California Lawyers Association

Eight Nonprofits to Consider for Pro Bono Service

As a major supporter of pro bono work, the California Lawyers Association is committed to helping foster a statewide culture of pro bono service. Lawyers have more opportunities than ever to help people access justice, and groups across California are always eager for more who want to make a difference. 

CLA wants to help connect our members with those groups and spotlight their many opportunities, from helping victims of human trafficking to representing asylum speakers and assisting in low-income housing issues.

“Pro bono work is so important, and California has so many wonderful options for attorneys from all backgrounds and areas of expertise. We want our members to enjoy this diversity, and we want to help broaden their horizons with new areas they may not otherwise know about,” said CLA President Emilio Varanini.

“Leaders of pro bono organizations are always thinking of new ways to reach new potential volunteers, and the CLA wants to help boost that energy and remind our members of everything that’s out there,” CLA Executive Director Ona Alston Dosunmu said.

The many benefits of pro bono work extend beyond the positive case results that can help so many people. Young attorneys gain litigation and courtroom experience and more seasoned attorneys fine-tune skills and hone new ones. In addition, pro bono service offers a chance to participate in a limited capacity as well. In fact, a great number of pro bono assignments do not require full case assignments from beginning to end; rather they involve intake, consultation or form assistance.    Given the pandemic, there also are greater opportunities to serve remotely. 

This month, the CLA is spotlighting eight pro bono organizations to help our members find the best opportunities for them.

Law Foundation of Silicon Valley

During the pandemic, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley has been helping business owners who are women and/or people of color navigate Santa Clara County’s eviction moratorium for commercial tenants. 

The foundation also relies on trained volunteers for its Name and Gender Marker Change Program, which helps transgender people obtain court-ordered name and gender marker changes. 

Other pro bono opportunities include helping parents advocate for children with disabilities; reviewing credit reports for foster youth to combat rising identity theft; representing unaccompanied minors in family, probate and immigration court; and defending students in school disciplinary hearings. Volunteers can manage cases and get courtroom litigation experience, depending on their time commitments, or they can focus on out-of-court skills such as client interaction, interviewing and fact-finding. Contact: Brooke Heymach, pro bono director, brooke.heymach@lawfoundation.org

Justice At Last

Serving survivors of human trafficking in the San Francisco area, the nonprofit Justice At Last represents victims during the prosecution of their traffickers, protecting their rights under California’s Proposition 9, or Marsy’s Law. 

The organization also assists in family law and immigration proceedings and record expungements, and the nonprofit says its general practice “varies as much as each of our clients does.” 

Attorneys can gain experience working highly sensitive human rights cases, and they also have the unique opportunity to provide free specialized training for trafficking survivors and service providers. Justice at Last prides itself on an approach that’s survivor-centered, culturally sensitive, trauma-informed and rights-based. Its logo features Ma’at, a mythological female goddess who represented truth, justice, balance and harmony in the Egyptian religion. Contact: Rose Mukhar, founder and lead attorney, Rose@justiceatlast.org

Inner City Law Center

From 15 to 25 hours in two to four months to 50 to 70 hours in one to two years, the Inner City Law Center has an array of opportunities for pro bono attorneys who want to help people needing housing, veterans trying to access benefits and vulnerable people fighting unlawful evictions. 

Volunteers can gain experience with intellectual property matters; policy and advocacy projects; expungements; appeals; research projects; and tax, employment and probate consultations. The Law Center also has litigation opportunities against Los Angeles slumlords for law firms that can handle large cases and cover some litigation costs. Pro bono attorneys supplement and complete the work of center staff, according to its website, contributing approximately $10 million in free legal services each year. Contact: info@innercitylaw.org or call 213-891-2880. 

Aids Legal Referral Panel

The Aids Legal Referral Panel has handled more than 78,000 legal matters since its inception in 1983, and it remains the only San Francisco Bay Area institution with a sole mission to legally assist and educate people living with HIV/AIDS on “virtually any civil matter.” 

