Their faces say it all.

Last year the Justice Bus Project brought life-changing legal  help to hundreds of Californians living in isolated areas of the state.

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians in 2013.

You can help bring legal help to even more Californians next year – donate now!

These Californians – seniors, families, children, workers, and  veterans – are at the heart of the OneJustice network.  They are the very reason we exist. Their faces tell the story of our mission better than any words – so we’ve put together a scrapbook blog with photos of clients from all over the state that received help because of the Justice Bus Project during 2012, combined with our favorite justice-related quotes from our quote contest earlier this month.  Enjoy!

Donate to support the Justice Bus Project  before the end of the year and your gift will be doubled.  A generous pool of donors have agreed to match all donations – up to $25,000 – made before the year’s end.  Thank you for your support!

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Justice is what love looks like in public.

It is not enough to be compassionate - you must act.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.

Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.

The gift of justice for immigrant youth

There are over 300,000 children and youth in California eligible to apply for a new immigration relief program.

And not enough attorneys to help them – particularly in rural and isolated areas of the state.

You can change this!  The Justice Bus Project is building coalitions of nonprofit legal organizations and law firms, law schools, and corporations to respond.

In the short video below, Laura Lopez, a youth in Napa County who graduated with honors from UC Santa Cruz, tells her story and explains why the recent Justice Bus trip with Legal Aid of Napa Valley  was so important.

You can make all the difference for someone like Laura – give the gift of justice to a youth this holiday seasondonate now to the Children’s Legal Aid Fund or the Justice Bus Project.  Donate before the end of the year, and your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a group of generous donors.

Click on the image above to watch our short video about Laura Lopez, an immigrant youth in Napa County.

Click on the image above to watch our short video about Laura Lopez, an immigrant youth in Napa County.

Many thanks to Fenwick & West attorneys for volunteering to bring justice to the youth in Napa Valley!

Many thanks also to the California Bar Foundation and the van Loben Sels/RembeRock Foundation for their generous support for the Justice Bus Project!  We are thrilled to report that both Foundations just announced that they will provide generous grants in 2013 for even more Justice Bus Trips to bring life-changing legal help to immigrant youth living in rural and isolated areas of the state.  Thank you!

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Small Business Owner Saved from Bankruptcy After Violent Robbery

Held at gunpoint and robbed, Maya found pro bono counsel to face the creditors who demanded that she repay what was stolen from her.

In this season of giving, you can give the gift of justice to others like Maya – donate now online or download a printable donation form.

OneJustice supports a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses that work together to remove legal barriers to basic life necessities for over 270,000 Californians each year.  For thousands of Californians, the attorneys who volunteer with this network make all the difference to clients facing overwhelming legal problems. A donation to OneJustice supports this entire network – spreading the gift of justice throughout the state.

In this guest blog, we are proud to highlight the pro bono work of just one of those wonderful volunteer attorneys – our very own Advisory Board member Mark Conrad.

Guest Blog by OneJustice Advisory Board member Mark Conrad

Mark Conrad provided pro bono legal representation to a small business owner and foster mom after she experienced a violent robbery.

In a violent robbery that lasted less than two minutes, Maya* lost more than $50,000.  Unfortunately for Maya, the money was not hers to lose.  She was taking the money to the bank to deposit, as she did every night after closing up her small storefront, where she offered wire-transfer services.  The money belonged to her customers, and it was supposed to get wired to their loved ones—to friends and family in places like Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.  Now it was gone.  Maya called the police immediately and filed a report, but the gunman was never found.

Days later, three financial institutions were knocking on her door, demanding that she repay the stolen money.  The banks had wired the money to the intended recipients, and now they were turning to Maya to pay them back.  That was how the contract worked, they explained.  Maya was uninsured, on the brink of insolvency, and desperate.

Fortunately, a safety net of pro bono legal counsel came to her rescue.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area,  a nonprofit in OneJustice’s statewide network, referred Maya’s case to a network of lawyers at downtown San Francisco law firms, and my former firm agreed to take the case as a pro bono (or volunteer) matter.

