You did it! You raised over $195,000 to bring life-changing legal help to those in need.

Thank you – from the bottom of our hearts.

The OneJustice network demonstrated its incredible power to come together and effect change this week.

On Thursday night, over 45 corporate sponsors and over 300 OneJustice supporters came together for the annual “Opening Doors to Justice” event.  In addition to honoring Bruce Ives of HP, Jeffrey Brand of USF School of Law, and Yvonne Mariajimenez of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the network also raised over $195,000 to support OneJustice’s programs that remove barriers to justice throughout the state.

This included an on-the-spot challenge to raise $40,000 to fund seven brand-new Justice Bus trips next year – which the OneJustice network blew out of the water, raising almost $43,000 by the end of the evening.

Breath-taking, right?

And so meaningful – not just for OneJustice, but most of all for the over 150 low-income Californians living in rural and isolated communities who will now receive legal assistance as a result of the network’s generosity.  These veterans, seniors, children with disabilities and immigrant youth are the true beneficiaries of the power of this incredible network.

Donate to the Justice Bus Fund today!Aren’t you inspired?  We are!  And it’s still possible to be a part of this movement to get more Justice Bus trips on the road – you can still contribute to the Justice Bus Fund online.  Let’s keep this momentum going!

We also showed our new Justice Bus Video for the first time – you can watch it here, too, or on our website here.

And enjoy the photo slideshow of the evening below.  Thank you to everyone who was there for making it an evening that will – for hundreds of thousands of Californians in need – make all the difference.

Jeff Brand has a long-life commitment to justice and service.

He traces his earliest memories of injustice to when he was still in grammar school.Professor Jeffrey Brand headshot

And he has dedicated his life to justice, service, and ensuring future generations are able to do the same.

Professor Jeffrey Brand recently stepped down after 14 years of serving as Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law.  During his tenure as dean, he not only guided the law school through a period of transformative change, he also supported collaborative efforts between the law school and OneJustice, including the Law Student Pro Bono Project.  USF law students also participated in the inaugural Justice Bus Trip to the Central Valley in March 2007 and they continue to volunteer for multiple Justice Bus trips every year.

We are very excited to be celebrating Professor Brand and his life-long commitment to justice and service at our July 25th “Opening Doors to Justice” event.  We hope very much that you will join us!  You can purchase tickets, preview auction items, and donate to support the Justice Bus at the event website.

In the meantime, we caught up with Professor Brand in preparation for the event and posed a couple of questions.  Enjoy his answers below!

Why have you committed so much of your professional career to working on access to justice? 

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the decades.   I trace my earliest memories of injustice to the 1950s when I was still in grammar school.   Even then, I had a sense that McCarthyism was a nasty, destructive force in America ruining the lives of innocent people.   I recall watching the Army-McCarthy hearings with my parents in our home in Studio City and I recall the great lawyer Joseph’s Welch’s historic, plaintive, rhetorical question to the demagogic junior senator from Wisconsin:   “Senator McCarthy, have you no decency, have you no decency?”   The YouTubRosenbergs are executed (newspaper article)e clip is worth a look:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po5GlFba5Yg

I recall the headlines when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed.

And I recall the heroic acts of Rosa Parks and the great sit in at the Woolworth’s soda fountain in Greensboro, North Carolina when young blacks and their supporters were refused service and taunted and assaulted by whites.

Civil Rights Sit In

These images led me to read a book when I was in high school called The Student. written by David Horowitz (who much to my amazement later abandoned his leftist roots), describing political activity at UC Berkeley and the great San Francisco demonstrations at San Francisco City Hall against the House Un-American Activities Committee where student protestors were dragged down the steps.

Battle of City HallBay Area Civil Rights Protests

Those images led me to apply to college only at UC Berkeley.  It was there that the intensity of my political involvement increased dramatically and my desire to engage in civil rights work became paramount.   From 1962-1969, as an undergraduate and as a law student at Cal, we marched, sat in, and worked to overcome injustices that seemed so apparent – restrictions on speech that spawned the Free Speech Movement in 1964 (Mario Savio’s words still move one to this day),  racial discrimination as far away as Montgomery, Alabama and as close as restaurants, auto dealers and hotels in the Bay Area that refused to hire African-Americans, and, of course, the expanding war in Vietnam among them – a path that led me to do civil rights work in Jackson, Mississippi the summer after my first year at Boalt.

Montgomery Church BombingBy the time I finished law school, the only work that interested me was work that fed my passion to do good. As I look back, I like to think that my work in legal services, the public defender’s office, with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), as a labor lawyer, and as a law professor and dean, somehow, somewhere along the line made a small difference.

How my career ended up where it did, however, doesn’t really explain why I find public interest work so personally compelling.   The reality is that working to enhance access to justice feeds my own personal passions, exciting me daily about my work and motivating me to carry on for all these years.

What is one particularly rewarding experience you have had in your work on access to justice?  

