.

When’s the last time you Googled “Pro Bono”?

Google attorneys tell us why pro bono matters!

Last month, attorneys from Google Inc. headed to Stockton to provide free legal assistance on Criminal Record Expungements with our community partner, Dignity’s Alcove, Inc on the Justice Bus. At this clinic, we asked some of them to share with you all why pro bono is so important.

A big thank you to our incredible volunteers for making all the difference for 15 clients. Please join us in welcoming these wonderful volunteers!


2015 Google Attorneys

Thank you all for taking the time to talk with us! We’re honored by the outstanding commitment of volunteers, like you!

Look what you’ve done over the past year…

You brought justice to 1,383 Californians! Wow!

As we kick off this season of gratitude, we wanted to share with you the tremendous impact you made this past year. Volunteers, donors, and partners like you brought free legal assistance to over 1,000 individuals in need, and we couldn’t be more grateful!

Final 2015 Report Back Infographic (with map pins)

Spread the word! This holiday seasonthe OneJustice Board of Directors will match every gift, dollar-for-dollar. That’s right, that means twice as much justice for veterans, vulnerable seniors, and low-income children and youth. You are our justice heroes – and you make the work possible. Donate now!

Announcing the 2015-2016 Executive Fellows!

Empowering leaders to transform the legal services sector.

As schools get ready for the school year, OneJustice is getting ready for the newest class of Executive Fellows. We invited Director of the Healthy Nonprofits Program, Kim Irish, to give us a sneak peak into this year’s class and what is ahead.

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Guest Blogger: Kim Irish, OneJustice Healthy Nonprofits Program Director

It hardly seems possible, but in September, OneJustice will welcome its 6th class of Executive Fellows! The 2015-2016 cohort promises to be outstanding, with 20 participants hailing from a wide variety of organizations located in cities like San Diego, San Bernardino, East Palo Alto, Fresno, and Berkeley. We’re excited to have representatives from 18 organizations, including 5 organizations who are joining us for the very first time.

[Photo: 2014-15 Cohort during one of their many Executive Fellowship classes, which include becoming a great communicator, human resources, financial context and ratios, and budgeting and change management.]

2014-15 Cohort during one of their many Executive Fellowship classes, which include becoming a great communicator, human resources, financial context and ratios, budgeting, and change management.

This year’s curriculum is divided into three core modules, starting with “You As A Leader,” which focuses on Fellows’ personal leadership and communication styles, as well as their relationship with their organization’s board of directors. Module Two – or “Managing Resources” – teaches Fellows how to manage and leverage human and financial resources, including the always-important and sometimes-confusing skill of budgeting.

The third and final module, “Creating Change,” encourages Fellows to take a broader view than their everyday work and think about how they can make changes in their organizations and even the broader legal services or nonprofit sector. A special learning opportunity called the capstone project is woven throughout the fellowship year. Fellows each choose an issue they are grappling with at their organizations and work to define the problem, gather data, research potential solutions, and present a memo and oral presentation to end the fellowship year in June. Though Fellows have reported it can be hairy at times to balance the capstone work with the everyday demands of their jobs, some claim it is the most beneficial part of the Fellowship experience.

As I begin directing the 2015-2016 Fellowship Program, I know I will reflect on my experience as a Fellow in the most recent class. Understanding what it’s like to go through the learning, camaraderie, and professional skills development that takes place during the Fellowship will hopefully help me to provide support that current Fellows may need as they embark on this new adventure.

Welcome new Executive Fellows!

The OneJustice Executive Fellowship is a 10-month comprehensive program that brings legal aid leaders new business and leadership skills.

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As Director of OneJustice’s Healthy Nonprofits Program, Kim Irish is responsible for directing the Executive Fellowship and developing continuing education programs for Alumni of the Executive Fellowship Program, including in-person trainings and other support. She also oversees OneJustice’s consulting work and provides training, resources, and coaching to the Board of Directors and Executives of legal services nonprofits on governance, fundraising, and strategic planning.

Have you met this consultant, educator, and philanthropist?