We helped Maya quickly negotiate a repayment plan with two of the companies making claims against her.  These repayment plans took into account Maya’s modest income, so even though she did not have a lot of cash to spare, she was able to save, little by little, and make her monthly payments.  She met her obligations under these plans, all while supporting a foster child, with only the modest income she earned selling jewelry and cell phone cases at her store.

For many low-income clients like Maya, justice is only made possible by the tireless efforts of volunteer attorneys.

For many low-income clients like Maya, justice is only made possible by the tireless efforts of volunteer attorneys.

The third company, however, referred Maya’s case to a collection agency, which sent letters threatening legal action.  Maya’s livelihood was put at risk by these threats.  Only after litigation ensued did it come to light that the third claim was owned by an affiliate of one of the initial two companies that had previously settled their claims against Maya.  As a result, we learned, this third claimant had already released its claim against Maya and was seeking an additional windfall recovery.  We went to court, arguing that Maya’s debt had already been discharged.  The suit was dropped shortly after we filed our papers.

Maya’s case did not make headlines; it did not set any legal precedent.  As a matter of dollars and cents, it is among the smallest matters I ever handled in private practice.  But I can think of no other case in which I had a larger influence on the final outcome. 

Without the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and without the commitment of my former firm to provide pro bono services, Maya would have been on her own.  She would have had difficulty negotiating a fair deal with her creditors.  It likely would have been impossible for her to get the documents she needed to discover the basis for her defenses in the debt collection action.  A motion for summary judgment would have been unthinkable for someone like her, an immigrant with no familiarity with the legal system and little English.  In short, without the pro bono safety net, Maya could have lost her business and her ability to support herself and her foster daughter.

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

This is why I work with OneJustice.  More than any other organization I know, OneJustice strengthens the pro bono safety net that improves the lives and protects the livelihoods of people like Maya.  It supports the legal services providers who are on the front lines working with clients like her.  It is building bridges to the firms that have resources to seek discovery and file summary judgment motions on their behalf.  Its lofty goal is to meet the legal needs of all low-income Californians, yet it pursues this goal with its feet planted firmly on the ground, meeting with legislators, scrutinizing balance sheets, and crunching census data to ensure that more people like Maya find the help they need.

 * Names changed for the sake of confidentiality.

You can win! OneJustice justice quotes contest starts today!

Have a favorite quote about justice?  Then you can win!

You can win this nifty OneJustice water bottle!

You can win this nifty OneJustice water bottle!

Our new facebook contest opened today!  Everyone who posts their favorite justice quote will be entered in a contest for a nifty OneJustice water bottle.  Got two favorite quotes? Post them both!  Are you on this blog page, facebook and LinkedIn?  Post on all three!  Staff will select their favorite of all the favorites – and the winner will get a OneJustice water bottle.

This contest ends Dec. 8, so don’t miss it – and make sure you like us on facebook, too!

Congratulations to the last facebook contest winner, Steven Schulman, Partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who leads the firm’s worldwide pro bono practice.  In the last contest, we asked folks to guess the secret identity of a VIP Justice Bus guest in our office.  The guest was the Chief Justice of the Yurok Tribal Court, who was in our office to start planning the January 2013 Justice Bus trip to serve 400 veterans who are members of the Yurok Tribe and are facing legal barriers to benefits and medical care.  Living in Del Norte and Humboldt counties, they are over 300 miles away from the closest nonprofit legal organization that can help.

Steven guessed both “Justice Sandra Day O’Connor” and “Cookie Monster” – winning hands down for both accuracy and creativity!  Congrats Steven – enjoy that water bottle!

You are part of the solution – and so is Diego Cartagena!

Removing barriers to justice takes a network. . . the OneJustice network.

OneJustice supports a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses.  Each year this network provides life-saving legal help to over 275,000 Californians facing legal barriers to basic life necessities and core civil rights.  You – like everyone in our network – are an essential part of the solution to the fact that millions of our neighbors suffer needlessly from solvable legal problems.

In honor of the work that our network does, each month we’ll feature an interview with a different participant in the network. This month we interviewed Diego Cartagena, Pro Bono Director at Bet Tzedek Legal Services and a member of the OneJustice Board of Directors.


