Approximately 1.6 million rural Californians face legal barriers to basic needs, including safety from abuse, safe and stable housing, and access to medical care. Out of California’s roughly 100 nonprofit legal organizations, only 27 serve rural areas – often doing so with severely reduced funding or access to volunteers from law schools, law firms, or businesses. These rural legal services nonprofits often cover large geographic regions – even between 5 to 25 counties – with insufficient resources or attorney staff. While their urban counterparts rely on law firms, in-house legal departments and law schools to provide vitally important volunteers to help deliver legal services to their clients, these isolated regions have few – and sometimes no – local attorneys to engage as volunteers.
OneJustice’s Rural Justice Initiative builds collaborations to bridge this urban/rural divide, by connecting urban pro bono resources to these isolated communities and the legal services nonprofits that serve them. In 2014 and 2015, the Initiative has four components:
- The Justice Bus Project: Since March 2007, this award-winning effort has been bringing teams of urban volunteers to rural areas to set up one and two-day mobile legal clinics, in partnership with local legal services nonprofits. Over the past 6 years, the Justice Bus Project has done 134 trips and 173 legal clinics, stretching from Del Norte and Humboldt counties to San Diego and Imperial. The Project has reached over 3,000 residents, including 479 seniors, 218 children/youth, 122 veterans, and 467 immigrants. We are profoundly grateful for the dedication of the over 1,200 volunteers – the “Justice Bus Riders” – who have given so generously of their time and energy and traveled hundreds of miles to reach Californians in need.
- Bay Area Rural Justice Collaborative: Launched in May 2013, this regional collaborative of legal services nonprofits and law firms brings regularly-scheduled free legal clinics to isolated communities in the Bay Area, including Napa County, the coastside of San Mateo County, and southern Santa Clara County. These clinics are staffed 100% by volunteer attorneys from Bay Area law firms and corporations, supervised by expert attorneys from Bay Area legal services nonprofits. In its first 11 months, the Rural Justice Clinics have engaged 103 volunteers in staffing 29 clinics to serve 197 low-income residents. Thank you to all of the amazing Rural Justice volunteers!
- Rural Immigrant Connect: Starting in early 2013, OneJustice has been working with key stakeholders to design and test the use of technolgoy to replicate its successful Justice Bus and Rural Justice Clinics. With support from Full Circle Fund and its Rising Leaders, OneJustice developed a plan for a fully virtual pro bono clinic, connecting rural clients to urban volunteers through web-based video and document sharing tools. Throughout 2014, OneJustice will be testing various tools and delivery strategies to pilot and then replicate completely virtual limited scope clinics.
- Public Awareness and Public Policy: OneJustice’s communications efforts – including the use of video – increase public awareness about the need for rural legal services. OneJustice has been working with the community to develop the idea of “legal services deserts” to use data on poverty density, attorney density, geographic barriers, and other criteria to identify particularly isolated communities that face unique barriers to accessing legal services. OneJustice also rountinely convenes and facilitates community-wide discussions on the delivery of pro bono and legal services to rural and isolated areas of the state.