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.
[ted id=1417]

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.


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!


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.


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.


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 . . .


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


You are there because . . .

You are justice heroes.  Happy National Volunteers Month!

You show up – when and where you are needed – and give so generously of your time, energy, skills and expertise.

Without you, so many Californians would continue to suffer needlessly from solvable legal problems.  You bring life-changing legal help to those in need.  You connect with children with disabilities who need special education services, low-income veterans, isolated seniors facing serious medical problems, families at risk of losing their housing, and youth who are eligible for new immigration relief.  You serve and empower these communities – and we are so honored to partner with you in these efforts!

Indeed, you are the very heart of the OneJustice network.   Thank you for sharing the reasons WHY you show up – again and again, all over the the state.  Enjoy this slideshow of YOUR testimonials about why you do this work, which we put together as part of National Volunteer Month.  Thank you for everything you do!

600 miles, bald eagles and elk? Debra dives into an unusual classroom through pro bono

Debra is a law student and mom – and a proud participant in the OneJustice pro bono network

She shares her first-hand reflections here as part of our series during National Volunteer Month.

DPinzonHamilton2x2 copy

Debra is a law student at USF School of Law, works full-time at Verizon, is the mom of a toddler, and is also a proud participant in OneJustice’s Justice Bus and Law Student Pro Bono Projects.


By Debra Pinzon-Hamilton

When I began law school in August 2011, I wanted to eventually use my law degree to promote social justice, so I was excited to learn that University of San Francisco would give me an opportunity to start immediately through USF’s partnership with OneJustice.  I took a couple days to consider making the Pro Bono pledge, worried about how to fit the volunteer hours in my full-time work and part-time school schedule without sacrificing more time with my infant daughter.  I decided to do it, and making the Pro Bono pledge has been the best decision I made since I first decided to go to law school.

I have taken advantage of a wealth of pro bono opportunities during my time in law school.  My experiences started with the APILO/AABA Civil Justice Clinic, where I was paired with an attorney to serve as the translator for a Spanish-speaking client.  We were able to get someone on track toward resolving a complex immigration problem, exactly what I want to do after law school.  I have also volunteered for the San Francisco Bar Association’s Legal Advice and Referral Clinic (LARC), assisting with social security, tax, disability issues, family, criminal, and immigration law.

Given my interest in immigration law, I have volunteered twice with the East Bay Naturalization Collaborative, a day-long clinic to assist clients with citizenship applications.  This year my husband (who is an LLM student at Golden Gate University – another OneJustice partner school) and I volunteered together, while my mother-in-law watched our daughter.  I also attended a couple of immigration hearings on behalf of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.  That was one of the most educational experiences to date.  I saw how immigration judges, government attorneys, court interpreters, and detainees interact; I saw how very few detainees have legal representation; I witnessed that we treat immigrants as if they were prisoners; and I saw how intricately criminal law is interwoven with immigration law.

Yurok Veteran clients_2013

These veterans received legal assistance and advice at the inaugural Justice Bus clinics for the Yurok Tribe in January of this year.

This school year when my husband started the LLM program, I knew we both would have even less time.  We take turns studying and spending time with our daughter, so I knew that at the beginning of the semester, I would have more time to fit in this type of invaluable experience.  I waffled a bit because I had not yet spent a night away from my now 2-year old daughter, but I decided to join the first-ever Justice Bus trip to Humboldt and Del Norte counties to bring legal assistance to veterans who were members of the Yurok Tribe.

We spent two days with the Yurok Tribe.  The Swords to Plowshares attorneys did a great job of teaching us the substantive law in terms of benefits for veterans and encouraged us to put our legal skills to the task.  After I conducted some initial research on a question that came up, the attorney checked over my work – and I realized that one of the most important skills from law school is learning how to find answers, not simply knowing them.  The OneJustice attorneys were also outstanding at relating everything back to real world law practice.  A OneJustice attorney had me interview the tribal council chief.  He then related it to deposing witnesses and how best to phrase questions.

In the end, we didn’t help as many veterans on the trip as we had hoped, but having fewer clients gave us an opportunity to spend more time with each one.  It also gave a member of the hosting tribe time to take a couple of us to see a tribal ceremonial site and to teach us about their way of life, the differences in their legal system, and about the legal and social challenges faced by Native Americans and by people living in rural America.