Diego, you have many years of experience managing pro bono delivery systems at various legal services programs in the OneJustice network.  How has that experience informed your work with OneJustice?

I started my career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.  In launching the Teen LA project, I focused on helping to give low-income teen mothers and fathers a voice in court by providing them with legal advocacy and outreach in the areas of family and immigration law.  I then went on to serve as Pro Bono Director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, while simultaneously serving as the agency’s Probate Legal Guardianship Program Director.   Now I serve as the Pro Bono Director at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, where I continue to leverage the power of the private sector to provide much-needed legal assistance to our clients.

I have worked closely with OneJustice on a variety on pro bono projects during my time at Bet Tzedek and also the Alliance for Children’s Rights.  OneJustice supports a network of legal services nonprofits in the Southern California region, with a special focus on strengthening and expanding the pro bono delivery system.  With OneJustice’s staffing and support, we are able to come together and work jointly on collaborative pro bono programs – including the website, joint MCLE trainings and events for pro bono volunteers, and strategic planning meetings for the Southern California region.  In my role as Pro Bono Director, I also work directly with OneJustice staff on all of these important efforts.

OneJustice supports a network of legal services nonprofits that collaborate on

Tell us about your most recent collaboration with OneJustice?

Recently I had the pleasure of working with OneJustice’s Los Angeles office – Senior Staff Attorney Monica Mar and Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow Cynthia Luna – to plan and deliver a Justice Bus Trip to serve seniors in Lancaster.  There is a substantial need for legal help for low-income seniors living in the Lancaster area, and it can be quite challenging to deliver services to them.

Through our Justice Bus collaborative, we traveled with six Southwestern law student volunteers to set up a free legal clinic at the Lancaster Senior Center. Thanks to OneJustice, in one single afternoon we were able to conduct intake interviews and even some on-the-spot advice and counsel for 22 seniors who had been on an extensive waitlist.  They are now on the path to having their legal issues addressed.  We hope to do more Justice Bus Trips with OneJustice in 2013!

What do you enjoy about working with OneJustice?

OneJustice is an innovative and forward-looking organization that always keeps its eye on the ultimate goal – expanding the legal help available to Californians who are facing legal barriers to basic life necessities.  I enjoy the truly generative work of the OneJustice Board to frame the service gaps in the state and identify ways to bridge those gaps, and then I appreciate being able to work together with OneJustice staff to make those creative ideas into on-the-ground projects that make a real difference in people’s lives.

Which of OneJustice’s initiatives for 2013 most excites you?

Seniors living in rural and isolated areas face additional barriers to justice. The Justice Bus delivers teams of volunteers to their community.

Of course as someone who started my career at agencies serving youth and children, I am proud of OneJustice’s initiative to expand services for families – particularly in the areas of immigration and special education.  Given my current work at Bet Tzedek – and the profound challenges of bringing much-needed legal help to seniors living in rural and isolated areas of the state – I have to say that I am most excited about the Seniors Legal Aid Fund that will ensure increased nonprofit management support for legal services organizations serving seniors and more Justice Bus Trips to bring teams of pro bono volunteers to help seniors in places like Lancaster and others.  I definitely will be involved in those efforts in 2013!

We make a life by what we give…….Happy #GivingTuesday!

A creative way we can all take a little U-turn back to giving thanks…..and giving… the middle of these days so focused on getting.

With two teenaged daughters in my house, the last several days were pretty focused on getting things!  Black Friday and Cyber Monday fascinated my daughters, who were appalled that our family didn’t have big plans for tracking down the deals.  Instead, we focused on shopping small on Small Business Saturday (see OneJustice’s last blog post), and today — Tuesday November 27 — we are fired up for #GivingTuesday, a creative new way to remind us all to give back in this season of giving thanks.

OneJustice is a proud partner in the first annual #GivingTuesday, the day that also marks the official opening day of the giving season.  We’re joining almost 2,000 nonprofits and corporations around the country to celebrate the work of nonprofits in our society – with the goal of driving donations of time, money, or services to charities with the same enthusiasm that shoppers have on Black Friday.