I can’t pinpoint any one event.   I’ve been blessed to experience so many moments that I hope made a small contribution to increase access to justice, the linchpin of a truly humane and just society – whether it be registering voters in Jackson, Mississippi in the 60s, representing clients in the public defender’s office, resolving disputes between farmworkers and growers as an Administrative Law Judge with the ALRB, representing women and minorities in Title VII class action litigation, or creating opportunities for students to pursue justice from Phnom Penh where they work on war crimes issues to Louisiana where they work against the death penalty to San Francisco where they work on myriad projects, some of them spawned by OneJustice.   All of these experiences, in different times and different contexts, have been rewarding in different ways but with a common thread – a sense of fighting the good fight to help promote justice.   Engaging in this work over many decades emerges as the most rewarding feeling of all.

What is your favorite part of being a part of the OneJustice network

My favorite part of being a part of OneJustice is what it does for my law students, the future generations of skilled, ethical professionals who will take up the charge in the struggle for justice.   I hope that at the University of San Francisco our students are imbued with a belief that hard work and perseverance can make a difference.   I know that my students are excited by the same things that excite me – a sense of involvement in a struggle for the common good.   So for me, at this point, my work is as much about future generations as it is about anything.

It’s this concern for future generations that makes OneJustice so critically important.   It was a very different time in the 1960s when I graduated from law school.   The economy was still expanding and with it the public sector.   Law school debt was minimal or non-existent.  Jobs were plentiful and the ability to try to do good and to make a living that could sustain one’s self and one’s loved ones not a fantasy.    Legal services?   The Public Defender’s office?   Work with farm workers?   It all seemed to be no problem for those of us with those hopes and dreams.   Of course, that’s not the case today as rising tuition, crushing debt, a collapsed job market, and a decimated public sector mar the legal professional landscape.

In this context, the importance of OneJustice cannot be overstated.   OneJustice provides opportunities for students by helping to shape public interest curricula at law schools, providing internships to quench what I know is the insatiable thirst of today’s law students to pursue justice, and exposing students to the injustice that persists today just as it did 60 years ago when I was a young boy.  I always tell students to beware the assassins of the spirit.   OneJustice does that in ways that few other organizations do, constantly reminding students of why they came to law school in the first place and creating opportunities in and out of the classroom to realize their dreams.   Nothing could be more important.   OneJustice reminds us that there will never be too many lawyers in the world who are committed to the pursuit of justice.   Just ask a homeless person or an inmate on death row or a family involved in a horrible separation or custody issue.   OneJustice promotes the access to justice that society so desperately needs and fuels the hopes and dreams of today’s law students.

Get to know Professor Brand even better in this short video, made when he was dean.

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Thank you, Professor Brand, for your unwavering commitment to promoting justice! We look forward to honoring you and your many accomplishments on JuGet your tickets to Opening Doors to Justice 2013!ly 25th!

Opening Doors to Justice Awards Reception & Auction
July 25, 2013 | 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Julia Morgan Ballroom (downtown San Francisco)
Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

 

Yvonne Mariajimenez: pursuing justice and developing leaders

Yvonne Mariajimenez  headshotYvonne’s experience growing up in poverty taught her to be an advocate.

Now a statewide and national leader, she empowers others, as well.

Please join the rest of the OneJustice network to celebrate Yvonne and her many accomplishments on:

Thursday July 25th
6:oo pm to 9:00 pm
Julia Morgan Ballroom (downtown San Francisco)

Tickets are now available at the Opening Doors to Justice website, where you can also preview the awesome silent auction items and make a donation to the Justice Bus.  We caught up with Yvonne recently and asked her some pre-event questions!

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Yvonne, why have you committed so much of your professional career to working on access to justice?

My work is my vocation, and very personal to me.  I was born into and raised in poverty.   My sister, brother and I were raised by our mother, a single parent, who was afflicted with mental illness.  I learned very early in life to advocate for justice for my mother.  I broke out of the cycle of poverty because of my teachers and mentors; during my high school years, they told me I would go to college after having grown up thinking I could not because I was poor.

I have been blessed with education and opportunity and it is very important that I, too, work to ensure others have doors opened for them as they were opened for me.  Not a day goes by that I do not feel satisfaction and the comfort of knowing I have helped someone in need, that I have mentored and encouraged others as I was mentored and encourage, and that I am developing leaders who will work as I have done to make this world a better place.

 What is one particularly rewarding experience you have had in your work on access to justice?

There are many, but in the recent past, it has to be the work on which I collaborated with colleagues and community on stemming the tide of foreclosures and helping families with homeownership capacity keep their homes.

A short story:  One evening at a community meeting of about 200 people with whom we had been working on workforce development, a woman raised her hand and asked if we could talk about foreclosures;  I asked who in the room was affected so and just about everyone rose their hands.  We immediately went into training mode, taught families to read and understand their loan documents, and they realized they had been victims of predatory lending.  They organized and through a community strategy brought the banks into our community to negotiate face to face mortgage modifications to help families keep their homes.

