A message from the State Bar President

David J. Pasternak
President, The State Bar of California, 2015-2016

Access to our legal system is a key component of the State Bar of California’s public protection mission. More than 8 million Californians — over 20 percent of the state’s population — qualify for free legal services. But existing nonprofit legal services organizations cannot meet the ongoing demand for assistance due to underfunding and dwindling resources. Many entities are able to leverage their dollars through lawyers’ voluntary legal services resulting in as much as $10 worth of free legal services for every dollar in their budget. 

Pro bono is not only a core value of the legal profession, but a critical element in helping to bridge the justice gap, the gap between the need for civil legal services for the poor and the resources available to meet the need.Lawyers can use their legal skills and expertise to make a substantial difference in the lives of vulnerable low-income individuals and families that would otherwise fall through the cracks, such as helping a senior restore in-home supportive care; protecting the personal safety of a domestic violence survivor and her children; or preventing a disabled veteran from being wrongfully evicted. 

This year we honor individual attorneys, a law firm team, a law firm branch office, and a bar association for their incredible pro bono contributions with the 2016 President’s Pro Bono Service Awards. Each recipient is awe-inspiring and a shining star in our profession. Please join me in congratulating them and also the recipients of the Loren Miller Legal Services Award and the Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Services to the Profession and the Public.

A message from the Hon. Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California

Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye
Chief Justice of California

For nearly ninety years, the State Bar of California has regulated the professional conduct of the state’s lawyers and provided increased access to legal services for the public we all serve. During that time, the State Bar has been responsive to the demands of a changing society, by educating and informing both its members and the public, actively participating in the evolution of the Judicial Branch of California, and fulfilling the critical obligation to provide equal access to justice for all Californians.

Membership of the State Bar grants lawyers the right and privilege of practicing law in California. The bar's network of functions and services—many of them mandated by law—protects the public and assists lawyers in meeting their professional obligations. It also provides the mechanisms for a pipeline of diverse candidates to join the profession and potentially the bench.

In California and nationally, unmet legal needs remain a major challenge for our society, and zealous advocacy is also necessary to provide legal services pro bono publico—for the public good. The Judicial Council and the State Bar continue to collaborate on innovations and enhancements to processes and services to expand access to representation and to the court system.

Progress is being made in addressing the barriers to equal access to justice. From language and financial barriers to improvements in court procedures and the expansion of online services, but work still remains to be done.

Congratulations to all the individuals, projects, teams, offices, and firms that have answered the call to provide legal assistance to those in need and made a difference in the lives of individual litigants, families, and communities.

2016 President's Pro Bono Service Awards recipients:

Recently Admitted

Lolita Fernandes
San Francisco

Lolita Fernandes was admitted in June 2014. Her passion to serve the needs of low-income San Franciscans started with an internship at the Eviction Defense Collaborative and, this year, she rejoined the organization as a Staff Attorney. In 2015, she provided over 850 pro bono hours representing 50 tenants at Bay Area Legal Aid. She was an integral part of Bay Legal’s housing unit, working side by side with staff attorneys on unlawful detainer cases from start to finish. She assisted with intake and UD answer forms, propounded discovery, took depositions, prepared for trial, and reached many favorable settlements for clients who would have gone to court unrepresented if it were not for her help. She also helped clients preserve their housing subsidies and challenged illegal rent increases at administrative hearings. In addition, through Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal, she provided 320 hours of pro bono legal advice and counsel to 30 low-income self-represented litigants in the areas of divorce, expungement, personal injury filing, estate planning, and consumer debt. Ms. Fernandes has also volunteered with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, and Pathways to Citizen Initiative’s Naturalization Workshops. She is licensed to practice law in India, is fluent in Hindi, Marathi, and Konkani, and is learning Spanish.

Limited Active Practice

Stephen M. Kociol

Since 2008, retired attorney Stephen Kociol has been a devoted volunteer at the Watsonville office of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and member of the State Bar’s Pro Bono Practice Program. He contributes more than 700 pro bono hours of his expertise in labor and employment law to CRLA annually. In 2015 alone, he devoted 750 hours and single-handedly developed a labor practice at CRLA for low-wage workers. He also helped establish a wage and hour clinic to assist low-wage workers assert claims for unpaid wages at the Labor Commissioner’s Office or Small Claims Court. Not only did he develop training presentations, a hand-out for workers, and spreadsheets for computation of unpaid wages and penalties, but he also provided direct representation in several wage and hour cases. Mr. Kociol also volunteers at the Santa Cruz County Community Action Board Day Worker Center (CABDWC) where, in 2015, he contributed more than 150 hours developing a training module for staff and volunteers on wage and hour law, and developed materials for a free monthly bilingual wage and hour clinic. As a result of his efforts, CABDWC has increased their capacity to process wage claims for day laborers and successfully prepared three wage claims that resulted in awards.

