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From the President

Join the bar in improving access to justice

By Craig Holden
President, State Bar of California

Criag HoldenImagine that you and your children are asleep when the floor drops out from under you. You and your bed fall from the second story to the basement as the building collapses, causing serious injuries.

When this happened to a single mother in Los Angeles, thankfully a legal aid group was there to help. Inner City Law Center negotiated a settlement with the landlord for her and other building tenants. After a two-month stay in a hotel, a $100 per diem and $17,000 to assist with relocation, the woman and her family are now living in a safer building.

I bring up this story to remind you that unfortunately, there are countless other folks in our state who need legal help, but don’t have the means to pay for it. Fortunately, we as lawyers are in a unique position to change this equation by joining the Campaign for Justice.

The campaign’s goal is to increase funding for legal services, which declined significantly when one source of funding tied to interest rates, IOLTA revenue, fell from a high of $22 million to a low of  $5 million, where it has been hovering for the last few years. 

All lawyers in California had an opportunity to donate to the Justice Gap Fund when paying their annual fees. Anyone can also donate online.

Even if you can’t afford a monetary contribution, there are other ways to get involved, such as volunteering your time pro bono to someone of poor or modest means. You can find out more about the Campaign for Justice by visiting the website:

If you’d like to volunteer but don’t know where to start, the State Bar’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has compiled resources on its web page.

I’d also like to tell you about some of the other things the State Bar of California has been involved with to help improve access to justice.

This month’s issue of the California Bar Journal features one such initiative – the Modest Means Incubator program. Using $185,000 in grant funds, the California Commission on Access to Justice was able to distribute seed money to projects that will train lawyers to create sustainable law firm practices providing affordable legal services primarily to low and moderate-income people.

Late last year, the State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new training requirements for new lawyers, including the mandate they provide 50 hours of pro bono or reduced-fee legal services within the first year of admission. The plan – which also helps young lawyers develop practical skills as they enter the profession – requires rule changes that must be approved by the California Supreme Court and the California Legislature before it would be gradually phased in. But I’m encouraged by the commitment the bar has shown to make a real difference in this effort.

Together, we can make sure that the people of our state can count on the legal system to be there for them when they need it most.