Fast forward 7 months:  another community meeting run entirely by homeowners who had been working with us and had saved their homes.  One of the women leaders addressed the audience of 100 families and said, “Seven months ago I was sitting were you are now, ashamed, desperate and ill with stress because I was losing my home.  Through legal aid, I learned about the loans we had been given and why I was losing my home. I was trained on financial literacy and how to negotiate with the banks; I became a leader.  My home has been saved and I will work with you until your homes are saved.  Because of the training and help we receive from legal aid, our community will never be taken advantage of like this again!”  I sat back and thought to myself—this is why I do what I do!  Pursing justice and developing leaders who will continue to do so long after I am gone.

What is your favorite part of being a part of the OneJustice network?

My favorite part of being a membYvonne Mariajimenez Executive Fellows 2012er of the OneJustice network is the quality of leaders and mentors I have gotten to meet and know and call my friends.  Our non-profit law firms have brought about legal challenges and policy work that has ensured justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.  To gather and convene these organizations under the OneJustice network helps institutionalize the best practices and continue to train good lawyers that ensures the pursuit of justice.

The OneJustice Fellowship Program is probably the best CEO/leadership training I have ever had!  The caliber and quality of the faculty equals that of the most prestigious management training programs in this country.  The program’s quality and success is measured by the promotions of and executive director positions taken by many of its graduates.  The program has developed many effective leaders who will no doubt develop others.

Historically, Legal Services was often threatened with defunding.  Today, I believe legal services is here to stay, the real question is, how good and effective are we going to be?  The OneJustice program equipped me to lead a premier but ever changing non-profit law firm whose advocates change lives and transform communities because of their outstanding legal work.  It has done the same for so many other legal services leaders who will no doubt continue to significantly improve the economic status of poor and low income families throughout California.

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Thank you, Yvonne, for your fierce dedication to excellence and your outstanding contributions to ensuring justice for those in need.  We are honored to collaborate with you, and we are thrilled to be recognizing your achievements later this month!

Join us in celebrating Bruce Ives on July 25!

Guess who spent over 14 hours on the Justice Bus to bring vital legal assistance to community groups in Delano, CA?

The OneJustice network will gather on July 25th to honor Bruce Ives

The OneJustice network will gather on July 25th to honor Bruce Ives

Bruce Ives, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Hewlett-Packard Company!

Now that takes real dedication!
And that dedication is just part of why OneJustice is so thrilled to be celebrating Bruce and his tremendous commitment to pro bono at our upcoming Opening Doors to Justice” eventWe hope you will also join the rest of the OneJustice network to celebrate on:
Thursday July 25th
6:oopm to 9:00pm
Tickets are now available at the Opening Doors to Justice website, where you can also preview the awesome silent auction items and make a donation to the Justice Bus.
In preparation for the July 25th event, we caught up with Bruce and posed some interview questions about his passion for justice.  We know you’ll be just as inspired by his responses as we were!
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Why have you committed so much of your professional career to working on access to justice?

I’m not sure where my interest in access to justice started.  Suspect I watched too many police shows as a kid and that part of the Miranda warnings about “… if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you …” must have stuck.  Might also explain why my first job after law school was as a Deputy Public Defender in Los Angeles.  I carried the interest with me as I worked on political campaigns and later with elected officials.   When I moved to the private sector one of the main reasons I chose HP was because of its long tradition of giving back.  The company remains a leader in Global Citizenship with a strong pro bono program that allows our legal team to partner with leaders in the non-profit sector like OneJustice.  This gives me, and all of my colleagues, real opportunities to act on our values and use our legal skills to help make a difference.  The ability to do that work continues to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  Maybe it’s the reward that really explains my interest in access to justice, but it’s probably those old cop shows.

Bruce Ives on the Justice Bus on the way to Delano, CA.

Bruce Ives on the Justice Bus on the way to Delano.

What is one particularly rewarding experience you have had in your work on access to justice?

There are many, but a real highlight was the Justice Bus trip I joined last summer.  We took a bunch of lawyers from HP and Morgan Lewis to the Central Valley on a trip organized by OneJustice.  We connected there with the Equal Justice Works Fellow that our firms co-sponsor and did a legal clinic for the community groups she was working with.  We met some amazing people, many who were getting involved for the first time to lead local efforts to bring healthy food, clean water and entrepreneurial opportunities to their families and neighbors.  For the HP and MLB lawyers the contrasts were striking, between the Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, and between our day jobs and our pro bono work.  Yet the most impressive part of the whole experience, and the most rewarding, was the chance to meet and help some real local heroes – homemakers, retired forklift operators, grandmothers – who were stepping up to improve their communities. We all returned inspired.

What is your favorite part of being a part of the OneJustice network?

The most amazing thing about the OneJustice network is the broad number of connections it provides to foster and sustain collective work.  One example – the diverse group of supporters it brought forth to support the Civil Gideon Pilot Project funding Bill that was moving through the California legislature in the middle of a terrible budget crisis.  Because of this coalition building effort the Bill was passed, and signed, against staggering odds.  And that effort has allowed other members of the OneJustice network to launch cutting edge legal services programs around the state utilizing Civil Gideon pilot grants.  OneJustice has a unique capacity, because of its range and credibility, to enable so many other partners to expand legal services for Californians in need.  It is impressive to watch a small and dedicated team have such a large impact, and it is very rewarding to join in and support their efforts.

