California Lawyers Foundation
Foundation-Backed Platform Helps People with Legal Questions Related to COVID-19, Other Disasters
By Ellen Miller
So far this year, the California Free Legal Answers Platform has helped 1,236 people navigate legal questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and other disasters. The aid recipients were low-income residents who otherwise did not have access to legal services. The way it works is simple: The public visits the online portal and submits questions in categories such as labor and employment, housing, and family law. Volunteer lawyers use the same platform to see what questions are being asked and respond according to their training and experience.
Everything is done remotely, taking into consideration how and when people want to get their legal information, and how and when lawyers want to provide pro bono services. The California Lawyers Association (CLA) and Legal Access Alameda partnered to pilot the program in September 2020 using a platform developed by the American Bar Association. In March, the program expanded and now serves as a resource for legal services and legal aid programs to refer clients they cannot serve.
Free Legal Answers is one of several programs made possible by the support of the California Lawyers Foundation (CLF). Formed in 2019, the California Lawyers Foundation (CLF) serves as the charitable and philanthropic arm of the California Lawyers Association (CLA). The two organizations are united by a common mission of promoting excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession. CLF seeks to fund a variety of projects that improve access to justice for people in need, foster diversity in the legal profession, and educate Californians about the role of lawyers and judges.
Other recent foundation efforts include a video project featuring the diverse voices of the legal profession, a video series to help lawyers navigate various COVID-19-related issues, a brochure to educate young adults on their legal rights and responsibilities, and a comic book aimed at K-12 students. The comic book serves to engage students at an early age and introduce them to the idea that people who look like them are and can be legal professionals. It also explains in accessible language what lawyers and judges do that may impact people’s day to day lives. The comic book is based on the Missouri Bar’s coloring Book, “What Do Lawyers and Judges Do?” and was transformed by California comic book artist Vince Alvendia who was able to bring the words to life and feature illustrations of diverse lawyers and judges. This new resource will be used by lawyers and judges in their outreach to schools and community centers.
CLF is also very committed to helping law students and law graduates access opportunities and funding that support advancement. The Foundation provides a variety of practice-specific diversity fellowship programs and scholarships in the areas of Labor and Employment Law, Environmental Law, and Antitrust and Unfair Competition Law and also supports legal fellows to support rural justice. In addition, the Foundation will undertake initiatives to fill gaps in the areas of Access to Justice/Pro Bono, Diversity, and Civics Engagement and Outreach.
“Increasing the diversity of, and the interest in the legal profession must be a team effort,” said Ellen Miller, CLF’s Executive Director. “Whether that’s through helping CLF financially or reaching out to the Foundation about an idea to potentially sponsor, it all helps achieve the goal of increasing diversity and bolstering the exposure of legal services throughout the state.” For more information, please visit CLF’s website at calawyersfoundation.org or reach out to Ellen Miller (Ellen.Miller@calawyers.org).
Partnering with CLF
CLF welcomes donations from individuals, firms, companies and foundations to help support its growing list of projects. The Foundation has a Gift Acceptance Policy with details on how to contribute and the types of gifts accepted. In addition, CLF is interested in potentially co-sponsoring and supporting projects. To that end, the Foundation has created a Co-Sponsorship Policy that outlines the requirements. In addition, there are other ways to support the work CLF does. From Facebook campaigns to Amazon SMILE designations, there are numerous ways to take part in the Foundation. Visit the CLF website for more information.