LCCR’s unique pro bono model enlists the power of the private bar in the fight for civil rights. But we couldn’t do it without our all-star pro bono team: Elica Vafaie, our new Director of Pro Bono and Strategic Partnerships, and Bréyon Austin, Clinic and Pro Bono Coordinator.
Together, Elica and Bréyon manage our network of over 1,000 pro bono attorneys, interpreters, and other volunteers across our three core programs: Racial, Economic, and Immigrant Justice.
“What makes LCCR special is that every case you take is also an impact case,” says Elica, who joined the team last month from Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC). “Whether it’s helping someone secure asylum or getting someone out of an illegal bail contract, the issues we encounter at our clinics inform our systems-level advocacy and litigation.”
Elica, who helped establish the University of California Immigrant Legal Services Center, is ideally placed to bridge the gap between direct services and impact litigation. As head of the ALC’s National Security & Civil Rights Program, she served as co-counsel with pro bono firms working on the legal challenges to the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban, led MCLE trainings, and mobilized/coordinated pro bono attorneys on this issue. She is also Chapter President and former Pro Bono Chair of the Iranian American Bar Association Northern California Chapter.
“We welcome attorneys from all legal practice areas, especially in this moment, with our rights under attack from all sides,” Elica says. “Our volunteers work at large firms, small practices, and as in-house counsel for local companies. Everybody has something to offer. Everybody can plug in. That’s what we’re here to facilitate.”
For over a year now, Bréyon has drawn on her own wide-ranging experience to support the pro bono program, including overseeing LCCR’s three dedicated legal clinics. A graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law, she worked with the Albuquerque Public Defender’s Office and a private immigration practice before specializing in Native American Tribal Law.
Her varied experience reflects the multiple client communities LCCR serves. Volunteers might assist clients on legal matters related to housing, domestic violence, employment, immigration, or police misconduct – and that’s just at the GLIDE Legal Clinic in the Tenderloin.
“One of our program’s strengths is that volunteers gain experience in legal areas they may not necessarily be familiar with,” Bréyon says. “We understand that not all attorneys are well-versed in the matters our clients face. It’s our job to bring them up to speed – and we do, through continued trainings and guidance.”
Bréyon helps staff two other legal clinics: the Bail Clinic, focused on challenging predatory bail bonds contracts, and Legal Services for Entrepreneurs, which assists small business owners of color on a number of issues, including commercial lease negotiations.
Pro bono attorneys also form the backbone of LCCR’s Asylum Program, which provides direct representation to asylum seekers in U.S. immigration court amid a slew of new anti-immigrant policies from the Trump administration.
“It’s incredibly fulfilling to provide legal support and resources to clients who would otherwise have to pursue justice pro se,” Bréyon says. “They often come back to update us on the final resolution of their legal matters or just to say hello.”
In one recent case, GLIDE volunteers helped an unhoused client file a small claims case against the Department of Public Works for destroying his belongings, including his clothes, work tools, and family photos. He ultimately received a favorable ruling from the judge, who awarded him several thousand dollars in compensation – while commending him for his fierce advocacy.
“Our clients are their own best advocates,” Bréyon says. “They are a testament to the power of tenacity and optimism in the face of adversity. We look forward to connecting more attorneys with opportunities to work alongside them.”