Want a visual of Bruce on the Justice Bus?  Well, you’re in luck!  Equal Justice Works captured the day in a video about the trip, the volunteers, and the Equal Justice Works Fellows at the heart of it all.  Thanks to Equal Justice Works for allowing us to share the video here for your viewing pleasure.  Enjoy!

We accept, on faith, metamorphosis

Can our hearts hold the enormity of our losses?

Maybe veterans writing can help us find the way.

On Memorial Day, our nation pauses to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.  OneJustice is privileged to work with and serve members of the military community through our Justice Bus trips that bring essential legal assistance to veterans living in rural and isolated areas of the state.   It is a deeply moving experience to serve those who have served our country and made it home.  And today – on Memorial Day – we try to comprehend the depth of the loss of those men and women who also served and did not come home.

But perhaps this loss simply is incomprehensible, unimaginable.  Maybe it is right and just that the emotions and impact are too large for our minds and hearts to hold.  And perhaps it is fitting that we are overwhelmed by attempting to express it – and our hearts broken open in the trying.

In honor of all those who have lost their lives serving our country, we offer the powerful words of veterans – who, in writing their wartime experiences, perhaps offer all of us some way of comprehending the enormity of these losses.

Saint Francis’s Satyr Butterfly

All creatures have the same source as we have.
Saint Francis of Assisi

The Saint Francis Satyr Butterfly

The Saint Francis Satyr Butterfly

A reclusive small brown butterfly,
white and yellow stigmatic suns

deployed along its wing ridges,
Saint Francis’s Satyr – christened

after the 12th century Italian soldier
and POW turned mystic –

secretes itself, miraculously,
in 10 by 10 kilometers

of the 251 square mile brash
of Fort Bragg – exact coordinates classified –

beyond which – we know this much –
it has gone undetected. Shy, endangered,

preferring anonymity, it hides
in high artillery impact domains –

life often chooses death –
the fires triggered by bombardment.

It wears Marsh camouflage,
resembles in its favored habitat –

blasted sedge and beaver ruins –
a tiny standard issue

Advanced Combat Helmet.
Parsed from the chrysalis,

rent too soon from its dream of living,
the satyr blazes in desperate glory

but three or four days,
in its imaginal stage,

then tenders its life in writ sacrifice.
Its gorgeous numbers dwindle.

The caterpillar has never been seen.
We accept, on faith, metamorphosis.

— Joseph Bathanti, Poet Laureate of North Carolina

When award-winning poet, Appalachian State University professor and advocate for literacy Joseph Bathanti was named North Carolina’s poet laureate in October 2012, he announced plans to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry. To celebrate Veterans Day in 2012, Bathanti wrote this poem for veterans, families of veterans and for everyone who honors America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.  We are honored to share it with the OneJustice network in observance of Memorial Day.

For more writing by veterans and members of the military community, we offer two additional sources:

 

The monkey on our back

What do grapes, cucumbers, and monkeys have to do with justice?

Guest blog by Michael Aozasa, OneJustice Office Assistant and googler for justice

In 2012, it was discovered that looking at cute animal pics and videos positively affects productivity. Since that rigorously examined scientific breakthrough has come to light, cute animal videos have become a requisite part of every workday for me at OneJustice.  Last week, in order to properly stimulate my midday productivity, I watched this video.

(Watch it, it’s less than a minute long and science says that you’ll be more productive afterwards. Don’t resist science.)

Hilarious, right? 
I was amped, a video that cute would surely get me through the afternoon slump, but when I tried to get back to work I was more than distracted. I couldn’t get that monkey out of my head.  There was something more to that video and I was going to figure it out. So, I did what all twenty-somethings do when confronted with an unknown. I asked uncle Google about it. 
I watched the full TEDtalk and read a few articles about inequality aversion. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something important in those 58 seconds, and I spent another hour spiraling deeper and deeper into the wikihole.


Nothing it seemed, not even the great and mighty power of the information superhighway, could help me.
I left the office that evening with the special cocktail of dejection and angst that only an afternoon wasted on wikipedia can induce. There was only one thing left to do before I went home. I had to go grocery shopping.

And there, in the produce aisle, I had my archimedean “eureka!” moment.

What if people reacted more like the monkey to inequality?

Eureka moment in the produce aisle – what if people reacted to inequality more like the monkey?

Grapes cost $2.25 per pound and cucumbers cost $1.65 per pound. I know this is obvious, but let us apply these prices to the monkey-economy. The cucumber-monkey is receiving 73 cents for every dollar the grape-monkey receives. Now, I’m not sure that the experimenters intended a sub-textual argument about the gender pay gap, but I can’t help but think that, maybe, the world might be a better place if people reacted to inequality more like the monkey.