USF students Yurok Tribal Center

Thank you to Debra and the other USF law students who traveled over 600 miles round trip to bring Justice Bus clinics to veterans in Del Norte and Humboldt counties!

In two short days, I learned some new substantive law; I was introduced to an entirely new culture; I made more connections for life-after-school; and I also learned that I can survive one night without kissing my toddler goodnight, and it was absolutely worth it.  I even saw a bald eagle flying over a river during my tour, and we all saw elk during our drive north.  That is some classroom!

I also work with other organizations, but OneJustice got me started on pro bono work and has provided the bulk of my experiences.  I feel very lucky to attend a law school with such a strong commitment to social justice, and OneJustice is a large part of that.

Social justice aside, there is no replacement for the type of experience you get from pro bono work.  The legal community is small, so if for no other reason than to make future connections, I highly recommend getting out there and doing everything you can.  No task is too menial – make copies, fill out forms, send faxes, translate if you can – it will relate to your job, it feels good, and people will remember that you enthusiastically helped.  If you keep going back, each time you will have more opportunities to carry greater responsibility.  It will make you a better lawyer, regardless of what you practice.

A heartfelt Volunteer Month THANK YOU from everyone in the OneJustice network to Debra and all our amazing volunteers!


Debra Pinzon-Hamilton is a second year student at University of San Francisco School of Law in the part-time division. She also works full-time as a Senior Consultant in Pricing and Contract Management at Verizon.  After completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering at Louisiana State University, she moved to San Francisco to work in her field.  She spent two years traveling and volunteering in Latin America, which helped inspire her to return to law school.  She aspires to pursue social justice after law school.

Geoff has a commitment to service . . . first his country and now veterans in need

Happy National Volunteer Month!

As you know, volunteers are the heart and soul of the OneJustice network! 

Geoff Cleveland Volunteer

Geoff Cleveland offers today’s guest blog post as part of National Volunteer Month.

Volunteers travel hundreds of miles with the Justice Bus Project to bring life-changing legal assistance to Californians in isolated areas of the state.  The 100+ nonprofits we support also work with thousands of volunteers who commit their time, energy, and expertise to serving low-income Californians. Without a doubt, volunteers are the backbone of our state’s safety net for those facing legal barriers to basic life necessities.

At OneJustice, we celebrate our volunteers all the time, but National Volunteer Month gives us an extra special opportunity to recognize their work. During this month we will be featuring a series of guest blog posts with first-hand experiences from (you guessed it!) – some of our amazing volunteers!

We are particularly honored to lead off with a blog post by Geoffrey Cleveland, a first year student at Southwestern Law School.  Prior to attending law school he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of California, Riverside.  After his undergraduate studies he enlisted in the United States Army where he served in the 75th Ranger Regiment.   Just last month he joined the OneJustice’s inaugural Justice Bus trip to bring legal assistance to veterans in the Inland Empire.  Thank you Geoff!


It was not long ago that I was in Afghanistan applying for law school and waiting for the elusive letters of acceptance.

Less than a month later, I was sitting in a classroom in Los Angeles learning about a “hairy hand” and its relevance to modern contract law.

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers from Southwestern Law School.

Geoff Cleveland and seven other law students from Southwestern Law School boarded the Justice Bus to deliver free legal help to veterans in the Inland Empire.

To say that it was a bit of a transition would be an understatement.  Although I miss my friends, I am grateful for this opportunity to start a new career in a new home and meet new wonderful people.  What I am most grateful for is that I have always had an amazing group of friends and family to support me through the difficult times.  I am truly a fortunate person.

Yet, for some the transition to civilian life is much more difficult.  Some are asked to end their service because of injuries sustained during combat or training events and then are left without the proper help.  Some end their service and build new lives and are never aware of the benefits they are entitled to.   For some the stress and experience of combat leaves lingering effects that make transitioning to civilian life near to impossible.  I knew even while I was waiting for those letters in Afghanistan that I wanted to somehow help my fellow veterans who were left in these difficult times.

When Cynthia Luna (OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow) came to my law school to discuss the Justice Bus trip to San Bernardino to set up a free legal clinic for veterans, I jumped at the chance.  I was excited to have the opportunity to help fellow veterans as well as gain effective legal experience.

