Pro Bono Legal Services
Sacramento County Bar Association & Foundation encourage attorneys to provide pro bono legal services or to otherwise volunteer in community activities. Sacramento lawyers engage in a myriad of pro bono projects and there are many ways to get involved.
What is pro bono legal work?
ABA Model of Professional Conduct 6.1 essentially defines pro bono legal work as (a) free or substantially reduced-rate legal work for nonprofit organizations or persons of limited means, or (b) volunteer work for organizations improving the legal system or access to justice. The California State Bar Board of Governors uses a similar definition.
The ABA and State Bar encourage attorneys to perform at least 50 hours of pro bono work annually. Pro bono work has many benefits. Lawyers can give back to the community through programs that are meaningful to them while making contacts with colleagues, developing skills, and gaining exposure to new practice areas. Many law firms find that robust pro bono programs are good for business, in terms of recruiting and retaining lawyers, presenting a positive image to prospective and existing clients, and enhancing the firm’s standing in the broader community.
California State Bar
The State Bar’s website has a page dedicated to pro bono legal services with useful links and information: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Access-to-Justice/Pro-Bono
Voluntary Legal Services Program (VLSP) Volunteer Opportunities
VLSP has provided free assistance with many kinds of civil legal matters to low income people in the Sacramento region since 1981. Jointly sponsored by the Sacramento County Bar Association and Legal Services of Northern California, VLSP is the main source of civil law-related pro bono assistance in the Sacramento region.
VLSP is a volunteer-based organization that assists clients in the following ways:
- The referral of clients to attorneys for direct pro bono representation,
- Providing legal advice and form preparation at our pro per clinics or by telephone
- Participation on the VLSP Advisory Committee
Our goal is to make volunteering a satisfying experience that will work given the busy schedules of our volunteers.
The areas of law VLSP provides assistance with can change over time. For the most current information, please go to our website at www.vlsp.org. Examples of the areas of service we usually cover include Chapter 7 bankruptcy, debt collection defense, employment-related problems, Wills and Powers of Attorney, guardianship of minors, probate and family law. We also partner with the Sacramento County Public Law Library with their weekly Lawyers in the Library project.
VLSP’s Advisory Committee consists of Sacramento area attorneys with a commitment to advancing the interests of pro bono service on behalf of the low income population of Sacramento and the surrounding counties. The Advisory Committee meets every other month and assists with VLSP’s annual Phonathon fundraiser. Members are encouraged to take on other activities, such as volunteer recruitment and publicity, as their schedules permit. We encourage Sacramento area attorneys with an interest in promoting access to justice for the low income members of our community to join our Advisory Committee.
We welcome attorneys who are licensed to practice in California and who can assist clients in Sacramento and the surrounding counties to join our list of volunteers. If you are an attorney with expertise in an area of law and are willing to assist (be a mentor to) less experienced attorneys with pro bono cases taken through VLSP, we urge you to email us at email@example.com and request a volunteer application.
Volunteer attorneys are covered by VLSP’s malpractice insurance policy for cases or clinic work performed through VLSP. Volunteers will be contacted only regarding those types of cases they have indicated a willingness to accept. Of course, volunteers are always free to turn down the referral of a case if their schedules do not permit them to take a particular case when they are contacted.
VLSP’s office space is available to volunteers for client meetings, and we often have paralegal, interpreter, and notary pro bono services available. If you would like to become a volunteer attorney with VLSP, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and request a volunteer application.
VLSP has an ongoing need for volunteer interpreters to assist attorneys on direct representation cases, as well as to assist at our pro per clinics. You need not be court certified to be of assistance. If you are interested in volunteering as an interpreter with VLSP, please email us at email@example.com and request a volunteer application.
Legal Services of Northern California Pro Bono Opportunities
History, Mission & Work
Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) started in 1956 as the Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County. Over the past 63 years, we have expanded our service area to 23 northern California counties, serving clients through eight field offices and two special programs. LSNC’s mission is to empower its low-income, disabled, and senior clients to identify and defeat the causes and effects of poverty. We provide quality, crucial civil legal services to tens of thousands of needy and vulnerable individuals and families, while also engaging in complex, sophisticated advocacy—through litigation, legislation, administrative advocacy, and community development work—which has a significant positive impact for our entire client community.