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Michael Aozasa, OneJustice Office Assistant Michael Aozasa has had an on-again off-again relationship with OneJustice for three years in between his on-again off-again relationship with St. John’s College. In his current role as an administrative assistant he spends most days working with the operations team, googling around the interweb, and occasionally attending staff meetings. When not working or commuting up to the city, he enjoys listening to punk rock, playing ultimate frisbee, and writing autobiographies in the third person.

Cast your vote for justice – today!

Vote today and help OneJustice win a free film

Tell the story of rural Californians who are facing legal problems – all alone.

Help tell stories like his - this client lives in Indio, CA and faces barriers to accessing legal services!

Help tell stories like his – this client lives in Indio, CA and faces barriers to accessing legal services!

The talented filmmaker Dave Brick (check out his gorgeous videos here) loves his job – and he loves nonprofits.  And he is demonstrating his support for nonprofits with a contest where he will produce a FREE FILM for the winner.

OneJustice is so honored to have been selected by Dave as one of five finalists – and today is the very, very, very last day to vote.

And we need your helpPlease VOTE HERE today!

We are so excited by Dave’s vision for a film that would poignantly tell the story of one low-income family, living in a remote, rural area – facing serious legal problems and barriers to accessing legal services.  This film will be a rousing call to action to the California legal community – and others – to be a part of the solution and expanding legal services for those living in isolated communities.

Please vote.  Vote today before 5pm – and vote again and again.  There is no limit on the number of times you can vote.Vote Now!

Working together we can truly make the world a more just place.  Thank you for your help!

My love affair with the law

And other geeky thoughts to share with you on National Law Day.

Last month I was invited to give the keynote at a Nonprofit Law Conference in order to explain to non-legal nonprofits why they should care about – and proactively address – their organization’s legal issues.  (Yikes. Fun topic, right?)

So I showed up and talked about why I love the law, why I love nonprofits, and how the two sectors fit together.  My husband told me I couldn’t actually stand up in front of a group of non-lawyers and say that I love the law.  He warned that no one would take me seriously after that.  Since today is National Law Day, I figured I would share my remarks with the OneJustice network, and you all can tell me if it works – or not. Do you agree that lawyers can be heroes? Is it okay to proclaim my love for the legal profession? Tell me what you think!  Happy Law Day, all!

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Julia Wilson is Executive Director of OneJustice (and self-proclaimed fan of lawyers and nonprofits)

Julia Wilson is Executive Director of OneJustice (and self-proclaimed fan of anything to do with lawyers and nonprofits).

OneJustice as an organization stands at the intersection between the legal profession and the nonprofit sector. The social problem we exist to remedy is the fact that millions of low-income and other under-served Californians suffer needlessly from solvable legal problems, simply because they do not have access to or cannot afford an attorney.  For OneJustice and our statewide network of the 100+ nonprofit legal organizations that we support – lawyers are a fundamental component of our solution.

In other words,  we LOVE lawyers.  (I will agree for the record that might have something to do with the fact that most of us ARE lawyers.)  But we believe that lawyers can be heroes.  From our statewide vantage point, we see hundreds of thousands of volunteer attorneys who use their expertise and skills to change the lives of — and empower — Californians in need.

I have four basic proposals I want to make to you today:

  1. The law is an amazing social contract that we all sign onto,
  2. Nonprofits are – at the core – creatures of the law,
  3. Legal problems are truly the pits, and
  4. In order to fully capitalize on the nonprofit sector’s capacity to solve societal problems and change the world – we must deal proactively and sensibly with the legal issues facing our organizations.

THE LAW IS AN AMAZING SOCIAL CONTRACT

I love the law.  What I love is the fact that it is, at its heart, basically just an agreement between you and me and all of us that we will trust in a set of rules and remedies – and a system of courts and judges that we basically created – to resolve our disputes.  For me, our social agreement that the law should exist – and that it works – is an amazing social miracle and a wonderful system for conflict resolution.

Yep, at OneJustice we actually LOVE lawyers.

Yep, at OneJustice we actually LOVE lawyers.

Now I’m not saying that it is perfect.  And I’m definitely not saying that we all agree on exactly what the laws should be or say or require or do. But I do love that fundamentally, as a core element of our society, we have agreed that there should be laws.

This is not true in all countries.  I have been fascinated to hear stories from colleagues who are working on developing the rule of law in other parts of the world where that social contract does not exist or exists only in very limited functionalities.  And frequently in the absence of the rule of law, people resort to their own ideas of enforcement and appropriate restitution for alleged harms or to managing their conflict through violence.  So, I believe that our legal system – although imperfect and sometimes even disappointing – is overall a beautiful thing.

NONPROFITS ARE INHERENTLY CREATURES OF LAW

Another reason I love the law is that it makes possible another thing I love: the nonprofit sector.  Our organizations are absolutely creatures of law.

