Carlos Carbajal is busy. As a Lawyer for Family Justice attorney, his appointment slots are booked solid every week and he has taken on over 50 paying clients (in addition to dozens of pro bono consultations) since joining Contra Costa County’s Legal Incubator program in February.
“The need for pro and low bono services is overwhelming, especially in the minority, Spanish-speaking community,” says Carbajal, “There is incredible need.”
When he joined the CCCBA Lawyer Referral and Information Service through Lawyers for Family Justice, Carlos became one of two Spanish-speaking Family Law attorneys on the referral panel. He has so much work that he is considering hiring a paralegal or intern, and potentially setting up a small firm specifically to assist Spanish-speaking families.
In October 2015, The Contra Costa County Bar Association Bar Fund Gala raised over $40,000 for the Lawyers for Family Justice legal incubator program at the Family Justice Center. Today, the program houses six incubator attorneys serving moderate and low-income clients in Contra Costa County.
“The plan was to do two things at once: help the 80% of our clients who desperately need legal assistance, while nurturing new and transitioning attorneys who were interested in providing affordable services to Contra Costa County residents but did not have the means or know-how to hang out their own shingles,” explains Family Justice Center Executive Director, Susun Kim.
The plan is working. “The Lawyers for Justice Program allows me to assist community members who are unfamiliar with the legal system and/or have limited access to a lawyer due to their financial constraints,” said Lawyers for Family Justice attorney Harpreet Sandhu, “Furthermore, the lawyers in the program, my colleagues, benefit my practice on two levels: they act as a sounding board and they provide support/advice on client management, as well as specific case issues.”
The Lawyers for Justice 2016 cohort is almost half way through its 18-month tenure. In addition to training and mentorship, the Family Justice Center houses the attorneys, paying for important overhead costs such office rent and furniture, telephones, internet, computers, printers, online subscriptions, books on substantive law, and even a receptionist. Lawyers for Family Justice attorneys also benefit from free PLI courses, CEB On-Law, CCCBA Lawyer Referral and Information Service and CCCBA Section Membership.
“The Lawyers for Family Justice program is a community effort,” says Kim. “We have outstanding community attorneys dedicating their time to mentor, strong support from the Contra Costa County Bar Association, and friendships with incubator programs all across the country, which continue to evolve and improve their practices.”
The program works, in part, because of partnerships with attorney mentors, like James Greenan, Melody Saint-Saens, Claire Johnson, Gloria Park, Brigeda Bank, and Marta Vanegas. Sarah Mraule, who works with mentor, Brigeda Bank said, “The Family Justice Center has been an integral part of the learning experience as a new attorney. The mentorship that they provide, by connecting us with more experienced attorneys in our field of practice has been an invaluable part of the program; and the exposure to cases that we may not have had without participating in the Legal Incubator Program has been enlivening, and will shape the way that we practice, and interact with clients moving forward.”
The attorneys are modest about their work, but the Family Justice Center staff can tell endless stories of the tremendous difference that the attorneys have made in the lives of their clients. “Since they started seeing our clients in February, the Lawyers for Family Justice attorneys have helped over 90 families — all for free, and all on-site,” says Family Justice Center Navigator Sandra Trevino, “They meet directly with the clients right here in our office, which is so essential to helping families in crisis who have already travelled to too many agencies looking for help.”
Oravanh Thammasen is a Navigator at the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center. She regularly works with the Lawyers for Family Justice, including attorney Yuriy Rubanov. “A survivor of domestic violence came into our Center to seek assistance with reporting an incident to the police and to file a restraining order. During the navigation assessment, the client mentioned that her apartment had habitability issues and she had made numerous complaints. At our Center, she was able to meet with Rubanov for a housing law consultation. Rubanov assisted the client in writing a demand letter to the property. With his assistance on the demand letter, the client is on the wait list to move into the next available unit.”
“The Lawyers for Family Justice program definitely offers help with services that people would otherwise not have access to,” comments Rubanov, “People find the services helpful and valuable. As for me, I get the satisfaction of being able to provide that.”
At the Central Contra Costa Family Justice Center, Navigator Olivia Ortiz’s client, Laura* was being bullied by her son’s father who threatened to disappear with their son. When her son told his grandmother that his father was physically abusing him, Laura came to the Family Justice Center for help. Ortiz immediately sought the assistance of Lawyers for Family Justice attorney Layli Caborn. “The attorney reviewed the client’s paperwork and found that client was permitted to communicate with her son and had vacation rights to see him,” reports Ortiz. “The attorney was able to help client file paperwork at the Martinez court house and to have the father come to Contra Costa County [from Los Angeles] for court. Layli helped my client get awarded temporary physical custody of her son. My client was very emotional and grateful after the court hearing. She never thought it was possible.”
“In my 15 years of experience in the legal field as a victim’s advocate, law clerk, legal office manager, Deputy District Attorney, litigation attorney, juvenile dependency attorney, and deputy public defender, I have tried my best to help individuals in need to the best of my ability,” says Layli Caborn. “The Lawyers for Family Justice Program has shed light on what is truly important — helping those in need when no one else will listen or help them. I have been with the Family Justice Program for a short period of time. In that period, I have represented clients in many levels of involvement in the criminal and family justice system. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work a long side all of the brilliant, talented, and caring individuals at the Lawyers for Family Justice Program.”
Legal incubator attorneys are available for hire. Looking for someone to do a special appearance? Need backup on a case? Need to contract out some work? Contact the Lawyers for Family Justice directly or visit them at cclawyers.org.
Tamina Alon, Esq. is Director of Operations at the Family Justice Center and runs the Lawyers for Family Justice Program.