It is a beautifully simple idea, and one that calls on ideals and values that are at the core of American society.  First, find a way to give back – through your local school, faith-based organization, charity – maybe even through OneJustice!  Then tell others in your network about what you did – and why it matters.  #GivingTuesday is about reminding all of us that we are a generous people – with our time, our energy, and with our financial support.

How are you called to participate in acts of giving today, the first-ever #GivingTNovember 27, #GivingTuesdayuesday?

One way to celebrate #GivingTuesday is to Give the Gift of Justice to veterans facing legal barriers to benefits and medical care, vulnerable seniors living in rural and isolated areas of the state, and low-income children who need legal help to access new immigration programs or educational services.  Donate today to our Veterans, Seniors, or Children’s Legal Aid Funds, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous group of donors who are also exercising their generosity today as part of #GivingTuesday!

And then let’s all help spread the word!  Then take a picture of yourself with a piece of paper proudly saying that you “Gave the Gift of Justice” on “#GivingTuesday” and post it to the #GivingTuesday facebook page and also the OneJustice facebook page.

However you decide to give back to your community, we thank you! The world is a better place because of your generosity.  We look forward to celebrating #GivingTuesday with you every year.

What do small businesses need to thrive?

Are you surprised to hear that low-income business owners and entrepreneurs get help from nonprofit legal organizations?

Today is Small Business Saturday, a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for our communities, designed as a complement to Black Friday, Cyber Small Business SaturdayMonday, and the new Giving Tuesday.  Today the U.S. Small Business Administration urges all of us to shop at small, locally-owned businesses to support our neighbors and strengthen our local economy.

Small businesses have a powerful impact on our communities and larger society. OneJustice supports using our consumer power to support small, local businesses – which are frequently a road out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency for low-income entrepreneurs and small business owners. (For more about entrepreneurship as a poverty alieviation strategy, read here.)

Just like large multi-national corporations, who access legal advice and representation by large law firms, small business owners and micro-entreprenuers often face pressing legal problems.  For small businesses, a legal problem can be the difference between thriving and failure – but they usually cannot afford law firm billing rates.  The free legal help provided to low-income small businesses and micro-entrepreneurs by organizations in the OneJustice network –  like Public Law Center, Public Counsel, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, Volunteer Legal Services Program (legal help for non-profits), and others – can make all the difference.

The 2011 California Civil Justice Crisis Hearings — which were staffed by OneJustice — documented that businesses rely on a fully-funded civil court system – and small businesses and entrepreneurs need the help of nonprofit legal organizations.  The Hearings Report found that:

“Small businesses, which often do not have the resources to pay for an attorney, depend on courts and the assistance of legal services to protect their interests and enforce their rights when they become subject to a wrongful increase in taxes or involved in a lawsuit.”

Small Business Owner Nina Jun testifies.

Nina Jun, small business owner, testifies about the important legal help she received from the Public Law Center and the pro bono firm Crowell & Moring, during the California Civil Justice Crisis Hearings.

A wonderful example is the testimony provided by Nina Jun, the owner of a small laundry business in Santa Ana.  We were inspired to hear Nina’s testimony about how Public Law Center and pro bono attorneys from the firm of Crowell & Moring helped her fight the wrongful increase of her taxes by approximately $4,000.  You can hear Nina’s testimony first-hand in the video above.

Nina reported that – “For a small business like mine, an increase of this amount in tax is big . . . It was not only a monetary victory, but it was a triumph [of] spirit and the pride of . . . small businesses, who are looking for justice.”

Infographic showing the power of small businesses

The Power of Small Businesses – they contribute positively to their local communities and create new jobs!

So, SHOP SMALL AND LOCAL today on Small Business Saturday.  Our community small businesses need all of us – consumers and nonprofit legal organizations – to help them survive and thrive in today’s complex and competitive business sector.  And not only will you be supporting the local economy – you might just be supporting someone’s path out of poverty to self-sufficiency.

WE WANT TO KNOW – what is your favorite local, small business that you can support today?  Share in the comments here or on our facebook page or LinkedIn page!  (You can also find maps of small businesses in your area participating in Small Business Saturday here.)

