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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 or contact Elena Enzweiler at or 415-538-2532.