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Bar foundation celebrates 20th anniversary

Since its founding in 1990, the California Bar Foundation can boast an impressive list of accomplishments. It has:

  • distributed more than $5.3 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, courts, the State Bar and local, specialty and minority bar associations for law-related projects;
  • awarded nearly $2.9 million in scholarships to minority law students and law students headed for careers as public interest lawyers, and
  • educated millions of seniors, young adults, children and parents about their rights and responsibilities under the law through sponsorship of the bar’s education publication series.

As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, the foundation burnished its resume with a recent announcement that it will award 13 new grants, totaling $197,663, to organizations providing legal services and education across the state.

This year, said foundation President Mario Camara, the grants focus primarily on projects serving rural areas of the state, where the availability of legal services is limited. “We have directed much of our grant-making to innovative access to justice programs outside the state’s major metropolitan areas, where community members are often geographically isolated and legal aid organizations face immense challenges in providing services,” Camara said.

The Community Legal Program of the Family Resource Center of Truckee received the foundation’s largest grant — $30,000 over two years — as a result of the program’s unique approach to addressing the needs of low-income community members. With no legal services agency within 75 miles, the Family Resource Center created the Community Legal Program. Staffed by a Spanish-speaking attorney, the program offers legal assistance in landlord-tenant, wage and employment, consumer rights, family law and other issues.

Another grant recipient is Legal Services of Northern California’s (LSNC) Legal Information and Assistance Program, which will receive $24,163. LSNC partners with superior courts in five counties to offer assistance and information to pro per litigants through walk-in clinics. The foundation also recognized the needs of clients with limited English proficiency with a $20,000 grant to Elder Law & Advocacy’s Bilingual Initiative, serving low-income seniors in rural San Diego County.

Supported primarily by law firm, corporate and individual donors, the foundation is devoted to improving access to justice through several avenues — it invests in law students committed to public interest work and those from communities underrepresented in the legal profession, awards grants to programs that help people traditionally not served by lawyers, and it supports public education projects.

The bottom line: ensuring that every Californian who needs a lawyer can have a lawyer, regardless of economic circumstances.

In the coming year, said executive director Leslie Hatamiya, the foundation will broaden its outreach to law firms as well as diversify its board. It will focus on fewer, larger grants, many outside urban areas. And it is creating an alumni relations program of scholarship recipients who can act as ambassadors for the foundation. Hatamiya said two-thirds of past scholarship recipients the foundation can track have made good on their commitment to public service.

“We’re looking forward this year,” she said, “trying to penetrate the California legal community and engage it more actively.”