Thank you to the OneJustice network – chock full of philanthropists

Philanthropy – the gift that keeps on giving (and it’s not just about huge foundations and folks giving away millions!)

Monopoly Man with money

Philanthropy is not like monopoly!

Did you know that today – November 15 – is National Philanthropy Day?

Okay, we know what you are thinking! Sometimes when folks say “philanthropy,” the images that spring to mind have more to do with huge foundations or folks who are able to give away millions each year.

But the reality is that philanthropy – which basically means “love of mankind” – is something that so many people do to support the social causes they believe in.  They volunteer. They serve as mentors.  They staff events.  They participate in conversations in social media.  They march in protests.  They cook and deliver meals.  And they do give – generously – to financially support the work of the nonprofits in their communities.

We love the OneJustice network

We heart the OneJustice Network!

At OneJustice, we view National Philanthropy Day as our own special thanksgiving day. While it doesn’t mean we get turkey, it does mean that we get another day when we get to recognize and thank our wonderful network of supporters – which includes folks who volunteer, go on Justice Bus trips, staff trainings and events, volunteer in our office, engage with us online, and yes, who also give generous financial support because they share our vision for a more just world and they support our strategies for getting there.


So for National Philanthropy Day (aka at OneJustice as “We love our network day”), we have a little thank you video for all the OneJustice philanthropists!  Thank you!

OneJustice says "Thank You!"

Thank you from everyone at OneJustice to our supporters, collaborators, and stakeholders!

National Philanthropy Day is the day set aside to recognize and pay tribute to the great contributions that philanthropy – and those people who are active philanthropists – have made to our lives, our communities, and our world.  This year, over 120 communities and 50,000 people around the world will celebrate the power of giving in their lives.

And for all you philanthropists who are inspired to support OneJustice’s work, we’ve launched our fall “Life isn’t fair, but justice should be” campaign.  Our goal is to raise $60,000 between now and the end of the year to increase legal help for veterans, vulnerable seniors, and low-income children and youth in 2013.  It’s easy to give online or download a form to send with a check.  You are our justice heroes – and you make the work possible. Thank you for your support!

How will you honor those who served our country? How about giving the gift of justice?

I was shocked to learn recently that there are 400 rural veterans facing legal barriers to benefits and medical care they need – and that they are over 300 miles from the closest nonprofit legal organization that can help!

To be honest, I was always a little bit vague about what exactly we’reHow do we celebrate Veterans Day? supposed to do on Veterans Day.  I know it is a day to honor all the brave women and men who have served our country in the armed services – but it was never more specific than that for me.  Until now.

Several weeks ago, the OneJustice Pro Bono Team received a call from Chief Judge Abby Abinanti of the Yurok Tribal Court – with some shocking news and a request for help.  She was calling because there are around 400 members of the tribe who are also U.S. veterans who are facing legal barriers to critically important benefits and medical care.  And they are over 300 miles – 7 hours by car – from the closest legal nonprofit organization that can help them.

So – clearly thaOneJustice expands legal help for veteranst calls for a Justice Bus response!  Of course there were some possible obstacles – but we quickly solved them.   Yes, it will be the farthest we’ve ever taken the Justice Bus Project- but University of San Francisco Law School readily agreed to have their students travel the distance to help.  Never mind that we need a new nonprofit partner – we had already been talking to Swords to Plowshares about working together to do Justice Bus trips to serve veterans in rural and isolated parts of Northern California.

Now the only remaining barrier to getting on the road should also be easy to overcome – the funding to cover the costs of the long bus ride and accommodations for the student volunteers willing to donate their time and energy to deliver free legal clinics in three locations – Eureka, Klamath, and Hoopa – over two days.

The trip will take $10,000.  Two generous donors each already donated $2,500 because they were so moved by the story of these veterans.  This means we have just $5,000 to go and we will be able to gear up some mobile justice.

So, we need YOUR HELP.  If 500 people in the OneJustice network each give just $10 on Veterans Day, we’ll be able to get the bus on the road.  We can do this through collective action – we can stretch the legal safety net in our state to include these veterans who have asked for our help.