When we arrived at the American Legion hall, where we would set up the legal clinic, I was nervous.  Besides mock interviews in class, I had never actually conducted a real client interview.  I kept picturing the horrible scenarios of unruly clients that I had heard about and asked myself if I was prepared.  I ran through the check list of to-do’s in my head over and over, almost like the check list I would run through before an Airborne jump in the Army.

Geoff and Ryan volunteered to help this couple at the Justice Bus clinic serving veterans in the Inland Empire.

It was smiles all around after Geoff and Ryan helped this couple at the Justice Bus clinic serving veterans in the Inland Empire.

Just like a jump, before I knew it I was out the door and I was sitting face to face with an elderly couple, my first real life clients!  Unlike the nightmare scenarios I had dredging through my head, these two were amazing.  My friend Ryan and I listened to their incredible story and helped them by working with an attorney at the clinic to provide them with the information they needed.

The couple were hoping to set up a meeting with an attorney, and we fortunate enough to be able to set up that meeting and have the majority of their needed paperwork filled out, another first for me.  Their kindness and appreciation blew me away, and I was not only relieved that I had survived my first interview, but appreciative that I had met such wonderful people.

Overall, that Friday was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable days I have had since moving to Los Angeles a few months ago.  I would recommend the experience of a Justice Bus trip to any law student or attorney for not just the educational aspect but also the relief of working for deserving and truly appreciative people.

Want to provide more legal services for veterans in need?  Give online today to our Veterans Legal Aid Fund!

Want to provide more legal services for veterans in need? Give online today to our Veterans Legal Aid Fund!

From everyone at OneJustice, a most heart-felt “Thank You!” to all of the amazing volunteers from Southwestern Law School!


Leeor is supporting future justice heroes!

Removing barriers to justice takes a network. . . of law students and law schools!

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 feature an interview with a different participant in the network. This month we interviewed Leeor Neta, Director for Public Interest Programs at Golden Gate University School of Law.


Leeor, you are involved in supporting and expanding law students’ interest in public services, pro bono and public interest work. How do you approach that work, and how does your approach also inform your work with OneJustice? Leeor Neta Headshot_March2013

While I have numerous responsibilities at Golden Gate, I am thankful that I am not “expanding student interest in public services.”  Every student at Golden Gate—whether they want to pursue a public interest career or prefer the private sector—cares about public service.

That is not my experience of most law students. Few of my law school classmates were committed to pursuing a public interest career and the Career Services Office offered little direction to us. We had to work harder than other students to find opportunities. After graduation, I worked at the Office of the State Public Defender, where I assisted in the direct appeal of death penalty convictions on behalf of indigent clients. Later, I founded the City of East Palo Alto’s first juvenile diversion program and served for two years as its Executive Director.

I came to Golden Gate because I wanted to have a stake in mentoring the next generation of public interest leaders. Golden Gate’s partnership with OneJustice has been invaluable. OneJustice helps me take our very passionate students and connect them with projects and programs, about which they might not otherwise hear. And we do that at the very beginning of their law school tenure. As a result, students more quickly identify what motivates them and are more likely to stay the course to a public interest career.

Please tell us a little bit about how Golden Gate University School of Law approaches public interest, public service, and pro bono.

Golden Gate is consistently ranked one of the best public interest law schools in the country. Golden Gate owes this reputation to several factors. Golden Gate’s curriculum—including many first-year offerings—extends to every area of public interest law. Golden Gate supports a formidable externship program (ranked third in the nation in a 2010 study by Professor James Backman of Brigham Young University). Most Golden Gate students participate in this program and obtain hands-on public interest law-related experience. Many of Golden Gate’s faculty are renowned public interest leaders. Likewise, Golden Gate’s clinics and centers all focus on public interest issues. Golden Gate is home to many student organizations that create a community deeply committed to public service. Golden Gate devotes an enormous amount of money to grants and scholarships for its students.

GGU Gilroy Trip April_2012

A Golden Gate law student voluteers at a Path to Citizenship Justice Bus clinic in Gilroy.

Golden Gate also has an abiding to commitment to pro bono and making pro bono opportunities easily available. In fact, Golden Gate was one of the first schools to forge a partnership with OneJustice.  Annually, OneJustice counsels hundreds of our law students.  Most of these students receive OneJustice’s newsletter and actively participate in the projects promoted by OneJustice.  I cannot imagine Golden Gate keeping its commitment to its public interest students without its partnership with OneJustice.