We specialize in issues related to affordable housing, public benefits, health care access, elder law and retirement benefits, consumer assistance, education, and civil rights. In 2018, LSNC assisted over 17,900 clients in need. Regarding systemic advocacy, to cite just one example, in 2014 LSNC successfully litigated Paratransit v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, 59 Cal. 4th 551 (2014), a California Supreme Court decision helping countless unemployed workers obtain the unemployment benefits to which they are lawfully entitled.
Each day, LSNC staff and volunteers fight for the civil rights and dignity of our clients. Sacramento area attorneys should consider joining us as a volunteer in any, or a combination, of the following three ways:
- Become an In-House Volunteer
In-house volunteers assist clients during standard business hours (8:30am – 5:00pm) in one of our three Sacramento office buildings in downtown, or at our Woodland or Auburn offices. These placements require a commitment of at least 4 hours per week for a minimum of 3 months. Volunteers can work on a wide range of tasks determined by the needs of the office, including conducting intake interviews, engaging in legal research and writing, providing advice, representing clients in ongoing matters, and assisting with community education. Based on current opportunities, LSNC’s in-house volunteers may work on cases in one particular issue area or on cases encompassing a variety of areas.
- Become a Clinic Volunteer
Clinic volunteers assist clients on occasional weekdays, evenings or Saturdays in a particular issue area that LSNC deems a priority. For example, in 2018 and 2019, LSNC’s Sacramento office has focused pro bono clinic support on helping clients with (1) criminal records relief, also known as expungement or clean slate, and (2) naturalization. We will host several clinics in Sacramento throughout the year to address these unmet needs. LSNC provides volunteers with training materials as needed and will have staff on hand during the clinic to answer your questions. Your commitment is only during the actual clinic. You are not responsible for taking any cases for ongoing representation.
- Become a Case Referral Volunteer
Case referral volunteers assist clients remotely by working on a case or research project related to an issue area where we lack either substantive expertise or the resources to work on the case due to other time constraints. In these situations, we will contact you directly about the pro bono case or assignment and provide you with enough information to run a conflicts check. It is always your
choice to accept the work. Case referral volunteers perform work on a pro bono basis. LSNC will provide administrative and other supports to you, including assistance with contacting the client as needed.
We provide case support and supervision to all volunteers. For attorneys, your work as a LSNC volunteer is covered by our malpractice insurance. We also offer specialized trainings and some opportunities for MCLE credits. In-house volunteers who participate in the Pro Bono Practice Program are eligible to waive their bar dues. Finally, our volunteers make a difference in the lives of our clients and community!
To be considered for a volunteer position at LSNC, please visit www.lsnc.net/probono to view our applications. You can submit your application directly online, or download one and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our pro bono team will contact you within two weeks of receiving your materials to discuss current volunteer opportunities. We look forward to hearing from you!
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California Pro Bono Panel
United States District Court, Eastern District of California
501 I Street, Suite 4-200, Sacramento, California 95814
Sujean Park – ADR and Pro Bono Program Director
Phone: (916) 930-4278
For several years, the Court has had a need for attorneys to contribute their time by representing prisoner plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging conditions of confinement or alleging unconstitutional treatment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the past few years, the Court has faced an increasing number of these prisoner actions requiring the assistance of counsel. Attorneys are appointed pursuant to General Order 558, which also details the expense reimbursement procedures for appointed attorneys.
In 1988, the Eastern District of California first organized a panel of attorneys available for appointment in cases filed by pro se inmate plaintiffs. Since then, the court has taken additional steps to expand the panel; the panel as of 2019 consists of 383 members.
Panel members are expected to take at least one case every three years. The Court typically would only assign cases where the prisoner had already survived summary judgment or where the legal importance or difficulty of the summary judgment issues was evident. In most cases, discovery would be closed, and absent good cause to re-open it, would remain closed. Thus, representation in one of these cases should require a relatively limited cost and time commitment.