It’s easy to give online (just click HERE).  Just make your donation and designate the Veterans Legal Aid Fund.  Or download a donation form HERE and send in a check.  Literally every dollar gets us closer to making this trip a reality.  If you give in honor of a veteran or service member in your life, we will list their name on our Wall of Honor for one year and read their name aloud as the Justice Bus starts its trip north in early January 2013.

So – this Veterans Day I will be carrying the knowledge of these 400 Yurok veterans in need in my heart.  It is an incredible honor to be invited into their lives to provide access to the legal help they need – and with that honor comes the responsibility to respond.  They already served for us.  Now the time has come when we can serve them.

My grandfather served 5 years in the army, including 26 months in New Guinea during WWII

My grandfather, Charles Ward Henson II, with his children, my father and aunt.

My grandfather, who passed away before I was born, served for 5 years in the army – including 26 months in New Guinea during World War II.  This Sunday, at 11am, I will proudly make my own personal donation in his name to make this trip possible.  I hope you will join me in giving the gift of justice to these veterans!

Thank you for your support – we are honored by your charitable investment in our work!

What images spring into your mind when we say “rural”?

When it comes to barriers to legal help in Southern California – “rural” and “isolated” may not look like what you think!  I am finding “legal services deserts” closer to home.

When you hear the term “rural” you might picture farms, long and open roads, and orchards as far as the eye can see. You may not necessarily think about how rural Californians lack access to legal help when they are facing pressing legal problems, but that is all too frequently their experience. As documented in the Access Commission’s report on rural access to justice, rural communities face significant barriers in accessing legal help, including fewer nonprofit legal organizations, lack of transportation, inadequate access to technology and law libraries, language barriers, and fewer law firms providing pro bono services.  Over the last year, I have learned that there are also many isolated and remote communities that have tremendous barriers to accessing life-changing legal help but that do not fit the traditional image of “rural.”  As someone who has grown up in Los Angeles County, I have been shocked to find these communities – which can be a little as 100 miles away from urban centers – with such limited access to legal help.

VIDEO: Click on the image above to view a short video showing the isolated areas that the Justice Bus Project covers.

OneJustice created the Justice Bus® Project in 2007 to bridge the divide between the need for legal help in rural areas and the substantial pro bono resources available only in urban areas of the state.  I am proud to be one of OneJustice’s Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellows working to expand this project – and I am the first Fellow to be working out of OneJustice’s new Los Angeles office to grow the Justice Bus Project to bring legal services to isolated communities in Southern California. As I enter the second year of my Fellowship, my primary responsibility is to build new partnerships with legal aid organizations serving rural or isolated communities and then design legal clinics to provide free legal help on the areas of law most needed in those areas.  Then I recruit, train and bring groups of law student and attorney volunteers to staff the clinics.   These Justice Bus clinics allow the nonprofit legal organizations to provide essential legal assistance to many more clients in a few hours than their limited number of attorneys and resources usually permit.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I saw first-hand the struggles my parents, immigrants and low-income individuals, faced in the city. The need to help my community was one of my driving forces in college and law school. While in law school at Southwestern, I had the opportunity to participate in the first Justice Bus trip in Southern California. On that first Justice Bus trip, my eyes were opened to the great need and struggles outside the city and the citizens living too far from all the great free legal organizations.

I started working on the Justice Bus Project in the fall of 2011, and as the project has grown in Southern California, I have noticed that the “rural” landscape is different. The project has begun to serve not just traditionally rural but also isolated communities. These communities may appear as developed urban centers but are actually “legal services deserts” – just as isolated and underserved as rural farmlands.

This young dad was able to advocate to get his benefits for his family with the help of the two law students from Southwestern Law School during a 2012 Justice Bus Trip to Lancaster.

Lancaster, located 70 miles from downtown in the northern part of Los Angeles County, is one such community. The city has a population of 156,633 and over 20% of its population lives in poverty. While at first glance it looks like a traditional suburban center with brand new apartments, track homes, and big box stores, the reality is that Lancaster is a desert suburbia in the middle of seemingly nowhere. While there are over 15  legal aid organizations serving Los Angeles County, none are physically located in Lancaster.  Many of the legal aid organizations in Los Angeles struggle to make their services available to Lancaster residents and are eager to partner with OneJustice to use the Justice Bus model to expand their reach.

