Pro Bono for Seniors: Free and Low-Cost Legal Services

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Verna Haas conducting a Conservatorship Workshop.

Contra Costa County is home to many free or low-cost programs specifically designed to assist seniors with legal issues. Some of these services are court-based, some are offered by nonprofits and some are made possible by pro bono attorneys. Below is a description of the major programs, their services and contact information. Many of these programs welcome volunteers and, indeed, some depend exclusively on volunteers.

Contra Costa Senior Legal Services (CCSLS) has been serving seniors, ages 60 and over, since 1979. CCSLS advocates for and provides free direct legal representation to some of Contra Costa County’s most vulnerable citizens. Staff attorneys are available to consult with and to represent clients in civil matters such as unlawful detainers, credit card defense and financial elder abuse. In-person appointments are available at the office in Richmond, and clients may also schedule phone appointments to discuss their matters.

CCSLS also offers Consult-an-Attorney Clinics and a Wills Clinic providing simple wills, staffed by pro bono volunteers. These programs are conducted in senior centers throughout the county. A monthly Wills Clinic is also offered at CCSLS. If you would like to assist in a Wills Clinic or Consult-an-Attorney Clinic, please contact Laine Lawrence, Executive Director, for more information at (510) 374-3712.

In 2009, in cooperation with the Superior Court, CCSLS created the Senior Self-Help Clinic. This clinic was designed to support the Contra Costa County’s Elder Court. Every Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to noon, attorneys assist seniors who are in need of advice and assistance with their legal matters, including assistance with completing elder abuse restraining orders and help with filling out the appropriate forms to evict an abusive member of a household.

CCSLS also conducts a workshop for Pro Per Conservators of the person, which is focused on how to become a pro bono conservator (to be distinguished from the Conservator Workshop described below, which addresses duties of a conservator, and is conducted at the Law Library). In the monthly workshop, participants learn about the conservatorship process and the forms necessary to become a conservator of the person, and receive instruction in how to complete those forms. This workshop, open to all county residents, addresses general and limited conservatorships. It is offered on the first Monday of the month at 1:30 p.m. in the 2nd Floor Conference Room at the Family Law Building in Martinez.

The Conservatorship Workshop at the Contra Costa Public Law Library focuses on the duties and responsibilities of conservators of the person and estate. This free, all-day workshop is offered on a bi-monthly basis and is taught by local members of the Professional Fiduciary Association of California. This workshop is recommended—and may become mandatory next year—for all self-represented conservators. Please contact the Law Library for further information at (925) 646-2783.

The Elder Law Center is an organization designed to connect seniors, who have suffered financial elder abuse, with pro bono attorneys. The best way to contact the ELC is through their website at http://thelawcenter.cc/the-elder-law-center/.

The Lawyer in the Library program in Martinez is sponsored by the Law Library and staffed by pro bono attorneys. It operates on the second Tuesday afternoon of every month and volunteers are welcome and appreciated. Please contact Cary Rowan for details at (925) 646-2783.

Among the court-sponsored programs, also available to seniors with specific needs, are the Guardianship Clinic, the Family Law Facilitator and the Small Claims Advisor and workshops. These programs, like the conservatorship workshops, are not specifically focused on seniors, but are important resources for self-represented residents—including those over age 60.

In sum, there are numerous ways to become involved and make a difference for seniors. Whether volunteering for a clinic, providing advice at a senior center or offering to take on a case, your participation is a vital and valued component of improving the quality of life for many vulnerable seniors.

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