Individual from a Corporate Practice

Joel B. Silver
Foster City

Admitted in 2013, Joel Silver is an in-house counsel and patent attorney for Gilead Sciences, Inc., a research-based biopharmaceutical company. Mr. Silver’s commitment to providing high-quality, timely legal representation to survivors of domestic violence is unwavering. In 2015, he carved out nearly 200 pro bono hours from his corporate work to represent four domestic violence survivors at their hearings to obtain permanent restraining orders, as well as child custody and support orders. He also worked on a U-Visa case, helping an undocumented survivor of domestic violence obtain a U.S. visa. He received training from Legal Aid Society of San Mateo’s Domestic Violence Collaborative, met clients, drafted the pleadings, and represented the clients in court. The time investment was substantial and, as an English speaker, he did not shy away from providing direct representation to monolingual Spanish speakers. One of his clients was so grateful for the protection he obtained for her, that she was willing to join Mr. Silver and Legal Aid’s Spanish speaking interpreter to participate in a client video story. Mr. Silver has continued to take cases for survivors of domestic violence and has even recruited his outside law firm partners to represent clients with him.

Individual from a Government Practice

Helen Geoffroy

Helen Geoffroy is an attorney with the California Department of State Hospitals, providing legal support in multiple areas of the law to state hospitals treating mentally ill patients. Her responsibilities include obtaining court orders for medication or medical assistance for incompetent patients, providing advice and representation for Forensics and the newly developed Patient Cost Recovery Unit, and developing policies for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation patients. Being a government attorney has not deterred Ms. Geoffroy from engaging in pro bono work. Since 2011, she has volunteered with the Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California (VLSP), Inc. During 2015, she served 34 clients at VLSP’s Debt Collection Defense/Bankruptcy Clinic, providing free legal advice and assistance to low-income individuals with debt and employment related problems. She also served as a mentor to law students at the Employment Law Clinic, helping them improve client interviewing skills. Most notably, Ms. Geoffroy was instrumental in redrafting VLSP’s Employment Law documents used to provide legal assistance more efficiently. She has also volunteered with the Family Law Facilitator’s Office and the Probate Division of the Sacramento County Superior Court where, among other things, she increased efficiency with in-courtroom support of self-represented guardianship litigants.

Individual from a Law Firm

Teodora Manolova
Los Angeles

Teodora Manolova is a partner at Goodwin Procter LLP who practices securities litigation and white collar defense. She was nominated by Bet Tzedek Legal Services for her exemplary work successfully representing seven Central American unaccompanied minors in Probate Court to secure Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), in partnership with Bet Tzedek and Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project. Each of these clients faced significant threats of gang violence, familial instability and abuse in their home countries. Ms. Manolova was well-suited to accept these difficult cases, having worked on guardianship and children’s rights matters since 2006, and having the drive and ability to fully investigate and develop evidence in support of the SIJS petitions. Thanks to her dedication, care and compassion, Ms. Manolova helped to change the course of her young clients’ lives by avoiding removal proceedings and securing legal guardians for each of them. In 2015, she spent over 300 pro bono hours on these seven SIJS matters alone, and an additional 175 hours staffing legal clinics and preparing a legal resource manual for persons with HIV/AIDS, among others. She also serves on the Pro Bono Committee at Goodwin, helping to connect her firm’s legal resources to community-based organizations and encouraging her colleagues to participate in the firm’s Pro Bono Initiative.

Individual from a Law Firm

Jack D. Ross
San Bernardino

Jack Ross practices health care litigation as a senior litigation associate at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, a national law firm with eight offices in California. Beginning in 2011, Mr. Ross led efforts to develop a formal pro bono practice at Lewis Brisbois. In 2015, he represented unaccompanied minors and victims of domestic and gang violence in removal and asylum proceedings in partnership with Public Counsel in Los Angeles, spending over 250 hours working on such matters. Mr. Ross is inspired to take on complicated pro bono matters involving difficult fact patterns on behalf of non-English speaking clients who might otherwise have struggled to find counsel. He also trains and mentors his colleagues at Lewis Brisbois on pro bono immigration matters and encourages them to prioritize pro bono work. Additionally, Mr. Ross has recruited both partners and associates at his firm to take on pro bono matters with Public Counsel, including consumer-related financial disputes and additional asylum matters. Mr. Ross has been a member of Public Counsel’s Associate Leadership Board since 2014. He also serves as a pro bono supervisor of students at UC Irvine School of Law and as a participant in the California Attorney General’s Roundtable on Unaccompanied Minors.