Another region with tremendous need is the Coachella Valley in Riverside County. For some, Coachella may invoke images of a wealthy desert community of retirees and casinos — but many residents face the same barriers to legal services as traditional rural communities. The Coachella Valley has a population of about 76,036 with 19.7% of its population living below the poverty line and a 15% unemployment rate. While the Coachella Valley is fortunate to have legal aid organizations like Inland Counties Legal Services and California Rural Legal Assistance, these agencies have limited resources and do not have local law schools or large law firms from which to recruit volunteers. The Justice Bus has traveled to Indio – which is over 75 miles from Riverside and over 125 miles from Los Angeles.  With a population of just over 76,000, the median income for a family living in Indio is roughly $35,000.  About 16.8% of families and 21.5% of the population live below the federal poverty line, including 28.2% of those under age 18 and 12.0% of those age 65 or over.

As I have been expanding the Justice Bus Project to address the needs in communities like Lancaster and the Coachella Valley, I have been struck by the intense need for legal help in these areas.  As a mother at a clinic on special education in Lancaster said to us,

“I have been struggling to find way to help my daughter for the last 3 years, with no results. I have been so frustrated, I don’t have the resources to hire private help. I got more useful information here today than in the last 3 years. The attorney is going to help me help my daughter. I finally feel like she has some hope, all I could imagine was a suicidal teenager in her future. Now, someone who cares is going to help…light at the end of the tunnel. We shall fight on!”

And another client told us at a Justice Bus trip to the local public benefits agency in Lancaster, “Today I came into the county building and was late to my appointment, because my grandfather is sick in the hospital and my family is by his side. So I had no one to take me. I walked here from Rosamond, California about twelve miles away just to make it here. I thought my case was going to be canceled when the law students did everything they could to help me. They were very great and a big help and I wouldn’t have been able to get everything done without them.”

During a Justice Bus trip to the Coachella Valley, law students provided advice to this Indio resident on consumer debt issues under the supervision of an attorney from Inland County Legal Services.

I knew in the abstract that these isolated Californians were facing terrible barriers to justice – but hearing it from them first-hand has made me even more committed to continuing to expand the Justice Bus Project in Southern California.

Recently we learned of a new unmet need for help from the Justice Bus: low-income seniors in Lancaster.   As I began working with the senior center in Lancaster to set up the logistics for a new clinic, to be done in partnership with Bet Tzedek Legal Services, I was shocked to learn that there were 90 senior citizens on a waiting list for legal help – and some of them had been waiting for as long as a year.  Just last week, we traveled to the senior center with attorneys from Bet Tzedek and law student volunteers from Southwestern Law School. I am proud that in one clinic with just 6 law student volunteers and 2 supervising attorneys from Bet Tzedek, we were able to serve 22 seniors – and yet, I know that there is much work left to be done.  I will be working to meet these needs during the second year of my Fellowship, and we can use your help!   If you might be interested in traveling on a Justice Bus trip to provide free legal help to low-income seniors, families with children with special needs, veterans, and residents of these isolated areas and others, I would welcome the opportunity to partner with you to remove the barriers to justice they face.  Thank you!


Cynthia Luna is one of OneJustice’s Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellows.

Cynthia Luna is one of OneJustice’s Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows, and she is responsible for coordinating Justice Bus Project in Southern California. Born, raised, and educated in Los Angeles, she is a first generation Salvadorean-American who saw the struggles of migrants and working class people in Los Angeles. While at Southwestern Law School, Cynthia spent much of her time externing and volunteering at several legal non profits in Los Angeles. Her goal has always been to pursue a career in public interest. Cynthia notes that she loves leading on the Justice Bus Project in Southern California, as it has allowed her to learn about and address the needs of low-income individuals in underserved rural and isolated areas.

If you are interested in having your law school, firm, or in-house legal department participate in a Southern California Justice Bus Trip, please email Cynthia at