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PRESIDENT'S PAGE


A Time to Renew Our Commitment to Service

By supporting the Association you can make giving a year-round activity 

By Lee Smalley Edmon
Lee Smalley Edmon is president of the Association.

This President's Page was originally published in the December 1998 issue of
Los Angeles Lawyer.

As the end of the year approaches, the airwaves and the video stores are filled with the wonderful movies that I've watched time and again and will probably watch again this year: It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and many others. It is hard to watch one of these movies and not want to perform acts of charity, to help friends, to help strangers. Such acts are part of a spirit of giving that marks the holidays. 

The holiday season is also the time of year that you receive your membership dues statement from the Association for the coming year. The two events, however, are not as unrelated as you might think. As lawyers and law firms, this is the time of year in which we need to renew our commitment to contributing our special skills to help those who need legal assistance but cannot afford it. Your Association has always made it one of its major goals to provide equal access to justice, and we support numerous programs that provide help to those in need of legal assistance. 

I urge all our members-indeed, all members of our profession-to volunteer their time this holiday season to one of the Association's ongoing programs or to one of several special holiday programs the Association supports. We do, however, understand that the demands of our profession, coupled with our family responsibilities, make it difficult for many lawyers to volunteer even a small portion of their time. Don't despair; through the simple act of renewing your membership in the Association, you reaffirm your support for all the Association's worthwhile programs. 

Here are just a few of the holiday-season programs that you can help support: 

Holiday Wish Project. This joint project of the Barristers Section and Shelter Partnership offers a unique opportunity to make specific and meaningful contributions to men, women, and children who reside in shelters or who are in need of your help during the holidays. Shelter Partnership tries to make the holiday wishes of those in need come true. These wishes typically include children's toys, clothing, blankets, and larger items such as beds, computers, refrigerators, and other things essential to the work of the shelters and service providers. Law firms or individuals can select a particular shelter and help fulfill its wish list by purchasing a requested item and delivering it directly to the shelter. In this way, you can have the satisfaction of working directly with the beneficiaries of your gifts. The Holiday Wish Project has raised more than $225,000 for local shelters and providers since 1990. For more information, call Richard Evans at (213) 896-6520. 

Lighting the Children's Courthouse.This year 50,000 children in our own community will spend their holidays under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court because of severe abuse or neglect. The Friends of Child Advocates and the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers are in constant need of funds to support their operations and train additional volunteers. To that end, they have organized a fund-raising effort this holiday season and are seeking 50,000 sponsorships of lights-one for every child who is under the court's supervision due to abuse or neglect. The lights will be placed on the exterior of the Children's Courthouse and turned on after an outdoor concert on December 3. At the recommendation of the Association's Juvenile Courts Task Force, the Association is helping to support this CASA fund-raising effort by urging its members to sponsor lights at a cost of $5 each. For further information about sponsoring lights, please call Gracie Lee at (213) 896-6407. 

Comfort for Court Kids. The dependency court process is often a difficult one to endure for a child who is alone and has been abused or neglected. Comfort for Court Kids, Inc.-a nonprofit corporation formed by L. Ernestine Fields, a lawyer who represents children in dependency court-provides teddy bears to children who are going through this process. The bears give the children physical support during an emotionally trying time and often help the children bond with their attorneys. Comfort for Court Kids distributes more than 100 dozen bears each month, but about three times that number are needed. The bears are purchased for $2.50 each, so a contribution of only $25 will buy 10 bears. Those wishing to help can contact Comfort for Court Kids at 6454 Van Nuys Boulevard, Suite 150, Van Nuys, CA 91401, or by telephone at (818) 756-2015 or fax at (818) 756-2001. 

I hope you will participate in one or more of these programs this holiday season. Together we can make a big contribution to the lives of those in our community who are less fortunate than we are. 

A Year-Round Commitment
At the Association, the giving season lasts all year. Your membership dues and your volunteer efforts support a variety of ongoing programs that help provide access to justice for the poor, the neglected, and victims of discrimination in Los Angeles County. 