What have you particularly enjoyed about working with OneJustice?

I really enjoy working with the OneJustice staff.  Everyone—including Michael Winn, Linda Kim, Thieu Do, and of course, Julia Wilson—is not only hard working and committed, but also gracious and accommodating.  This semester, a speaker for a public interest event cancelled on me at the last minute.  I called Michael and asked him to fill in.  He immediately agreed and ended up being a huge hit with the audience.  At every event, OneJustice staff are arriving early, staying late, building relationships with employers and students.  They are champions for social justice, and I am proud to call them my colleagues.  [Editor’s note from the OneJustice team: Yes, we are all blushing now. Thank you Leeor! The feeling is completely mutual!]

Golden Gate law students volunteer with the Justice Bus Project to bring free legal help to Californians living in isolated areas of the state.

Golden Gate law students volunteer with the Justice Bus Project to bring free legal help to Californians living in isolated areas of the state.

Which project with OneJustice is most exciting to you for 2013?

I personally enjoy coordinating the Northern California Public Interest / Public Sector Day.  OneJustice does an outstanding job overseeing this event with its many component parts.  I also love greeting nearly all of my public interest colleagues at the same time.

But the project that I think our students have most enjoyed is the Justice Bus trips.  Being based in the San Francisco area, it’s not hard for our students to forget that there are many people facing dire legal problems in rural and more far-flung parts of the state.  Joining a Justice Bus trip gives them the chance to shift their immediate world view and learn about problems and opportunities in places like Watsonville, Marysville, and others.

Thank you to Leeor and everyone at Golden Gate University of School of Law – including the many law students who volunteer their time to bring life-changing legal help to those in need.  We are so honored and proud to have you in the OneJustice network!

Because justice extends beyond my zip code

How can we stretch to reach youth in rural areas?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – offers a promise of work authorization, a driver’s license, immigration relief, and economic self-sufficiency. 

But only if we can get legal assistance to the youth who are eligible.

So, we learned recently that youth living in Humboldt County have nowhere to turn for legal advice about whether they are eligible and how to apply for the new federal immigration relief program called DACA (short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  There is no nonprofit legal organization that provides legal assistance in immigration in their county.  There is nowhere for them to receive free legal help to understand the program and whether they should apply – even if they were able to travel as far away as Santa Rosa.  And access to the DACA program is a very big deal – it offers access to work authorization, a driver’s license — basically the opportunity to have economic self-sufficiency and help provide for their families.  But without the legal assistance to understand the program and apply – the promise of the DACA program simply rings hollow.

So how can we stretch – as a state, as a profession, simply as people who care – to reach these kids?

Earlier this month, a team of law students from University of San Francisco School of Law traveled over 600 miles round trip on the Justice Bus – with a wonderful immigration attorney from La Raza Centro Legal – to bring legal help to these amazing youth.  Running two clinics over two days, the law students provided 29 youth with immigration and DACA assistance. Their testimonials above tell their personal stories about why they traveled all that way to use their skills to give back.  We are so lucky to have such committed volunteers!

And it was heart-breaking to leave, knowing that unless the Justice Bus is able to return these kids and others like them will simply continue to go without any access to legal advice and assistance.   We are so grateful to everyone who has donated to the Justice Bus Project and our Children’s Legal Aid Fund that makes these trips possible.  We are 100% committed to raising the funds necessary to return to Humboldt again.  We welcome you to join our efforts – as a donor, volunteer, or both!

Recently OneJustice also had the terrific experience of partnering with Legal Services for Children on the video below that engaged DREAMERs and youth leaders in San Francisco in explaining the DACA program to other teenagers.  The video is being used as part of a public education and community awareness-raising campaign.  We were honored to be involved in supporting Legal Service for Children’s work in this area – and we plan to use the video in reaching out to the more rural and isolated counties, as well.

Want more information about DACA?  Check out the resources at Legal Services of Children’s page here.

Want to help support Justice Bus Trips doing DACA clinics?  It’s easy to give online here.

Have suggestions and ideas about other ways our network can support these youth?   Let us know!  We welcome your ideas – comment here or on our facebook page!