Pro Bono Law Firms Lead Small Claims Collaboration at Southwestern Law School

The Small Claims Project is an innovative and collaborative program first developed in 2009 by the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) AIDS Legal Services Project (ALSP) and Bet Tzedek Legal Services to help litigants prepare for and navigate Small Claims court. The collaboration was joined by the pro bono law firms of Greenberg Glusker, Reed Smith, and Arnold & Porter, along with additional partners Southwestern Law School and Loyola Law Center for Conflict Resolution. In 2012, the collaboration was recognized for its unique contribution to the community by receiving a Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award from the State Bar of California.

On a monthly basis, volunteer attorneys and Southwestern law students conduct detailed Small Claims workshops in English and Spanish, open to both plaintiffs and defendants, hosted at Southwestern Law School. Following the one-hour PowerPoint presentation, litigants can receive a consultation and meet one-on-one with a volunteer to clarify procedural issues, identify proper parties to serve, ask additional questions and prepare for their hearings.

In 2017, 44 Southwestern students from their SCALE (two year) program volunteered alongside 19 volunteer attorneys to assist 298 litigants providing a total of 428 volunteer hours.

In addition, litigants can also explore the option of mediation with a representative from Loyola Law School’s Center for Conflict Resolution. Litigants are seen on a “first come, first served” basis. With an average of 30 participants attending each workshop. The Project has assisted over 2,500 litigants since the program began with outreach efforts specifically targeting low-income Angelinos. 

The pro bono law firms provide teams of volunteers with special thanks to team leaders and frequent participants, including Greenberg Glusker attorneys Megan Rivetti, Steve Stein and Lori Werderitch; Reed Smith attorneys Nabil Bisharat, Zachary Frampton and Ben Fliegel; along with sole practitioners Yvonne Garcia, who translated the PowerPoint presentation into Spanish and provides the Spanish workshop each month; and to Martin Berman who helps supervise the students and provides unique knowledge of Small Claims court as a former Judge Pro Temp. Rounding out the team is Professor Laura Cohen of Southwestern who works tirelessly to ensure the Project runs smoothly.

The collaboration has been so successful in filling an unmet need in the community that additional legal service agencies have joined to provide services specific to their client populations. These include Inner City Law Center that assists all tenant litigants with issues that include habitability and security deposit returns as well as Asian Americans Advancing Justice/Los Angeles, which focuses on providing language access to the Asian American communities.

LACBA members interested in more information or to volunteer please contact Laurie Aronoff at laronoff@lacba.org.