Celebrate Martin Tannenbaum with us

For his incredible work in strengthening the legal services sector

Martin Tannenbaum, consultant, educator, and philanthropist, honoree of this year's Opening Doors to Justice eventEvery year, the OneJustice network gathers at our Opening Doors to Justice event to celebrate three individuals whose outstanding accomplishments have truly moved the needle on legal services, pro bono, and access to justice. Won’t you join us this year on:

Thursday, June 25th 

6-9 pm

Julia Morgan Ballroom (downtown SF)

*Tickets and auction items are now available

We are so pleased to be honoring Martin Tannenbaum – Consultant, Educator, Philanthropist, and a wonderful partner of OneJustice. Martin has been a leader in transforming the civil legal aid system through the development of OneJustice’s Executive Fellowship, which is now in its 5th year, and next month, will graduate the 100th Fellow. Please welcome our third honoree, Martin Tannenbaum!

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Martin, Opening Doors to Justice event is less than a month a way and we can’t wait to honor you on June 25th! Tell us – why are you involved with increasing access to justice?

Even though most people probably think I’m a privileged white male – which I guess, on some level, I am – I have a very different sense of myself. I grew up as a gay Jew in Utah – as a double-outsider. And add to that, my parents also grew up Jewish in Utah.  So I learned at an early age to love and respect those who didn’t fit in – which meant a wide range of people – the economically challenged, the foreigner, and the less-abled.

Also, since I had experienced the tyranny of the majority (both growing up and during some pretty ugly ballot initiatives), it was clear that the courts – not public opinion – were THE place for change and fairness. And so I was naturally drawn to legal organizations because they focus on the judicial system – and they welcomed me in.

Initially, my volunteering and philanthropy focused on LGBT rights. Given what we’ve accomplished in the last 30 years, it was clearly a wise investment. In California and several other states, I am now protected in the workplace and was even able to marry the man of my dreams, Alex Ingersoll. This was all unimaginable when I was in my 20’s.

And there are still many with justice still denied – not just many in the LGBT community, but also those without sufficient financial resources, health challenges or an unclear path to citizenship. The work must continue until every person secures equal justice under the law – it’s what this country was founded upon – it’s what we owe ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

We couldn’t agree more! Martin, could you share with us how you became involved with OneJustice?

Over 7 years ago, I had the great good luck to meet Claire Solot and Julia Wilson. They had this idea about creating a program for leaders within the legal services sector – one that would provide these leaders with the knowledge, skills and support to enhance their work, stabilize and build their own organizations, and change the legal services sector.  (And I had the background and knowledge to develop the curriculum and guide the program in the early years.)

And so, we built a program together, the OneJustice Executive Fellowship, which next month will graduate its 100th fellow – all able and willing to create meaningful change – to serve more clients and provide better services and to build more sustainable organizations. I have had the distinct honor of meeting and working with each of these Fellows.  Nothing is more rewarding than seeing their growth and accomplishments.  What a gift!

Absolutely! What’s your favorite part of being a member of the OneJustice network?

I know this is hard to imagine, but there are still people – even friends and colleagues of mine – who don’t know about OneJustice and the incredible work that we do to create impactful nonprofits and to enhance the legal services sector. I love to explain our work and watch faces light up.  Most want to learn more, and get involved.  It’s such leveraged, important work.  I’m very proud to be part of the OneJustice family.

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About the OneJustice Executive Fellowship: OneJustice trains current executives and the next generation of nonprofit leaders through our management training program. OneJustice’s Executive Fellowship program is a 10-month comprehensive program that brings legal aid leaders new business skills.

December’s contest: a guessing game

What makes a legal services desert?

Can you guess the number of poor people per attorney in Merced County?

At OneJustice, we’ve been noodling around on the idea of a legal services desert.

San Bernardino Desert

San Bernardino is both a geographic and legal services desert.

Drawing on the concept of “food deserts” in the anti-hunger movement, we’ve been working to develop a set of factors that can identify (and describe) legal services deserts — communities that face particularly difficult barriers to accessing legal services and justice.

