Loren Miller Legal Services Award


Chris A. Schneider, Executive Director of Central California Legal Services, Inc., has dedicated his entire legal career to making the legal system more accessible to the poor in rural central California. In 1974, he began a 14 year volunteer commitment with the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) assisting migrant farm workers in the Central Valley and throughout California. At the UFW, he held a variety of positions: Community Organizer, Administrative Assistant, Contract Administrator, Paralegal and Attorney.  During this period, Mr. Schneider became an attorney through the encouragement of César Chávez, by apprenticing through the Law Office Study Program. In 1988, he left the UFW and co-founded a law firm to serve the legal needs of the farm worker community. The following year, Mr. Schneider was hired as Directing Attorney for the Delano Office of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) where he handled housing and labor matters. After four years with CRLA, he became Executive Director of Central California Legal Services (CCLS) in 1993.   

CCLS provides free legal assistance in the areas of consumer, education, family, immigration, health, housing and public benefits to eligible low-income clients in the central San Joaquin Valley and the mountain foothills which is a geographic area with the highest poverty density. Their clients primarily are the working poor, families with young children, people with disabilities, immigrants and veterans in Fresno, Kings, Merced, Tulare, Mariposa, and Tuolumne Counties; seniors citizens in Madera County; and residents of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Stanislaus Counties, in addition to the counties listed above, with health law issues.

Under Mr. Schneider’s leadership, CCLS has thrived, even under financially challenging times. In a region where it is challenging to deliver civil legal aid due to lack of resources, he has leveraged local and urban pro bono resources and engaged in community-based collaborations. This year, Chris Schneider will leave CCLS after 22 years as Executive Director, 26 years providing legal services in rural central California, and having worked with the impoverished in central California for more than 40 years.

As Executive Director of CCLS, Mr. Schneider has served on, and worked with, a number of community-based organizations and the courts to achieve access to justice for the rural indigent population of central California. For example, he served on an advisory committee with Fresno’s Superior Court leading to the opening of the Fresno Superior Court’s first Spanish Self-Help Education and Information Center.  Under Mr. Schneider’s direction, CCLS also participates in numerous local and regional collaborative efforts such as the Access to Justice Coalition; Child Health Initiative Outreach, Enrollment, Retention and Utilization Collaborative; the Elder Abuse Prevention Round Table; the Fresno County Rural Communities Collaborative; the Hmong Health Collaborative; and the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative. Mr. Schneider served as President of the Legal Aid Association of California from 1994-1999.

The CCLS staff handles a myriad of legal issues for the underserved Central Valley population.  Under Mr. Schneider’s leadership, CCLS was able to sue one of the largest slumlords in Fresno. When federal funding restrictions prohibited CCLS from bringing or participating in class action lawsuits, over 100 individual lawsuits were filed by CCLS clients resulting in justice for some of the tenants.  Also, CCLS helped stop a large water rate increase to domestic water users receiving arsenic-tainted water in the town of Alpaugh where residents were already paying more for water than those in surrounding towns.

CCLS not only utilizes pro bono resources from the local area but also urban pro bono resources. Mr. Schneider recruited Arnold & Porter LLP to provide a team of pro bono attorneys from the firm’s branch offices in Los Angeles, Palo Alto and San Francisco to co-counsel with CCLS on over 30 individual cases representing homeless clients against the City of Fresno for seizing and destroying their belongings. The litigation which took place between 2012 and 2014 resulted in a settlement, policy changes and increased community awareness of the legal rights of the homeless.  Additionally, the firm’s team has become a model for delivering pro bono legal services to underserved rural communities located hundreds of miles away. Another example is the Workers’ Rights Clinic that developed as a partnership with the San Francisco based Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in collaboration with a Fresno law firm and the Mexican Consulate to provide free and confidential information to low-wage workers with various employment issues. Not only does Mr. Schneider ensure that each monthly clinic has a steady stream of volunteer attorneys to provide supervision, and CCLS staff support, but he personally participates in virtually every clinic. And through his initiative, the clinic is now accessible to workers in Merced and Visalia via Google Video Chat.

In addition to direct legal services, CCLS has developed a variety of service models to help safeguard the rights of their client community including: the Fresno Health Consumer Center—as part of a statewide Health Consumer Alliance of eleven legal services organizations, the Center helps residents of Fresno County navigate through the maze of the health care system and provides assistance and advocacy for health access problems; the Earned Income Tax Education and Outreach Campaign—over the last 12 years, more than $30 million in refunds have been returned to low income taxpayers; the Health Law Advice Line—a new toll-free line that answer questions about the changes to health care law; and most recently the Legal Advice Line.

Mr. Schneider also has been involved in legislative work that benefitted the working poor in the Central Valley and throughout the state. In 2000, after years of surveys and hundreds of interviews with sheepherders working in isolated areas, CCLS published “Suffering in the Pastures of Plenty: Experiences of H-2A Sheepherders in California’s Central Valley,"  the first documentation of deplorable working conditions endured by sheepherders. His efforts resulted in the improvement of working conditions and wages for California sheepherders.  Also under his guidance, CCLS provided comments and testimony at the invitation of California Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski that helped support the passage of AB 1388. This bill put medical care debt on equal footing with other debts so that the uninsured working poor taken to emergency rooms would not have their wages garnished to pay their medical bills. Mr. Schneider was also involved in the introduction and passage of the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act.

