Community Lawyers, Inc. provides a robust array of direct legal services, educational, and advocacy programming to assist in reducing consumer barriers to receiving quality low and no cost legal support services. Core programming includes monthly pro bono legal clinics, specialized workshops and immigration assistance, legal document preparation services, direct legal representation, and advocacy. All services ensure language accessibility with staff, volunteer attorneys, and other volunteers with multiple language fluencies including English, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.
Monthly Pro bono Legal Clinics
Held monthly, CLI provides pro bono legal clinics in the following areas of law: Family Law, Tenants’ Rights Law, Immigration Law, and Education Law (which includes special education and school discipline). Legal clinics are staffed by both volunteer attorneys and CLI’s Executive Director Miho Murai, Esq. CLI provides the space for the legal clinics. In addition, CLI provides administrative support, including pre-screening and scheduling consumers, obtaining demographic data, and assisting the consumers with the intake forms. If necessary, CLI staff and volunteers also provide assistance with translation.
The volunteer attorney enters into a limited scope, pro bono representation agreement with the consumer. The consumer meets one-on-one with the volunteer attorney to discuss their legal concerns and review any legal documents that they have with the volunteer attorney. The volunteer attorneys are carefully selected and vetted by the Executive Director and/or Board to ensure that they have demonstrated expertise in their areas of practice and that their backgrounds and experiences are culturally relevant to the CLI community.
CLI provides legal assistance in the the following areas of law through the monthly pro bono legal clinics:
The Immigration Law Clinics provide counsel and advice in family-based matters including adjustment of status and consular process. In addition, the volunteer attorney provides counsel and advice for consumers in removal proceedings and possible defenses such as cancellation of removal, asylum, Violence Against Women’s Act (“VAWA”), and U Visa petitions.
The Family Law Clinics provide limited scope advice and guidance with Family Law issues related to divorce, custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, and division of property. If appropriate, the volunteer attorney, CLI staff, and/or volunteers work together to complete any of the necessary paperwork for the consumer during the clinic. The goal of the clinic is to provide the consumer with enough knowledge and information to self-represent at legal proceedings. Consumers are encouraged to make follow-up appointments in case they need further guidance to complete their case or issue.
The Tenants’ Rights/Eviction Defense Clinics serve as a critical lifeline for individuals and families who may otherwise lose their housing or experience exploitation from their landlord. Clinics provide information on housing and tenants’ rights, advice to tenants regarding the unlawful detainer process, and advice on affirmative lawsuits relating to tenants’ rights, habitability, and relocation assistance.
The Education Law Clinics offer counsel, advice, and limited scope representation in all matters relating to the educational rights of children with disabilities and their parents. This includes counsel on procedural protections, a review of the child’s Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) or other relevant documents, preparation of records requests and other letters to the school to request for evaluation and/or services, and preparation of compliance complaints to be filed with the California Department of Education. In addition, the clinic provides counsel and advice on school discipline matters and any other issues relating to the educational rights of students.
Quarterly Naturalization Workshops
Consumers seeking legal immigration status constitute a large majority of individuals and families seeking CLI’s services. To address this consumer population’s specific needs, in addition to monthly legal clinics, CLI also hosts quarterly citizenship workshops where consumers receive 1:1 assistance on completing their naturalization application and/or fee waivers by CLI staff, CLI board members, volunteer attorneys and other volunteers. Executive Director Miho Murai provides a comprehensive immigration training before each naturalization workshop to ensure that volunteers are properly trained and ready to assist the consumers.
Legal Document Preparation
One of the largest needs expressed by consumers is affordable and high quality document preparation services. Consumers often report that attorneys are asking for hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars to prepare basic legal documentation. To address this need, CLI provides a legal document preparation service, drafted by and/or under the supervision of an attorney. The cost for document preparation is provided on a sliding scale and waived if the consumer meets federal poverty guidelines. Document preparation services are critical to consumers who often experience language and/or technical barriers to legal system equity including non English speaking consumers and the elderly.
The types of legal documents that are prepared by CLI staff and/or volunteers include: (1) Renewal Applications for Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA Renewals”) (forms I-821D, I-765, and I-765WS); (2) Applications for Employment Authorizations (I-765); (3) Applications to Replace Permanent Resident Card (I-90); (4) Applications for Naturalization (N-400); (5) Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests; and fee waivers (I-912).
Direct Legal Representation
CLI’s Executive Director provides legal representation in the areas of immigration law and education law. CLI provides limited scope representation to consumers who require our assistance at their naturalization interviews. CLI also accepts a limited number of education law cases that deal with school discipline, advocacy at Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) meetings, and legal representation to students with disabilities and their families.
Supporting Non-Legal Needs
CLI staff and volunteers counsel and provide support to consumers with respect to their non-legal needs such as helping them navigate public services, connecting them to other community services, translating documents, and general support. This is an essential aspect to support CLI’s legal services, as our consumer come from disenfranchised communities and may require supportive services to follow through with their legal issues.
CLI advocates for its consumers in the community through advocacy campaigns. CLI regularly collaborates with other area legal service and social justice organizations to engage in advocacy around barriers to equity impacting consumers. Current collaborations include serving on task forces with the New Americans Campaign, Right to Counsel, National Lawyers Guild’s Immigration Committee, and the SELA Collaborative. CLI also participates in community resource fairs and offers naturalization workshops to local non-profit organizations, churches, and schools.
Other Legal Matters
CLI receives walk-ins and telephone calls from consumers requesting legal services outside the scope of those provided by CLI legal services and/or volunteer attorneys. In those instances, CLI refers consumers to the Lawyer Referral Service of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (www.smartlaw.org).
Projects in Development:
Attorney Incubator Project
CLI is currently expanding an informal incubator program that fosters the development of a cadre of private attorneys who provide quality legal services in underserved communities. CLI is developing the protocols and resources to reduce the administrative costs of managing a private law practice. In addition to helping attorneys create sustainable business plans, the incubator program provides office space, law office management and law training to help prepare attorneys for community-oriented careers.