What might those factors be?  Well, we’d love your ideas!  And we think that it the rubric should probably include criteria like:

  • total number of people in poverty
  • density of poverty (the percentage of the community living in poverty)
  • total number of attorneys practicing in the community
  • ratio of poor people to local attorneys (i.e., are there local pro bono resources)
  • distance to the closest local legal services nonprofit (if there is one)
  • distance to the closest courthouse
  • geographic barriers to legal services and courthouses
  • access to public transportation to the nonprofits and courthouses
  • language barriers to services
  • other local communities needs
  • And what else?  We would love your thoughts and input!

As part of our noodling around, we’ve been comparing the NUMBER OF POOR PEOPLE in all 58 counties to the NUMBER OF ATTORNEYS practicing in the county.  This gives us a ratio of the number of poor people per each attorney.  We’re using this ratio as a rough gauge for how possible it is for the local legal community to meet the need for pro bono legal services for the local low-income residents.

And the results are pretty interesting!

You can win this nifty water bottle!  Post today!

You can win this nifty water bottle! Post today!

San Francisco has the lowest ratio of poor people to attorneys – with 6 poor people for every 1 attorney.  The next lowest is Marin with 9 poor people per attorney.  Los Angeles County has 31 poor people per attorney, while San Bernardino (shown in the photo above), has 141 – making it not only a geographic desert but also a legal services desert.  Tulare County has 259 poor people per attorney, while Imperial has 290 – meaning that the need for legal assistance in low-income communities cannot possibly be met by the local attorney population.

So here is the guessing game for our December justice contest.

Merced County has the HIGHEST ratio of poor people per attorney.  What do you think that number is?   Tell us how many poor people you think there are per attorney in Merced County.

Enter your guess as a comment to this blog or our facebook or LinkedIn pages – or tweet it to us at @OneJusticeOrg – by Sunday December 15th.  The person whose guess is the closest to the correct number wins this awesome OneJustice water bottle.

Happy guessing – thanks for playing!

Thinking about Women and Legal Services (during Women’s History Month)

Barbara, Justice Bus ClientMarch is Women’s History Month – when we celebrate the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

So at OneJustice we’ve been pondering the intersection of women – both clients and attorneys who are women – and the system that provides legal help to low-income and other underserved Californians.  Each year, the almost 100 legal nonprofit organizations in California provide legal assistance to approximately 270,000 individuals, families, children, and seniors facing pressing legal problems relating to basic human needs.  Hunger.  Safety.  Housing.  These services are focused on those living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level (for example, the limit for a family of three is an annual income of $23,862 or less).

Poverty in California is higher among women (at 16%), than among men (at 14%), and highest among children, as a staggering 21% of California’s children live in poverty.  Nationally, the most recent census data showed more than 16.4 million women living in poverty in 2009, the largest number since the Census began collecting this data in 1966.  A study of prevalence of hunger among California women found that 22 percent do not have secure access to food.

In that larger context of women and poverty, California’s nonprofit legal organizations provided services to over 151,000 low-income women in 2010 (compared to just over 106,000 men). These are women like Barbara, shown above, who came to a Justice Bus legal clinic in her small, isolated coastal town.  Women who are grandmothers needing legal guardianship of their grandchildren.  Mothers fighting for medical services for their children with significant health needs.  Teenagers experiencing dating violence.  These are women who are seeking help in the face of overwhelming factors that tell them to give up.  It is shameful that our legal services delivery system is so underfunded that we can only provide this life-changing assistance to one-third of those in need.

At the same time, the attorneys working at these legal nonprofit organizations are increasingly women.  A 2010 report by the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) on Retention & Recruitment in legal services nonprofits found that two-thirds (67 percent) of the legal services attorneys are female; in contrast, during that same time period, only 34% of California State Bar Members were women. In 1878, Clara Shortridge Foltz began her struggle to become California’s first woman lawyer, and now, 134 years later, approximately 50% of law school graduates are women.  The women working at nonprofit legal organizations graduate from law school with overwhelming debt burden, and nevertheless carve a career path in the nonprofit sector, using their legal skills and expertise to help clients who are women seeking to eliminate barriers to justice in their own lives.   Those woman client/woman attorney partnerships are pretty powerful – and they are part of what we should be celebrating this month.

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