We are so proud that the California Association of Nonprofits (CAN) Insurance Services recently announced that they have selected OneJustice and our Justice Bus Project for their 2012 Award of Nonprofit Excellence! The fact that this award is not limited to nonprofit legal organizations – but instead draws from the entire statewide nonprofit sector – makes us particularly proud, because it is also recognition of the important role that legal help plays in the emergency safety net system for Californians in need.
The Justice Bus Project is the only “on the ground” project in California that brings together nonprofit legal organizations, law schools, and the private legal sector (law firms and the legal departments at corporations) to transport legal professionals from the urban areas where they work and live to rural areas of the state, where thousands of Californians face pressing legal needs with no access to legal advice or help. The clients served by the Justice Bus Project often live in isolated areas, far away from the closest legal nonprofit organization that could help them. Those nonprofits do their best to have lawyers “ride a circuit” (meaning they literally pack up their cars and drive through their service area, trying to reach those isolated pockets of poverty) – but this happens infrequently at best.
California’s law schools and law firms are located in the urban coastal areas of our state – the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. The highest poverty densities are in the Central Valley, the area on the border with Nevada, and the middle of the state in the far north. This significant mismatch in resources and need is our reality – but that does not (and should not) be the end of the narrative. While a report released two years ago by the California Commission on Access to Justice clearly documents the inequity that exists in rural legal resources – few have moved from thinking about the problem to actually doing something about it. Rather that accepting this inequity, California’s legal community should work together to use transportation – and technology – to get the resources (lawyers and law students) out into the areas where their help is so needed. The Justice Bus is just one way of making that happen, and we’re thrilled that the rest of the nonprofit sector is recognizing its importance. Thank you to CAN Insurance Services for this award!