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Volunteering by Proxy

Your membership in the Association helps make possible the good works of Projects, Inc. 

By Patricia M. Schnegg
Patricia M. Schnegg is president of the Association.

This President's Page was originally published in the April 2000 issue of
Los Angeles Lawyer.

I suspect that a survey of Los Angeles County Bar Association members would reveal that few of us know much, if anything, about Projects, Inc. The Association formed Projects, Inc., as a Section 501c(3) nonprofit corporation to provide a wide range of direct legal services to indigent clients in Los Angeles County. Staff and volunteer attorneys work tirelessly, often without recognition, to provide valuable legal services to the three programs that form Projects, Inc. 

Barristers Domestic Violence Project 

More than a decade ago, the Association's Barristers Section established the Domestic Violence Project to provide services to victims of spousal abuse. Ever since, the program has been flooded with clients who are seeking protection from violence; in 1999, the program served more than 6,000 victims of domestic abuse. 

The Domestic Violence Project represents a joint effort of the Association and the Los Angeles County Superior Court. It operates out of two courtroom spaces provided by the superior court, one in Central Superior Court and one in Pasadena. More than 100 volunteer attorneys and law students-supervised by directing attorney Patricia Andreani and two administrative assistants-provide legal services every day of the week to a never-ending stream of clients. Each morning a sign-up sheet is posted outside the courtrooms for clients who need immediate protective orders. Staff and volunteer attorneys then provide one-on-one legal assistance by preparing the documents necessary to obtain temporary and, ultimately, permanent restraining orders. These can include orders for child custody, restricted visitation, and child support. 

Obtaining a restraining order through this program is often the first step taken by battered women and the elderly to stop violence. The program also works closely with local police and prosecutors to educate the public about the legal steps that can be taken to stop domestic violence. Recently, the project's staff has reported that an ever-increasing number of their clients are victims of elder abuse by children, relatives, and caregivers. 

Many of the program's volunteers have been providing their invaluable legal services for years, each offering a minimum of three hours a month for one year. The volunteers find the experience rewarding and gain satisfaction realizing that their efforts shield people from physical harm, enable victims to begin rebuilding lives, and, in many cases, even save lives. If you wish to join the volunteers in the Domestic Violence Project, please contact Patricia Andreani at (213) 896-6491 or pandreani@lacba.org

[For more information about the Domestic Violence Program, click here.]

Immigration Legal Assistance Project 

In 1975, the Association established the Immigration Legal Assistance project as a unique clinical program designed to train Los Angeles area law students and to furnish legal advice to needy aliens. Today the program provides an outstanding example of high-quality, low-cost immigration services furnished by experienced staff attorneys, law students, and attorney volunteers. The program is housed in the downtown offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The program provides such critical needs as 1) immediate legal counseling for low-income persons who need advice concerning their immigration problems, 2) training for its volunteer attorneys and law students, 3) a referral service for those problems that require detailed research and legal representation before the INS, and 4) an attorney filing service for the private immigration bar. 

The majority of the 10,000 people who seek immigration assistance each year have minimal economic resources and, due to cutbacks in (and outright termination of) many legal aid programs dependent on government grants, are consistently finding fewer legal services available. That further increases the importance of the Immigration Project, which handled more than 2,500 cases last year. 

The program also helps the private bar with filings before the INS, charging $25 for each filing. In 1999 the Immigration Project filed more than 4,000 cases, and the resulting revenue was used to support the Association's other legal services projects. 

The staff includes director Mary Mucha, two other experienced immigration attorneys, a paralegal, a receptionist, and a core of dedicated volunteers. If you wish to volunteer for this project please call Jane McCaffrey at (213) 485-0143 or send Mary an e-mail message directly to marymucha@aol.com.

Barristers AIDS Legal Services Project 

Since the Barristers formed the AIDS Legal Services Project in 1986, more than 10,000 people living with the HIV virus and AIDS have received legal assistance through the efforts of more than 250 volunteer attorneys who serve on various substantive legal panels. In 1998, with the goal of better utilizing available resources, the Barristers project formed an alliance with four other legal service providers-AIDS Project Los Angeles, AIDS Service Center, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, and Public Counsel-to create a new, comprehensive legal services program called HIV and AIDS Legal Services Alliance (HALSA). That year HALSA served about 4,500 clients. HALSA provides legal counseling and assistance through a central intake system that enables clients to meet with an attorney within 24 hours. It also provides direct representation by staff attorneys with expertise in critical need areas, including healthcare, employment, immigration, discrimination, housing, and children's rights. HALSA also operates a comprehensive outreach program in which volunteer attorneys provide legal counseling and advice at 35 community-based organizations in Los Angeles County's most underserved areas. 

Within the HALSA umbrella, the Barrister's project is primarily responsible for coordinating all volunteer services, including recruitment, training, and retention of attorneys, paralegals, notaries, and law students, as well as the placement of pro bono cases. The demand is so great that last year six full-time interns worked with the program. Our challenge is to work cooperatively to meet the special needs of a diverse and constantly changing HIV-infected population. Volunteers can phone Laurie Aronoff, the project's director, at (323) 993-1492 or send an e-mail to laronoff@apla.org.

All members of the Association should take pride in the work of Projects, Inc. and make themselves more aware of its activities. Next time you are in Central District, look into the Domestic Violence Project courtroom on the second floor. You will see a long line of clients waiting to be seen by our volunteer attorneys, many with young children and many who are old. All are vulnerable and all need our help. If you walk two blocks to the INS offices you will see a similar long line waiting to be seen by our Immigration Project volunteers. 

Of course, it would be terrific if you were so moved that you immediately called the Association to volunteer. However, for many of you that is not practical; you simply do not have the time. Well, we want you to know that you can still volunteer-by proxy. Here's how it works: your membership dues do not directly support the Association's public service projects, but when you pay your dues-and, even better, get one or two other people to join the Association-you are helping to ensure that the Association can continue its sponsorship and support of Projects, Inc., along with its other public service projects and activities. 

The Association is only as strong as its members. If you are not a member, join now. If you are a member, walk down the hall and spread the good news about our works and recruit your colleagues to join. We guarantee that you will save enough on our member benefits alone to pay for your dues (including cellular phone and car insurance discounts-a 10 percent discount with Mercury Insurance that applies to both new and current policyholders). As you can see, it is painless to volunteer by proxy.

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