Pro Bono opportunities for Fall 2021.

Economic Justice 

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF)’s Legal Services for Entrepreneurs (LSE) program provides free legal services to low-income individuals who want to start or develop businesses; businesses committed to investing in economically distressed communities, including hiring people with arrest and conviction records; and mom and pop shops located in areas where gentrification is a force for displacement. LCCRSF strives to provide assistance to minority small business owners. The LSE program pro bono work has become particularly urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COMMERCIAL LEASING PRO BONO OPPORTUNITIES- NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE NEEDED 

Background & Need: We are preparing for a wave of urgent legal questions from small businesses navigating commercial eviction suits and breach of contract cases. We anticipate a significant uptick in commercial lease clients once the commercial eviction moratoria are lifted (which in most California jurisdictions occurred on September 30, 2021). Given the anticipated high volume of needs, we are seeking pro bono support to volunteer in our virtual clinics, to take on limited scope representation, and support with impact matters.  

(1) Volunteer at a virtual commercial leasing clinic 

  • Training & Technical Assistance During the Clinic: You need no prior experience to volunteer at a virtual clinic to help small businesses with commercial leasing matters! A training video will be sent to volunteer attorneys to review before the clinic, as well as helpful documents for your review, in order to help you prepare. A supervising expert attorney will be present to answer any questions that come up during the clinic. Please note, LCCRSF’s malpractice insurance covers pro bono clinic volunteers. 
     
  • Scope of Pro Bono Work: At our Commercial Leasing Clinics, pro bono attorneys provide one-hour consultations to clients seeking advice regarding their commercial leases. Attorneys will provide limited scope legal advice about negotiating a rent forgiveness plan, or renegotiating other lease provisions that are favorable to the tenant. Attorneys may also assist commercial tenants in drafting their legal pleadings, based on templates and training provided by the LSE program. 
     
  • Time Commitment: One hour consult (plus training, if needed, and preparation for the consult). 
     
  • Upcoming Clinic Dates: We are seeking pro bono support to volunteer in our clinics, which are currently scheduled for:  9/23, 4-6pm PST; 10/7, 4-6pm PST; 10/21, 4-6pm PST; 11/11, 4-6pm PST; 12/2, 4-6pm PST12/16, 4-6pm PST 

(2) Longer-Term, Limited Scope Representation, as well as one-hour consults outside the clinical setting 
 
We also have an ongoing need for pro bono attorneys to provide longer-term limited scope services to commercial tenants, helping them to respond to demand letters, assist in the negotiation process or draft legal pleadings.  

We often have one-hour consult needs outside the clinic dates. We welcome pro bono attorneys to take on these consults. 

  • Training & Technical Assistance: Training and technical assistance will be provided. 
     
  • Scope of Pro Bono Work: Volunteer attorney will meet with the client for an initial hour-long consult, review necessary paperwork, and help the client draft letters to landlord or engage in negotiations with Landlord.  
     
  • Time Commitment: Minimum time commitment for longer-term representation is five hours.  
     

(3) Webinars & Know Your Rights presentations 

During the pandemic, LSE has begun to deliver one-hour commercial lease webinars for commercial tenants on a monthly basis, offering guidance about moratorium protections, an overview of lease provisions that are key to engaging in negotiations, as well as negotiation strategies.  

  • Scope of Pro Bono Work: When the moratorium expires, the LSE program will be providing “Know your Rights” trainings to commercial tenants, as well as a training that provides an overview of the commercial eviction process, and what to expect.  
     
  • Training: LSE attorney will train pro bono attorney to deliver this presentation and provide a template presentation to work from. Prior knowledge of the eviction process would be helpful to answer questions from participants. 
     
  • Time Commitment: one to two hours to prepare, and additional hour to present. 
     

(4) Impact matter- review of pro per eviction guide 

This past summer, we created a “Pro per guide” for commercial tenants facing eviction, providing template pleadings, possible defenses to raise in an answer, important court timelines to abide by, and service requirements. The guide will be shared broadly to our nonprofit and community partners and will also be used as a training material for LCCRSF’s pro bono commercial leasing clinics and webinars. We believe the guide will be an invaluable resource to our clients and the field as we navigate an incredibly important time to help small businesses survive.   

  • Scope of Pro Bono Work: We are in need of an experienced commercial eviction pro bono attorney(s) to review the guide. The guide and materials currently cover Alameda County and San Francisco County. Inclusion of Santa Clara County and San Mateo County would be a bonus, but at this point is not essential.  
     