It was exactly 10 years ago that our Association adopted its pro bono policy, calling on each lawyer in Los Angeles County to provide a minimum of 35 hours of pro bono service each year. Through the Association's legal services projects, the lawyers in our community provided legal services to more than 250,000 people last year. Each of the following Association legal service projects could use your help: 

Immigration Legal Assistance Project. The Immigration Legal Assistance Project provides counseling services for low-income persons who need legal advice for their immigration problems, such as filing for citizenship and getting green cards or travel documents. Housed in office space close to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Los Angeles Federal Building, ILAP assisted thousands of people from more than 100 countries in 1997. 

Each March and September, ILAP offers a training program at which volunteers learn the basic concepts of immigration law and policy. With the assistance of staff attorneys, volunteers meet with clients and provide legal advice at the ILAP offices. ILAP also serves as a referral service for more complex legal problems. For more information, call Sharon Seibert at (213) 896-6544. 

Domestic Violence Counseling Project. The Barristers Domestic Violence Counseling Project provides legal services in the Central and Pasadena courthouses. There, victims of domestic violence (including not only battered spouses but also elderly individuals and minors seeking protection from family members) are provided with one-on-one assistance in filling out the numerous forms required to apply for a temporary restraining order. Clients also receive advice on how to make the TRO a permanent restraining order. As a result, the process of obtaining police protection-which often used to take days-can now be completed in hours. The Domestic Violence project is the 1998 recipient of the Los Angeles City Attorney's Criminal Justice Panel Community Service Award. 

Attorney volunteers attend a one-evening training session and volunteer their services for a minimum of three hours per month for one year. The next training is scheduled for the evening of January 12, 1999. Directing Attorney Patricia Andreani can be reached at (213) 896-6491. 

Barristers AIDS Legal Services Project. The Barristers AIDS Legal Services Project provides free, short-term legal assistance to financially eligible persons who are diagnosed with AIDS or have symptoms of HIV infection. Volunteer lawyers handle such legal issues as drafting wills and powers of attorney, establishing guardianships, and conducting social security appeals. Currently, many of the project's clients are in the process of returning to work so lawyers are also needed to combat discrimination and wrongful disclosure in the workplace. The next training clinic, which will be held in January 1999, will focus on these issues. 

In an effort to improve HIV legal services throughout the county, this project has joined a coalition of AIDS service organizations (including AIDS Project Los Angeles, AIDS Services Center, Public Counsel, and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Services Center) to form the new HIV & AIDS Legal Services Alliance (HALSA). The director of volunteer programs is Laurie Aronoff, and she can be reached at (323) 993-1492. 

Homeless Assistance Project. The Homeless Project's mission is to serve the legal and other needs of homeless individuals by providing direct legal advocacy in more than 16 homeless shelters, technical assistance to nonprofit service providers, and aggressive public policy work on behalf of the poor and homeless. On the third Wednesday of each month, volunteers meet at the Association offices and are provided with an hour of training by a lawyer with expertise in handling issues that are common to the homeless. The volunteers then go to the shelters to provide legal advice. For further information about the project, please call the project coordinator, Rick Evans, at (213) 896-6520. 

Of course, there are many other legal service providers in our community for which you can volunteer. The Association sponsors and supports a number of these, including Public Counsel, Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, Inner City Law Center, and Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. In addition, other quality programs in our community, such as Bet Tzedek, Alliance of Children's Rights, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and San Fernando Valley Legal Services, always have a need for volunteer attorneys. You need only decide whom you would like to serve, and one of these groups will connect you to clients in need. 

We should be very proud of what the lawyers in our legal community do to bring a measure of comfort and hope to the disadvantaged. Service to the community, particularly the disadvantaged, has long been a hallmark of the legal profession. But the need is great, and there is room for us to do more. It is a responsibility we should meet and a tradition we should pass on to our children. 

My children are each sponsoring a light this year and will join me at the Lights Concert on December 3. Please take a minute to reflect on what you and your family can do-this holiday season and throughout the year. As you do, please remember the words of Anne Frank: 

Give of yourself...[Y]ou can always give something, even if it is only kindness...[N]o one has ever become poor from giving. 

I wish you all peace, good health, and a prosperous new year.


   
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