Laws create all corporations – including nonprofit corporations – kind-of out of thin air.  Statutes and regulations allow corporations to exist and set up the choices we make in terms of organizational structure.  Tax law permits a large chunk of the nonprofit sector’s very economic engine; tax-exempt status is a critically important thing for many of us, who have charitable giving as a major component of our revenue model.  Law creates our boards of directors and charges them with responsibilities that are derived from old English common law – concepts that are hundreds of years in the making and still hold true for us today.  Law structures my employment relationship with my board, and in turn, it is the connective tissue between me and my staff – and then between those staff members to each other.

scales of justice

Nonprofits are inherently creatures of law – and that is a good thing!

So as creatures of law at our core, our organizations exist within an unavoidable and intricate network of rules, regulations, regulatory bodies and legal relationships. I see the law as this invisible, webby netting that supports our very existence and work. I love that there are rules and systems and structure and guidance for how this all should work.  (Can you tell why I became a lawyer in the first place?) We take this supportive structure for granted WHEN IT IS WORKING.  But that brings me to my third point . . .

AND THE TRUTH IS, LEGAL PROBLEMS ARE THE  PITS

I started my legal career as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo county providing free legal assistance and representation to low-income residents of this county.  And I saw this reality every day. Legal problems come up with no warning, and they can throw your life into crisis mode.

This is definitely true for the low-income clients of nonprofit legal organizations – the grandmother who had to file for legal guardianship when her daughter passed away unexpectedly.   The  grassroots group of moms in Kern County who cannot access clean water for their community garden.  The family whose landlord files to evict them after they complain about the raw sewage and mold in their apartment.

If law provides the infrastructure for our organizational home, let's not wait until the pipes are leaking to deal with legal issues!

If law provides the infrastructure for our organizational home, let’s not wait until the pipes are leaking to deal with legal issues!

And the same is true for nonprofits.

OneJustice provides coaching, training and support for our network of the executives and boards of nonprofit legal organizations around the state.  The vast majority of these folks are attorneys, and they also end up facing unexpected legal problems. We work on human resources management, and they express concerns about whether they are handling their exempt and non-exempt classifications properly.  They move into new office space, and have immediate problems with the new landlord that force them to try to parse out the terms of their lease.  Or a collaboration with other nonprofits on a joint project funded by the county goes sideways – with no contract and lots of funding in the balance.

If the reality is that the law functions as the beams and supports that hold up our organizational house, when the pipes start leaking or the roof needs to be replaced it can throw us completely off our strategic road map – and have substantial financial impact as well.

THE NONPROFIT SECTOR – LIKE THE LAW – IS AN AMAZING SOCIAL UNDERTAKING

I believe that nonprofits are one of the major sources of innovation and change in our country.  And I believe we have the capacity to offer even more. Our sector is full of creative ideas and new ways of doing things.  We have truly breathtaking potential to effect fundamental positive change – and yet sometimes we aren’t able to fully capitalize on that potential – as organizations and as a sector.

And why?

Well, there has been a windstorm of reaction to Dan Pallota’s recent TED talk arguing that society places limitations on nonprofits capacity for innovation by expecting us to underinvest in our very economic model (fundraising) and marketing. And the Stanford Social Innovation Review has written wonderfully about what they call the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle, arguing that funder’s off-target expectations about what it costs to actually run a nonprofit has created a vicious cycle that forces nonprofits to underinvest in core operations and infrastructure – such that we hit points where we can barely function as organizations, let alone serve our clients and communities.

And I would add to this growing list of underinvestment a failure in – or at least a severe discomfort with – proactively dealing with the legal issues that our organizations face and assessing what legal issues we might face in the future. I can tell you from my own experience that I have taken the “ostrich-head-in-sand” approach to legal issues in running OneJustice.  I don’t create a formal contract relationship with a partner nonprofit until there are potential disagreements on the horizon.  I feel the temptation to just sign the stupid lease for our new office – even though some of the language is opaque and makes my head spin.  It feels important but not urgent to file for the trademark on our innovative new project name.

Do you agree that lawyers can be heroes?

Do you agree that lawyers can be heroes?

But giving in to those very natural tendencies creates risks.  Risks that I cannot see in the moment – but risks that feel completely unacceptable if I take the time to really look at them – and risks that would have significant negative impact on the organization and our programs if they came to fruition.

OK, SO THEN WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

I propose that as leaders of nonprofits, it is incumbent on us to embrace the fact that we lead highly regulated and complicated organizations. That means dealing (in advance) with legal topics. It means we must identify legal issues (and risks) as opportunities to continually improve and strengthen our organizations – as well as challenges. We have to keep learning, and finally (and perhaps counter-culturally…..) we have to agree that lawyers can be heroes – and use them as skilled supporters who are capable of guarding and growing the very heart of our work.

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On May 1 the United States officially recognizes Law Day to reflect on the role of law in the foundation of the country and to recognize its importance for society.  More information about Law Day is available at the American Bar Association’s website.  The theme of 2013 Law Day is “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All,” celebrating the movement for civil and human rights in America and the impact it has had in promoting the ideal of equality under the law. Law Day 2013 provides an opportunity to reflect on the work that remains to be done in rectifying injustice, eliminating all forms of discrimination, and putting an end to human trafficking and other violations of basic human rights.