In addition to providing an opportunity for public service, these cases are especially appropriate for young lawyers who might otherwise not have the experience of trying a civil case to a jury in federal court. Attorneys who have volunteered for the panel, and who have accepted appointment, have been acknowledged by the Chief Judge at the Eastern District Annual Conference each year since 2005.
Panel members are reimbursed for reasonable costs expended in prosecuting a case. Reasonable costs expended may be reimbursable pursuant to General Order 558. In addition, if the plaintiff obtains a favorable judgment, the attorney may seek attorneys’ fees from the defendants.
Limited Purpose Appointments
In 2009, the court began, in some cases, appointing pro bono counsel for various limited purposes, rather than the duration of the case. The court uses these limited purpose appointments in instances where the pro se inmate needs assistance with a particular part of the litigation, but is generally able to proceed on their own with the overall case. Limited purpose appointments may include, but are not limited to, drafting an amended complaint, completing discovery, opposing a dispositive motion, or appearing for a hearing or settlement conference.
Pro bono counsel will reimburse the Clerk of the Court for all expenses reimbursed pursuant to this procedure upon settlement or other successful resolution of the case resulting in a monetary award to plaintiff. This repayment must be made prior to any disbursement to counsel, plaintiff, or any other person.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Pro Bono Program
Phone: (415) 355-8020
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals established its pro bono program in 1993 to provide pro bono counsel to pro se parties with meritorious or complex appeals, to provide a valuable learning experience to attorneys and law students, and to assist the court in processing pro se civil appeals more equitably and efficiently. Volunteers must be must be a member of the bar of the Ninth Circuit. The Court offers oral argument in cases selected for the program, which enhances the experience of participating attorneys. The website contains a volunteer handbook and a sign-up form. When the Ninth Circuit seeks appointment of pro bono counsel in a particular case, a district coordinator circulates information to volunteers via email.
McGeorge School of Law
McGeorge and UC Davis collaborate on a federal court Pro Se Help Day once each semester. Attorneys are needed to work with law students in providing limited advice to Pro Se Litigants with cases pending or anticipated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. Advice is limited to procedural assistance and some guidance on next steps that the litigants should consider in their litigation. A one hour training is required. For information, please contact Mary-Beth Moylan, email@example.com.
McGeorge students also participate in the Justice Bus project once during the academic year. The Justice Bus takes on pro bono representation around Northern California and requires the commitment of a day to travel to an underserved location to provide legal assistance. Attorney volunteers are welcome to join McGeorge students in providing pro bono services through this project of OneJustice. For more information, please contact Molly Stafford, firstname.lastname@example.org.
California Lawyers for the Arts
2015 J Street, Suite 204 Sacramento, CA 95811
Phone: (916) 442-6210
California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA) is a State Bar of California Certified Legal Referral & Information Service (LRIS) serving the creative arts community in California since 1974. CLA matches well-screened clients with highly qualified attorneys selected from its LRIS panel. Attorneys can join CLA’s LRIS panel by applying for membership and by meeting the LRIS membership requirements which adhere to the State Bar of California’s certification standards as described in the Business & Professions Code. Attorneys can also accept regular legal referrals. CLA’s LRIS handles four types of legal referrals: (1) Regular, (2) Pro Bono, (3) Modest Means, and (4) the California Inventors Assistance Program (CIAP).
CLA was selected as the statewide administrator to manage pro bono intakes and placements throughout California for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which established the CIAP as a pro bono program to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.
CLA also offers educational programs in all of our locations, including many programs certified for MCLE. If you’re an expert in your field, you may wish to volunteer to present MCLE programs for CLA for in-person workshops, seminars, online educational programming (including livestreaming), videos, podcasts, or the CLA Speaker’s Bureau.
“CASA volunteers” are court-appointed special advocates. The mission of CASA Sacramento, a nonprofit corporation, is to ensure consistency and support for children in the foster care system through the use of volunteer advocates advancing the best interests of each child.
While most CASA volunteers are not members of the Bar, attorneys can draw on their legal skills to advocate for children.