“We accomplish our mission by leveraging the resources of the private bar for the public good,” according to an informational flier. “In the process, we increase the skill and capacity of the legal community to handle the intricacies of HIV/AIDS-related law and representation.” 

Twelve staff attorneys and at least 700 volunteer attorneys draft wills and work landlord/tenant, immigration, insurance and employment cases. Volunteers aren’t limited in the type of case they can take, as referrals are based on a volunteer’s specialty. The majority of cases require one-time legal consultations, but other work is available, too. Pro bono attorneys should expect to take at least two referrals a year, but they can tailor their experience based on their workload and time commitments. Contact: Volunteer Coordinator Faron Stalker, 415-701-1200 ext. 303 or farons@alrp.org

Casa Cornelia Law Center

Most attorneys who volunteer with the San Diego-based Casa Cornelia Law Center are not immigration practitioners, but with training and mentoring by Casa Cornelia attorneys, they gain unmatched experience helping people from other countries seek asylum in the United States. 

Pro bono Casa Cornelia attorneys also represent unaccompanied children who are facing removal proceedings, and they represent undocumented immigrants who are victims of violent crimes such as human trafficking and domestic violence by assisting them with VISA petitions and empowering them to begin a new life. 

Founded in 1993, Casa Cornelia has helped more than 15,000 children, women and men, according to its website, and its current staff of 30 is buttressed by a network of hundreds of volunteer attorneys. Pro bono work ranges from short-term consultations to long-term litigation, and volunteers can work in and outside the courtroom. Time commitments range from 120 to 150 hours for defensive asylum cases, 80 hours for affirmative asylum applications or children’s cases, 50 hours for most applications, and 35 to 50 hours for guardianship work. Contact: Pro Bono Program Director Katherine Paculba Lacher, at kpaculba@casacornelia.org, or 619-231-7788 x304.  

Bet Tzedek

Describing its legal services as comprehensive and trauma-informed, Bet Tzedek’s practice areas include homelessness prevention, employment rights, family caregiver services, elder abuse and financial fraud, transgender legal advocacy and low-income tax advocacy. Volunteers with Russian language skills are needed to assist Holocaust survivors seeking reparations, and volunteers with Spanish-language skills are needed to assist immigrant children in obtaining a state court order regarding their special immigrant status, a first step toward petitioning for legal permanent residency. 

Volunteers also conduct workshops on civil legal issues and new immigration policies, small business development for low-income households and communities and self-help conservatorship clinics to assist self-represented litigants in probate conservatorships. Time commitments can vary, but volunteers are able to access a variety of opportunities and case commitments. Contact: volunteer@bettzedek.org or 323-648-4722.

Asian Law Alliance

Volunteers for the San Jose-based Asian Law Alliance help with housing, immigration and other legal issues for Asian Pacific Islander and low-income populations in Silicon Valley. Volunteers handle the intake of new clients in 2½-hour-slots scheduled regularly throughout the week. They also staff regular immigration clinics, supervised by staff attorneys, that help clients renew green cards or apply for citizenship or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and they assist in casework through collecting and reviewing research and evidence, drafting briefs and memo, doing interviews and making court appearances. 

Volunteers who can work as language interpreters also are needed, most frequently for Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Korean. To volunteer, call 408-287-9710 or email a completed Volunteer Application along with your resume to ALAVolunteerCoord@asianlawalliance.org

Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Founded in 1993 after a mass shooting at the Pettit & Martin law firm in San Francisco, the Giffords Law Center, previously the Legal Community Against Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, works with pro bono attorneys and law firms on primarily legal research and analysis. Staff members frequently rely on volunteer attorneys to write memos on crucial gun law issues that guide policy decisions, advocacy work and legislative strategy. Pro bono law firms also write amicus briefs on key litigation related to the Second Amendment, and they defend jurisdictions in cases brought by the gun lobby against gun regulations. A pro bono form is available online.

For questions about pro bono service in general or to learn more about CLA’s Access to Justice Initiative, please reach out to Ellen Miller, CLA’s Associate Executive Director, Initiatives and External Relations at ellen.miller@calawyers.org.

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