Behind the glittering signs of Palm Springs, Rosa finds a stark reality

Rosa and OneJustice staff on the Justice Bus

Rosa Maria Calvaho (on the right) on the Justice Bus to Indio with OneJustice staffers Monica Mar (back) and Cynthia Luna (left). All three have participated in the UCLA Law Fellows program.

Justice Bus volunteer Rosa Cavalho finds the situation in Indio a far cry from the golf courses and manicured gardens.

But she also finds smiles and hugs from the clients who are assisted by the Justice Bus clinic.

Our final National Volunteer Month guest blogger, Rosa Maria Cavalho, received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and has worked as a legal advocate and labor union organizer for the last 6 years in both rural and urban parts of Northern and Southern California. Her legal and academic interests include Housing Law, Labor and Employment, and Worker Rights Activism. She will enter law school in 2014. Rosa is thankful to the UCLA Law Fellows Program, which put her in contact with OneJustice.

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Arid, parched mountains, glittering signs reading Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, spacious swaths of golf courses flanking hotels with manicured garden fronts and the Coachella Music Festival. These are all images easily conjured into the mind by the mere utterance of “Coachella Valley” to anyone even slightly familiar with Southern California. And though they are all images that do define this region, they only provide a silhouette to the full image that outside visitors and residents alike may not have perceived.

The city of Indio, California in the Coachella Valley lends shade and color to the silhouette. From slumlord housing and aggressive debt collections agents to workplace violations and obtaining child support, residents deal with a variety of legal challenges. In addition, they are further magnified in this desert valley due to the lack of legal services and made greater to those individuals without vehicles, where towns stand in great distance from each other and public transportation is sporadic at its best.

As an advocate for public interest work with prior experience in legal outreach in both rural and urban environments of Northern California, I was both curious and excited to volunteer with the Justice Bus Project trip to Indio. I had never actually gone out to a rural community to offer legal services. I had simply lived in a rural community and assisted in a legal office. The thought of being part of a dynamic project – justice on wheels – was precisely what prompted my curiosity and excitement.

Rosa with a Justice Bus Client in Indio

Rosa with a relieved Justice Bus client at the consumer law clinic in Indio

However, it was only really during the drive I vividly gained a sense of what challenges rural communities face in accessing legal resources. By witnessing the huge expanses of sparsely populated rural areas when approaching Indio, I began to understand how much the dearth of legal services that existed here stood in contrast to the array of services accessible in the distant city of urban Los Angeles. For in an urban environment, if you are unable to access legal services in one part of the city, a hop on the metro or 30 minute drive is often sufficient to put one in touch with another legal clinic. Here, though, “hopping” on a metro train was not a possibility and 30 minutes was often how long it took some residents to get to a major supermarket.

The OneJustice experience was great because it allowed me to gain a first hand perspective over the course of two days of the significance of traveling into isolated communities and even in a small way, contributing to the lives of residents there. Going into this far flung community with lawyers and law students, being quickly oriented with the nature of legal issues faced and then delving right into interviewing clients, working with supervising attorneys to assess legal issues and provide advice or referrals, I felt privileged.

I was part of a team of people who were facilitating access to legal rights.  I shared in and met so many incredible passionate advocates through this experience. And I came away with the feeling that OneJustice allowed me to fill in the silhouette of understanding I had about the Coachella Valley, painting it with the smiles of a client and her little girl, the gratitude of an elderly couple, and a hug of appreciation from a women being threatened by consumer debt lenders.  Thank you!

Happy National Volunteers Month to Rosa and all the Justice Bus volunteers!  You all are the heart and soul of this project!

Donate today to bring more legal help to places like Indio.You can also bring life-changing legal services to those in need.  Donate now through our secure online system.

The hope that now embodied her was beautiful

Volunteers bring hope to those suffering from legal problems throughout our state.

Jennifer shares her story of volunteering to bring immigration assistance to her community in Humboldt.

Jennifer Alejo is a student at Humboldt State University and a Justice Bus Project volunteer

Jennifer Alejo is a student at Humboldt State University and a Justice Bus Project volunteer

Jennifer Alejo was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Currently she is attending Humboldt State University pursuing a double major in Political Science and International Studies with a minor in Communications. Jennifer enjoys advocating for immigration rights and works every day to dismantle systems of oppression.  She is also a co-founder of Finding Resources and Empowerment through Education (FREE), the on-the-ground partner for a recent Justice Bus Trip to Humboldt County. When she’s not busy with school, work, and organizing Jennifer enjoys spending time with family and friends. We are honored that Jennifer allowed us to interview her for this guest blog post, one of our series during National Volunteer Month.

Jennifer, why did you volunteer with the Justice Bus trip to bring services to Humboldt County?  