With the CCLS housing law team and the City of Merced and its Department of Housing and Community Development, Mr. Schneider worked on the General Plan Housing Element. This effort resulted in the creation and adoption of a revised plan that better addresses affordable housing for all economic segments of the population, including low income, very low income and extremely low income residents.

Chris Schneider has devoted his entire legal career to protecting the rights of the indigent and working poor in California’s rural Central Valley. Not only does he exemplify the kind of lawyer that the Loren Miller Legal Services Award seeks to recognize, but as stated by nominator Ana de Alba on behalf of the Pro Bono Services Section of the Fresno County Bar Association, “Mr. Schneider exemplifies what lawyers should aspire to be, seekers of justice, honest, and humble."


The Loren Miller Legal Services Award, named after the late Loren Miller, an African American lawyer and judge who was a leader in the civil rights movement, was established in 1977 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the State Bar of California. It is considered a lifetime achievement award and is given annually to a lawyer admitted to practice in California who has demonstrated long-term commitment to legal services and who has personally done significant work in extending legal services to the poor. Previous award recipients include the staff of legal services organizations such as directors of litigation, executive directors and private bar attorneys. 


Nominee must be a member of the State Bar of California. General criteria to be used in the selection of the award recipient include one or more of the following:

  • Demonstrated dedication to the development and delivery of legal services
  • Community organizing to increase access to the legal system
  • Performance of legal services with a demonstrated long-term commitment to providing legal services
  • Successful precedent-setting litigation which benefited the poor
  • Successful local, state and/or national legislative advocacy on behalf of under-represented persons

Members of the State Bar Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (SCDLS) are ineligible to receive the award during their service on the committee, and for one year following their departure from the committee.


  • Self-nominations are accepted.
  • Previous nominations may be resubmitted with updated information.
  • The nomination form and nominee’s current resume or biography with work history and dates are required and must be submitted electronically as Word documents.
  • In addition, at least one (1) but no more than five (5) letters in support of the nomination that include citations to reported cases, references to legislative and organizing efforts, successful projects and relevant newspaper or other articles about the nominee’s professional accomplishments.
  • Letters of support and additional supporting material must be submitted with the nomination form and resume as individual PDF files, except for articles which can be submitted via live URL links. Video web links, CDs and DVDs will not be accepted.  
  • Letters of support should be addressed to the “Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services”.
  • All attachments must be itemized in the body of the e-mail message.
  • The total size of all documents attached to a single e-mail cannot exceed 10 MB. If necessary, send remaining documents in a second e-mail.
  • The page limit on letters of support and additional supporting materials (not including the resume) is 25 pages.
  • Nomination materials should be emailed to the attention of Kimberly Warmsley at LorenMillerandProBonoAwards@calbar.ca.gov by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, March 16, 2015
  • The e-mail subject line should include “2015 Loren Miller Award” and the nominee’s name. If attachments are submitted in two e-mails, please add “(1 of 2)” and “(2 of 2)” to the subject line.
  • Please do not include more than one nomination per e-mail.
  • Nominations will only be accepted electronically. If it is a hardship to submit a nomination electronically, please contact Ms. Warmsley at the e-mail address above, or 415-538-2176 about an alternative method for submission.
  • Nominators will receive e-mail notification acknowledging receipt of each nomination within five (5) business days. Please contact Ms. Warmsley to confirm receipt of submission if needed.

Please answer all questions thoroughly. If critical information is missing, the nomination may be disqualified. If information needs to be clarified, the nominator(s) and/or additional references may be contacted.     

Each nominee will receive e-mail notification that she or he has been nominated for an award with copy to the nominator.


The State Bar Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (SCDLS) will review the nominations and submit its recommendation to the State Bar Board of Trustees in July for final approval. The decision regarding the award recipient will be based on the above criteria or comparable achievements and the strength of the supporting letters. The award will be presented during the State Bar Annual Meeting in Anaheim.

For more information and questions regarding the Loren Miller Award, please contact Sharon Ngim via email at: sharon.ngim@calbar.ca.gov


Year Recipient
2015 Chris Schneider
2014 Betty L. Nordwind
2013 Gary Blasi
2012 Melinda R. Bird
2011 Sid Wolinsky
2010 Gary F. Smith
2009 Robert Gnaizda
2008 Richard Rothschild
2007 Stewart Kwoh
2006 Joan Messing Graff
2005 Carl R. Poirot
2004 Bruce Iwasaki
2003 Robert Cohen
2002 Bernida Reagan
2001 Joaquin Avila
2000 Laurie Zelon
1999 David Bryson
1998 Tanya Neiman
1997 Mary Burdick
1996 Jack Londen
1995 Toby Rothschild
1994 Marilyn Holle
1993 Alice Bussiere
1992 Evelyn Frank
1991 Edward Davis, Jr.
1990 Katharine Krause
1989 Elaine Alexander
1988 Carole Brill
1987 Donald Tamaki
1986 Elena Ackel
1985 Peter Reid
1984 John McTernan
1983 Ralph Abascal
1982 Joseph Duff
1981 Benjamin Dreyfus
1980 John Porter
1979 Fay Stender
1978 Cruz Reynoso
1977 Earl Johnson