California Bar Journal
CBJ - September 2008 #02.
The best in pro bono are honored
California Bar Journal September 2008 The best in pro bono are honored A San Diego lawyer who lost his home in a 2003 wildfire organized his neighbors and staffed a help desk at the disaster relief center when fires ravaged the county again last year. One of the largest law firms in the state donated an astonishing 23,000 free hours, worth an estimated $11 million, to hundreds of indigent clients in northern California. The 82-year-old retired chief counsel for a state agency has volunteered regularly for 13 years at a legal help hotline for senior citizens.
These are just a few of the attorneys and law firms to be honored with the 2008 State Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award. Created in 1983, the award is presented each year to California attorneys and law firms credited with making significant contributions in pro bono legal services to those with little income, as well as to organizations that serve the poor. The awards will be presented next month at the Annual Meeting in Monterey.
"The pro bono awards reflect the very best of our profession in every sector-small and solo firms, larger firms, public sector, in-house and every other combination," said State Bar President Jeff Bleich. "Regardless of where or how these lawyers practice, they share a common commitment to doing the greatest thing a lawyer can do; they give a voice and a chance at justice to those who would otherwise go unheard."
The 2008 award recipients are:
As a vice president at Sony Media Software and Services, Los Angeles attorney AJAY A. PATEL serves an uncommon role-he is both a corporate counsel and, for the past six years, he has been pro bono chair for the Southern California chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), coordinating fund-raising and programs. Last year, he helped launch two key initiatives, Street Law and Law Day.
Partnering with the University of Southern California Law School and the Los Angeles Unified School District, Patel organized a team of more than 50 law students and 20 ACC volunteers to teach 60 inner-city eighth graders about negotiating contracts, entertainment and sports law and the laws affecting public school systems. Despite Patel's modest goals, the program attracted more students and lawyers than anticipated. Teachers later reported increased student interest in the law and several law students leveraged their participation in the program into jobs at law firms and corporations.
In collaboration with Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, Patel also recruited and trained ACC's transactional lawyers for pro bono participation in an Adoption Day program that assisted more than 20 families in finalizing uncontested adoptions. In addition to volunteering 20 hours to his foster family client, Patel spent another 30 hours coordinating the program.
The volunteers "universally agreed that it was the biggest emotional bang for their pro bono effort they could ever have hoped to obtain," wrote Bijal Vakil, an attorney who nominated Patel for the award.
For more than three years, KIMBERLY SHEAN has volunteered at the Santa Clara Valley Legal Aid Clinic, providing services to at-risk youth and adolescent sex offenders and their families. Fluent in Spanish, she also is well-versed in landlord/tenant, consumer and family law and last year alone helped about 90 clients.
In her day job, Shean is a program supervisor with the Ventura County Juvenile Probation Agency, managing juvenile intervention programs that oversee 600 youthful offenders and their families. After a long day in Oxnard in her fulltime job, she drives 40 minutes to rural Fillmore to staff the evening clinic Thursday nights.
In 2007, Shean donated approximately 100 hours applying her expertise in the areas of adolescent development and juvenile law to families of minimum wage farm workers, day laborers and food service workers. In one matter, for example, she helped find housing for a family of five; the father was killed by a train when his farming equipment was caught on the...