I love volunteering to be able to help those who are not represented. While I currently live in Humboldt County, I grew up in Los Angeles County, and my family is still there. Living in Humboldt County has been really different not only because of the environment but because unlike Los Angeles, Humboldt County has no resources for underrepresented communities. My community in Humboldt really needs access to legal assistance,  particularly for immigration services now that there is the new immigration relief program for youth who came to the US as children (“DACA” or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”) However, for people living in Humboldt, the closest immigration attorney is 300 miles away. People already have trouble paying for a lawyer, now imagine paying for traveling and lodging on top of that. It was impossible for my community members to fix their immigration status in this situation.

So, during my last visit to Los Angeles over the holidays, I made it my mission to look for resources for my community in Humboldt. I called different non-profits, sent out emails, looked for networks on facebook – basically I did anything possible to see if I could find at least one organization to help bring immigration services into Humboldt County. The problem was that the organizations that I could find,  don’t have enough funding to bring their services all the way to Humboldt. I refused to let this discourage me, and I am really glad I didn’t because someone mentioned that I should look into a project called Justice Bus.

Students from University School of Law traveled over 300 miles to Humboldt County, where they partners with Jennifer and FREE to deliver two days of free legal clinics.

Students from University School of Law traveled with the Justice Bus Project over 300 miles to Humboldt, where they partnered with Jennifer and FREE to deliver two days of free legal clinics.

The name itself already was interesting, and so I quickly contacted OneJustice and told them about Humboldt County’s situation. I remember being really worried about the money. I explained that I was a student and that I had no money, but that I would be more than willing to look for donors, I was relieved when Lauren, a Legal Fellow at OneJustice, told me that no money was needed.

The type of work that the Justice Bus Project provides for isolated rural areas is so important in so many different levels. It reminds people that there are amazing individuals out there who still care about them.  It not only acknowledges them as humans, but acknowledges their struggle. We live in a time where humanity is not always seen and knowing that there is a group of future attorneys and attorneys out there who truly aspire to be advocates for human rights is empowering and inspirational. As I worked closely with the OneJustice staff to plan the Justice Bus trip,  it reminded me that there are people who are willing to use their knowledge to help those in need and expect nothing in return. It inspired me to maybe even pursue a law degree and maybe one day be part of the Justice Bus and be the one helping families.

What motivated you personally to volunteer during the clinics in Humboldt?

People often ask me why I do the work I do, and I ask why not? It is my job as a citizen of this world to help those who are silenced, and as someone who holds privileges myself, it is important to be able to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. When I see people who have been silenced, I think of my family and the barriers that they have overcome thanks to non-profit organizations in Los Angeles. I might not be able to eliminate the systems of oppression that my community members go through, but I can provide the tools they need to empower themselves and those around them.

What was the experience like during the days of the clinic?

USF Humboldt Justice Bus

Law student volunteers from University of San Francisco School of Law join OneJustice staff on the Justice Bus trip.

Busy! We were all running around everywhere trying to get organized. There were people waiting at the hall for their appointments, we were waiting for our Spanish interpreters to arrive, and just as everything would calm down, then  more people came for appointments and more interpreters were needed.  My phone didn’t stop ringing, as folks who needed directions were calling me, folks who were curious about the confidentiality level wanted to know more about the Justice Bus, and more.

Overall, the experience was fantastic! I don’t think there are words that could express how happy I was when people were coming in and out after receiving legal advice. A lot of my community members live in fear that their undocumented status will come to light with terrible consequences. Being able to see them willing to talk to attorneys was the first step many of them took to come out as undocumented.  I was really proud of all my community members who took the risk to discuss their status.

Was there one particularly meaningful moment for you over the two days?

There were so many meaningful moments, but in particular there was one of a youth. She came to find me after she was done with her appointment, and she told me how happy she was that she was able to get advice on her case.  She told me that suddenly she felt really strong and that the future wasn’t as cloudy as she thought. That’s exactly the feeling I wanted her to feel. I wanted her to be able to know that as a scholar she would be able to succeed in her education. What made the moment perfect was the big smile in her face, and the hope I could see in her eyes that she would have the proper documentation to be able to apply for a job. There was something about that moment that gave me so much strength to continue the work that I am doing. It wasn’t the thank you, nor the big hug, but the hope I could feel now embodied her—it was beautiful.

What would you say to lawyers and law students living in more urban areas who are considering volunteering for a Justice Bus trip

Please please volunteer – you don’t know how much this means to misrepresented communities who don’t have someone to speak out for them or at least explain their case in a legal sense. Families feel so empowered after receiving this advice.  It gives them strength to continue with their life regardless of what barriers are thrown at them.  And even though at times some of the advice given is not positive, it is still important to them to know what their status is and what to expect from the future. To any lawyers or law students who are thinking about volunteering, please now that there are so many people who are need your help – and you can use your skills and knowledge to be the change in someone’s life! I can assure you that after volunteering with the Justice Bus  Project you will want to do it again, because the work is so important and so rewarding.  Thank you!

Jennifer, from all of us at OneJustice, thank YOU for volunteering and for creating real change in the world.

Thank you to Jennifer and all the amazing volunteers from FREE and USF School of Law!

Thank you to Jennifer and all the amazing volunteers from FREE and USF School of Law!