  • Timeline: We would like the guide to be reviewed by the end of September, so that we could start to train pro bono attorneys in its implementation within the clinical setting, when the moratorium expires, September 30, 2021.  
     

Immigrant Justice 

Asylum is sought for a variety of reasons, including gender and domestic violence, discrimination or abuse because of sexual orientation, and religious or political persecution. Since 1983, LCCRSF’s Asylum Program has provided legal representation for refugees who have escaped persecution and torture in their native countries. 

Training & Technical Assistance: LCCRSF offers workshops, seminars, trainings, and other support to guide and inform each pro bono attorney who does asylum work to ensure they are fully equipped to meet the needs of the client. Further, each pro bono attorney is paired with an LCCRSF staff immigration practitioner who mentors the pro bono attorney throughout the asylum process. Through these support structures, attorneys who have had little or no immigration law experience are able to successfully take an asylum case from beginning to end.  

Racial Justice 

For more than 50 years, LCCRSF has fought to dismantle the many manifestations of institutionalized white supremacy and the oppression of Black communities and other people of color. We are committed to challenging policies, institutions, and systems that are violent, unjust, and inequitable to BIPOC communities. LCCRSF’s Racial Justice program works directly with our communities through our free legal service clinics, and partner with grassroots groups and community partners, to identify and address patterns of abuse and inequality. We train and support attorneys who represent clients, research legal issues, and advocate passionately for meaningful and lasting change. We amplify our communities’ calls for justice through class action litigation, reports, and legislative and policy campaigns, to prevent future harm and to build affirmatively anti-racist, equitable systems. 

The Bail/Decriminalization Clinic 

Our Bail Clinic is fighting for the rights of Californians who have used private for-profit bail bonds companies’ services to get themselves or a loved one out of jail. People who use bail services are often saddled with thousands of dollars in bail debt. Like payday lenders, the bail industry makes its money on the backs of low-income people and people of color who cannot afford other options. This has resulted in predatory industry practices, such as deceptive advertising, inequitable contracts, and unfair attempts to collect debt. But navigating the intricacies of California’s bail system can be confusing. The Bail Clinic works to discharge as much bail debt as possible, and to defend individuals who are sued by bail bonds companies for outstanding debts. 

Through a consumer law approach, pro bono attorneys work with clients to understand their bail contracts and urge the companies to eliminate the debts, typically through negotiated settlements without litigation. Pro bono representation does not require court filings or court appearances. Interested firms can sign up to host the clinic on a monthly basis. 

Training & Technical AssistanceYou need no prior experience to successfully take on a Bail Clinic pro bono case! 

  • LCCRSF’s Racial Justice Program attorneys provide a 1h MCLE training. 
  • The Bail Clinic handbook provides guidance for each step and includes substantive research into the common legal arguments that have proven successful in settling these cases. We have a robust drive including templates and our team is also available to provide technical assistance on case e questions that may come up. 

Time Commitment: The Bail Clinic’s success rate is high and often resolved within 2 to 3 months, typically requiring 10-30h of work. 

The People’s Clinic 

Black, Indigenous, and people of color and people with disabilities are disproportionately targeted by police and other law enforcement throughout Northern California. The People’s Clinic started in January 2021 and was created to empower people to take action and/or file suit after violent and unconstitutional interactions with law enforcement. This clinic provides free legal services and support to help clients injured by police or other government agencies receive justice and compensation. Those interested in pursuing a case against California law enforcement can meet with attorneys for 60-minute consultations and receive assistance preparing necessary claims and forms. This clinic helps clients draft documents and navigate the requirements of filing Government Tort and small claims actions to recover damages for the injuries they have sustained. Our pro bono partners have tremendously supported the launch of the clinic and we are always seeking additional pro bono assistance with drafting these claims and staffing the clinic on a regular basis. 

Training & Technical AssistanceYou need no prior experience to staff The People’s Clinic! 

  • LCCRSF’s Racial Justice Program attorneys provide a 1h MCLE training. 
  • The People’s Clinic handbook provides guidance for each step and includes substantive research into the common legal arguments that have proven successful in settling these cases. 
  • We have a robust drive including templates and our team is also available to provide technical assistance on case questions that may come up. 
  • LCCRSF staff is present to provide support at all clinics. 