Volunteers are assigned a youth for whom to advocate. By handling only one or two cases at a time, the volunteer can thoroughly explore the situation. The volunteer talks with the youth, parents, family members, neighbors, school officials, doctors and others involved in the youth’s background who might have facts about the youth. The volunteer reviews all court documents pertaining to the case. He or she then submits formal reports to the judge at every scheduled hearing/review. The CASA volunteer continues to monitor the case to assure that the judicial and child welfare systems are moving ahead appropriately.
Volunteer orientations are held the second Wednesday evening of every month. Contact the CASA Sacramento office to reserve your space by calling (916) 875-6460 or completing the on-line inquiry form at CASA’s website.
My Sister’s House
We have a variety of volunteer opportunities available at My Sister’s House. Volunteers can help with office work and special events or work directly with clients by serving as Domestic Violence Advocates. Download the Volunteer Application at www.my-sisters-house.org and attend one of our monthly orientations, and start making a difference today!
Shelter Advocate Training: This is My Sister’s House 40-hour training for shelter advocates and crisis line volunteers that covers topics such as domestic violence and its history, Asian / Pacific Islander community and culture, and community resources for Asian / Pacific Islander domestic violence survivors. Volunteers desiring to serve on a crisis line or to assist clients directly, and professionals dealing with Asian/Pacific Islander domestic violence survivors in particular, are encouraged to sign-up. Check our website calendar for our Next Volunteer Orientation Date or send an email to email@example.com to reserve your seat at an orientation.
Join Team WEAVE
1900 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
Phone: (916) 448.2321
WEAVE is fortunate to be part of a community that believes in volunteering. It is this passion that has evolved into Team WEAVE – our comprehensive volunteer program. Team WEAVE is designed to provide all potential volunteers with thorough knowledge of our programs and the many ways one can support victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking through volunteering.
To begin volunteering with WEAVE, you may attend one of our volunteer orientations. You will have the opportunity to meet the program managers, ask questions, and receive an application. This is a one-hour educational session to give background information on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, WEAVE’s philosophy, and our volunteer programs.
Please check the website for the next orientation dates.
Location: 1900 K St. Sacramento, CA 95811
Parking: There is a parking lot at WEAVE that you may use while attending the orientation.
No RSVP is necessary, for questions please contact WEAVE’s Community Relations Manager, Allison Lucero at firstname.lastname@example.org
At the orientation you may let staff know that you are interested in volunteering with the legal department. We have opportunities to staff legal workshops, provide forms assistance to clients and generally assist in our legal office. Alternatively, if you would like to be included on our referral list for attorneys who take Family Law or Restraining Order cases on a pro bono basis, please contact the Director of Legal Services, Allison Kephart, at email@example.com
SCBA Pro Bono
The Pro Bono Committee promotes pro bono work in the Sacramento legal community by providing information about volunteer opportunities and recognizing volunteers. Please contact the Chair if you are interested in serving on the Committee.
Jeffrey Galvin (Chair)
Downey Brand LLP
Murphy Austin Adams Schoenfeld LLP
Sacramento County Bar Association Executive Director
Hanson Bridgett LLP
Voluntary Legal Services Program
Weintraub Genshlea Chediak Tobin & Tobin
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
McGeorge School of Law
USDC Eastern District of California
Stoel Rives LLP
Downey Brand LLP
Cook Brown LLP
Stoel Rives LLP
Voluntary Legal Services Program
Legal Services of Northern California
Past SCBA Pro Bono Award Winners
Each year the SCBA Pro Bono Committee presents an award to one or more attorneys for outstanding pro bono service. Past winners are listed below:
- 2018 Norman Hile of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP for pro bono activities over the course of his career, including the representation of a death row inmate
- 2017 Ashley West of Carter West, for her work with WEAVE
- 2016 Ron Blubaugh for his work with the Tommy Clinkenbeard Clinic, and Duane Phillips for his work with the Senior Legal Hotline
- 2015 Darrel Woo, for his work with My Sister’s House
- 2014 Danny Moore, for his work with the Voluntary Legal Services Program, and John Davis, for his work with Legal Services of Northern California