Campaign for Justice: A
donation that inspires hope
By Manny Abascal, Katherine
Fritz and Craig Martin
Every law firm forges its own path, but sometimes those paths run parallel.
Since October is “Campaign for Justice Month,” we write today from different
firms but with one voice about why we have chosen to support the Campaign for Justice.
The campaign is the vehicle for connecting nearly 100 nonprofits that provide
legal assistance for people who are poor, with the 258,000 attorney and judge
members of the California State Bar and their powerful potential to provide
funding and support.
Many who make a living in the law are fortunate to have experienced financial
and personal opportunity. That’s not true for all too many Californians.
Figures recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that more than 20
percent of Californians struggle to make ends meet – the highest rate of any
state in the nation.
When people cannot afford to
defend their legal rights, everybody loses. Access to justice isn’t only about
winning individual cases, it’s also about preserving faith in our system of
justice and making real the dream of “justice for all.” It’s about using scarce
court resources wisely so self-represented litigants can resolve their legal
problems without needing more help than the courts can offer. And it's about
returning value to communities, often many times over.
With every order that stops civil harassment or domestic violence, every
approval of an adoption or guardianship, every determination that a veteran is
entitled to benefits or that a child is entitled to an education, we make a
material difference in somebody’s life, in neighborhoods from Skid Row in Los
Angeles to the Fresno farmlands.
The campaign's contributors understand the importance of justice in our system
of government. Every dollar that we and others donate is used in its entirety
to enhance Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) grants for providers of
free legal services. Once providing as much as $20 million annually in support
for life-saving services, low interest rates have mired IOLTA funding at about
25 percent of the 2008 value – even as the cost of litigation and of living have
gone steadily up. Today a family of four is priced out of free legal help if
their income exceeds $30,375. Upwards of 8 million Californians live on less
than this, and their legal problems can have life-threatening implications.
Today we’re able to provide legal assistance to only about 20 percent of those
who need it. The gap between what help is available, and what help they need,
is called the Justice Gap. That’s where we come in.
Let’s turn for a moment from the profound need for funding and consider our
capacity to meet that need. We come from three different law firms that have each
successfully integrated support for legal services into our business models and
our organizational philosophies. We remind our colleagues to support access to
justice and encourage them as they take on pro bono cases, identify charitable opportunities
or make contributions through payroll deductions or personal checks. We’re
proud of our participation in the campaign.
But we must be frank: It's not enough. We need you to join
us. The gap is deep, and last year fewer than 5 percent of California's
attorneys made contributions. We know that, working together, we can do more.
We believe that California’s lawyers overwhelmingly agree with us, that justice
shouldn’t be restricted to those who can pay for it. We call on those who share
this belief with us to join us in supporting the Campaign for Justice.
Legal services attorneys achieve important results for deserving clients with
low per-case costs. They instill hope and inspire achievement. Their clients’
victories mean stronger families and more vibrant communities. We all win when
justice is done. We see the positive impact of legal assistance on our
statewide judicial system. That’s why we have come together, not only to
support the Campaign for Justice ourselves, but to encourage more of you to
join us and further amplify our collective impact.
Manny Abascal is a partner
at Latham & Watkins, Katherine Fritz is managing partner at Fenwick &
West and Craig Martin is managing partner at Morrison & Foerster. All three
firms were among the top statewide for attorneys donating to the Justice
Gap Fund in the 2015-16 campaign. For information on grantee organizations, a donation
toolkit and a “donate now” button, go to www.CAforJustice.org or
contact Elena Enzweiler at Elena.Enzweiler@calbar.ca.gov or 415-538-2532.