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Q&A: Serving the legal service providers

Phong Wong

Phong Wong, pro bono director for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, is now in her fifth year on the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services and serves as its chair. She recently spoke with the California Bar Journal about the work of the committee, its efforts to promote pro bono service among the state’s lawyers and its impact.

Tell me a bit about why you decided to volunteer and serve on the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services?

At the time I was a pro bono coordinator [at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles] and I thought it would be a nice supplement to the work that I do. I do a lot of projects with different organizations and law school partners. I thought this would be a nice way to branch out outside of Los Angeles.

What keeps you motivated in working with the committee?

What’s great is SCDLS brings together a bunch of experienced attorneys with different backgrounds. It’s always really helpful to hear different perspectives on how different organizations meet the needs of individuals in their jurisdictions and it gives me ideas on what I can do at my organization.

Can you talk about the diversity on the committee? Is it just in practice areas?

No, diversity in terms of the individual, personal backgrounds, sexual orientation, the type of work they do. There are folks who do legal services work,  private firm work, solo, government, criminal and, of course, law schools and other administrators.

So it’s interesting and engaging to be working with all these folks.

Absolutely. And the thing that kind of binds everybody together is the interest in serving low-income populations, modest-means populations and finding out better ways to do it.

What has been the committee’s impact that you’ve seen?

The committee does a number of different things. One thing the committee is tasked with is commenting on proposed Judicial Council forms or proposed legislation. What’s great about that is you have all these different folks, representing different entities and different backgrounds, providing their input on what the changes should look like to benefit the community we serve. I know that the impact isn’t direct, it’s not seen, but it’s a really important service we’re providing. We also do a lot of trainings. There’s a training committee, or working group I should say. That working group coordinates a variety of legal trainings with [Practicing Law Institute], at the Annual Meeting and other events. Those trainings are very collaborative and they bring in a lot of different partners. There’s also a pro bono committee that focuses on issues that are pressing for California related to pro bono. Similarly there’s a subcommittee working on modest means, finding out innovative ways to develop programs that [benefit] individuals who don’t quite qualify for free legal services but they can’t afford to hire an attorney. And of course, the committee also works on recruitment efforts for State Bar appointments and on awards. 

Is there a lot of intersection between the work you do on the committee and the work you do with your organization?

Yes. I’ve always done a lot of trainings at my organization, both pro bono and other in-house trainings for volunteers and training on compliance. One thing that came out of SCDLS that I took back to LAFLA was developing statewide free online training programs for future pro bono attorneys. I partnered with some organizations, with OneJustice and with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles, and we basically got a grant to fund a two-year project focused on developing a variety of substantive trainings online for pro bono attorneys.

These are trainings we’re developing on a number of topics and we’re working with SCDLS and PLI to develop what we call a pro bono or summer law student public interest boot camp. Each summer, a number of nonprofit organizations take on interns from various law schools and each one of those organizations has to provide a training for their students on cultural competency, how to work with low-income clients, language access issues, professionalism, ethics, how to interview clients.

Are there other things the committee has planned for the upcoming year to get attorneys more involved and interested in pro bono and volunteering?

Yes, the pro bono committee is working on making suggestions to the State Bar to revise the pro bono part of the State Bar website. It’s a little outdated so they’re revising it to make it a little more effective and impactful. The modest means group is also working to see how we can improve incubator programs and see how we can support them. Part of that is also a connection with the legal referral services so we can encourage them or get them to really focus on serving the modest means population.

Anything else you really like about being part of the committee?

Yeah, it’s really great to get updates about the State Bar and what’s going on with the state and proposed programs and projects that the different committees are working on. It’s really great to get that upfront because a lot of times it affects the work that we do and folks who are working on the committee don’t always know what’s going on because there isn’t a strong connection. So it’s great to be able to listen in on what’s happening and then provide updates to the various groups I’m involved in.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at the State Bar, go to