Time Commitment: Typically, 2-6 hours of work. 

The GLIDE Unconditional Legal Clinic 

In underserved communities, many civil litigants lose their cases, not because they had a bad case but because they never really had a chance to present it properly. They lacked access to legal support, and this lack of access may have cost them their jobs, their homes, or their families. To provide access to legal services for one of these communities LCCRSF manages the Unconditional Legal Clinic at GLIDE in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. The clinic is one of the only free clinics providing general legal services in San Francisco that serves all clients who walk-in with a legal question or issue. 

Pro Bono Training & Technical AssistanceYou need no prior experience to staff the GLIDE Unconditional Legal Clinic! 

  • LCCRSF’s Pro Bono Manager provides a 1h MCLE training. 
  • We have templates, resources and referral lists available to help those staffing the clinic. 
  • LCCRSF staff is present to provide support at all clinics. 

Time Commitment: Typically, 3-4 hours. 

Impact Litigation & Public Policy 

Informed by our client experiences, we employ litigation and advocacy strategies to dismantle systems of racism. Our goal is to not only fight various rights violations, but to also envision and create more inclusive and just communities. Our Racial Justice Program  has three impact opportunities for pro bono partnership and support. These cases have the potential to address harms done to the most underserved members of our communities.  

  1. Impact litigation: protecting unhoused people’s personal and survival belongings 

Background: LCCRSF’s Racial Justice Program is working to protect homeless people’s personal and survival belongings. In 2016, we negotiated a policy with a city (“the City”) in Northern California that governs the taking of unhoused people’s belongings when people are living on public lands, requiring notice and labeling and storage of the property, among other crucial constitutional protections. The City has not followed it since. Destruction of property this past summer has been particularly egregious—for example, the City has logged the storage of almost no property even though it has razed tents and encampments nearly every day. 

Pro Bono Need: We are seeking support from a law firm pro bono counsel. The goal of this litigation is to prevent the destruction of unhoused people’s belongings in the City. Evidence gathering is well under way, and LCCRSF will do the first draft of the complaint. We would appreciate pro bono assistance in the editing and partnership on the case moving forward. 
 

In addition to preventing traumatic losses of property and improving health outcomes for unhoused people who get destabilized when they lose everything (often including medications), this case has the potential to expand on Ninth Circuit precedent in Martin v. Boise, by expanding the understanding of courts about what constitutes enforcement and punishment. 

Timing: We anticipate filing the complaint and preliminary injunction motion in early November 2021.  

  1. Demand Letter: challenging the most harmful administrative fee in California 

Background: LCCRSF’s Racial Justice Program is challenging the most harmful administrative fee in California. Our data shows that traffic enforcement is racially biased: Black and Brown people are significantly more likely to get cited in the first place. In traffic courts and criminal courts, the most commonly assessed fee is a $300 civil assessment, levied when someone misses a deadline to pay or appear—which means it is almost exclusively assessed against people who cannot afford to pay. The base fine of most traffic offenses is $50 and as such, this fee is six times more than the punishment for the (usually low-level) offense. 40% of Californians can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense. Finally, courts across California are levying this fine illegally. Penal Code section 1214.1 says the fee is “up to $300,” only for willful failures to appear or pay, both things a judge must decide. However, most courts have the fine imposed by a computer, at the full $300, automatically. 

Pro Bono Need: We plan to sue court administrators in one or more counties. We are seeking pro bono volunteers to stop the automatic imposition of fees people cannot afford to pay and to create leverage for state policy change to ultimately eliminate this draconian fee. 

Timing: We hope to send demand letter(s) in October 2021. 

  1. Impact litigation to end violent policing of protestors 

Background: A Northern California City’s (“the City”) response to the 2020 protests against police violence was callous. Dozens of people were brutally injured, and the City’s use of force and protest policing policies and practices need significant reform. We initially filed this case with solo practitioner partners given the urgency of the need. However, we are now hoping to leverage pro bono resources to carry it through in the way most likely to win the most significant policy changes possible, to benefit not only our clients in the City, but to also be an example to other cities. The case is about to survive the City’s blanket motion to dismiss. 

Pro Bono Need: To end violent protest policing in the City and to win damages for people injured. We would like to negotiate or win a new policy or establish precedent that will help in similar policing cases in other cities.  

Timing: Ideally, a firm can join in the fall before discovery gets too far along. The timing for this project is flexible. 

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