The second annual Pro Bono Expo was held at the Walnut Creek Community Center on Thursday, November 3, 2016. There was plenty of good food and people. Wine and beer was on hand for those who were “clocked out” for the day and soda for the rest of us.
The eight organizations at the event offered a wide variety of opportunities for attorneys from those who just passed the bar and were looking for their first job to more “seasoned” lawyers looking to mentor a young attorney or just spend a bit of time each month giving back to the community. The groups were looking for attorneys from all practice areas including family law, housing, consumer, immigration, bankruptcy and probate. Here is a summary of the opportunities presented by the participating organizations:
CASA – Stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates and is a wonderful program, which, for 34 years, has matched lawyers with foster children to be“a powerful voice in a child’s life.” A CASA volunteer attorney is appointed by a Juvenile Court judge and follows that child through the legal system providing advocacy and guidance at each stage in the child’s life. This can be a long-term commitment, but very fulfilling and rewarding, especially since CASA graduated all of its children and some went on to college. For more information about CASA or how to volunteer, visit www.cococasa.org.
The Congress of Neutrals – This organization provides all of the mediators in the Contra Costa County Courts for family law, domestic violence, civil harassment, unlawful detainer and small claims. Your service to the courts is invaluable, but you can use the training and experience that you get to launch your own mediation practice. The Congress of Neutrals offers a 40-hour training program which allows you to claim to be a fully-certified mediator in the courts. For those who are not looking to be mediators in the civil court system, the Congress of Neutrals also sponsors the award-winning Victim Offender Reconciliation Program “VORP.” VORP is a community based mediation and reconciliation program that offers a different approach to juvenile crimes by letting the offenders see what their actions look like through the eyes of their victims. To sign up for training or to learn more about The Congress of Neutrals’ services, please visit their website at www.congressofneutrals.org.
Contra Costa Senior Legal Services (CCSLS) – Offers opportunities to assist low-income seniors with simple legal issues in a variety of circumstances at 10 senior centers throughout the county. CCSLS currently has four programs in need of volunteer attorneys:
AHCD Clinic – provides assistance once per month to seniors who need to prepare Advanced Healthcare Directives before undergoing a medical procedure or hospitalization.
Free Wills Clinic – provides assistance once per month to seniors who need to draft a simple will or trust document. This is a great way to train a young attorney looking to make estate planning a part of their practice.
Consult an Attorney – attorneys in this program see about 4-6 clients for ½ hour consultations on a variety of legal matters. The program is to “triage” the issue and make appropriate referrals to services, other agencies or provide simple legal advice. Sometimes the attorney provides “peace of mind” by assuring a very worried senior that they have nothing to worry about.
A Client a Year – as the name implies, these are more complex legal matters that the attorney would handle as needed until the matter is concluded. This could be a great experience for a young solo practitioner looking to build a practice and get familiar with the court system.
For more information about CCSLS, please visit their website at www.ccsls.org.
Social Justice Collaborative – Every year, tens of thousands of children enter this country without a parent or legal guardian from a variety of countries. In 2014, the number was almost 80,000. The Social Justice Collaborative is based in Oakland but handles a territory which includes Contra Costa County. They offer training and support for attorneys to help these children (some as young as 3 years old) as they go through various immigration proceedings as well as with related family law, juvenile and probate proceedings. Aside from this rewarding Pro Bono Program, The Social Justice Collaborative is hiring! For more information, visit www.socialjusticecollaborative.org.
Contra Costa County Courts – Budget cuts have forced the courts to lay off many court staff including most of our commissioners. As a result, you may have the opportunity to put on the black robe and see what the view is like from the other side of the bench. The courts need Judges Pro Tem to sit in traffic court, unlawful detainer, probate, family law and small claims. They offer free training (for which you get MCLE) and you can serve as often as you wish. For those who do not want to sit as a judge, the courts need attorney volunteers for other programs including the Discovery Facilitator where a volunteer attorney serves as a preliminary hearing officer for a civil discovery dispute. The Facilitator hears both sides, considers the issues and then makes a recommendation to the assigned judge. Again, you can serve as often or as seldom as you wish, but each assignment typically takes about 3-4 hours over a month’s time. For more information, please read incoming Presiding Judge Jill Fanin’s article in the latest issue of The Contra Costa Lawyer Temporary Judges: An Invaluable Service to the Court and Public,
Bay Area Legal Aid – Provides free legal services to low-income people throughout the county in areas which include housing, domestic violence, public benefits, health access and consumer debt collection. They offer free training and mentorship so you don’t have to be an expert to help. They have various levels of participation including a number of monthly and weekly walk-in clinics. This is a perfect opportunity to get some trial experience to impress your boss or find the right place to launch a trial practice. You can get more information by calling Bay Area Legal Aid at (510) 250-5270 or (925) 219-3325.
Family Law Justice Center – Is run by the Lawyers for Family Justice and is described as a “warm and welcoming place for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking.” They offer an 18-month incubation program where they accept eight solo practice attorneys. They provide everything needed to start a practice including office space, training, mentorship etc. In exchange, the attorney works on cases for the center getting “on-the-job” training in these areas which the attorney can then use to start a practice. For more information about the Family Law Justice Center, please visit their website www.cocofamilyjustice.org/lawyers.
Contra Costa Law Library – Sponsors “Lawyers in the Library” where an attorney from any practice area and with any level of experience can provide badly-needed legal advice to low-income county residents at a once-per-month clinic designed like the CCSLS program mentioned above. Advice given is of a general nature only and the participant is required to sign a waiver indicating that no attorney-client relationship is formed by the advice given. To volunteer please contact Carey.Rowan@ll.cccounty.us.
As you can see, there is something for everyone and so now you have one less reason (or excuse) not to use your legal skills to help those in need.
Steven Derby is a civil trial attorney in Walnut Creek. His firm specializes in cases in state and federal court involving violations of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), FHA (Fair Housing Act) and various related state laws. Mr. Derby is a past-president of the Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association and a current member of the Board of Directors of CCCBA.