Law Firm Team

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP Team
Palo Alto

From left to right: Stephen Blake, Simona Strauss, Lee Brand and Alexis Coll-Very. Not pictured: Caitlyn Chacon, Christopher James, Valerie Kahn and Melissa Schmidt
From left to right: Stephen Blake, Simona Strauss, Lee Brand and Alexis Coll-Very. Not pictured: Caitlyn Chacon, Christopher James, Valerie Kahn and Melissa Schmidt

As pro bono counsel to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Gay-Straight Alliance, and impacted individuals, the eight member team from Simpson Thacher & Barlett’s Palo Alto office is being recognized for its precedent-setting victory in an affirmative lawsuit, brought in partnership with the ACLU of Northern California, that challenged the sex education curriculum in the Clovis Unified School District for being biased and unlawful in violation of the 2003 California sexual health education law. The suit challenged the District’s reliance upon an antiquated framework that systematically omitted medically accurate information thereby placing the physical and emotional health of tens of thousands of teenagers at risk. As a result of the 9,500+ pro bono hours the team devoted over a four year period with 320 hours completed in 2015, the District has eliminated inaccurate and biased information from its materials and now provides its teachers with instructional guidelines regarding gender role equality, sensitivity to all sexual orientations, and required STD and pregnancy prevention information. Simpson Thacher’s work in this case is not only of monumental importance to the District’s 39,000 students, but also to over six million students who are currently enrolled in California’s public schools and have had their rights to bias-free and medically sound health information affirmed.

Law Firm Branch Office

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP Orange County Office
Costa Mesa

From left to right: Aaron Malo, Guy Halgren, Sean O'Connor and Hon. Andrew Guilford

The 70-lawyer Orange County Office of Sheppard Mullin is being recognized for its robust and diverse pro bono contributions to the Public Law Center (PLC) in Santa Ana. In 2015, this office not only increased its hours of pro bono service to PLC from the previous year by 120%, but remarkably it engaged 100% of its attorneys in substantial pro bono service, including all of its thirty-five partners, thereby assisting over 130 low-income individuals and families. Their pro bono contributions included: regularly staffing a monthly legal clinic through a medical-legal partnership at Children’s Hospital of Orange County that assists disabled youth and their families; providing ongoing attorney and legal support to pro se litigants at PLC’s Pro Se Clinic at the Federal District Courthouse in Santa Ana; combining forces with its summer associates to represent underserved litigants at PLC’s monthly Reaffirmation Bankruptcy Clinic; and building layered legal teams and assuming sole responsibility on multiple and sizable litigation matters that addressed important systemic issues such as the rights of transgender veterans to obtain VA benefits. Sheppard Mullin’s active participation in innovative models of pro bono service that embed resources in settings such as medical facilities and courthouses where the clients’ needs are most pronounced underscores the firm’s unwavering focus on access to justice.

Distinguished Pro Bono Service

Korean American Bar Association of Southern California
Los Angeles

Founded in 1980, the Korean American Bar Association of Southern California (KABA) is a pro bono focused organization that promotes excellence in the practice of law. Since 2002, members, with assistance from volunteer law students and community volunteers, have provided free legal assistance to thousands of greater Koreatown community residents facing various legal issues, such as domestic violence, family law, foreclosure, small business disputes, immigration, and since 2007, landlord tenant issues. In partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), KABA conducts a free monthly Pro Bono Community Legal Clinic providing free consultations, legal information and referrals, and representation to monolingual and limited-English proficient individuals including Korean, Russian, Bangladeshi and Spanish speakers. In partnership with the Korean Resource Center, KABA members assist naturalization applicants and participate in numerous community events to provide legal information and education. Additionally, the annual 2015 KABA Law Day was co-sponsored with LAFLA, the Los Angeles Central Lion’s Club and the Office of the Korean Consulate General. With the assistance of 30+ volunteers, more than 50 low-income individuals with a variety of legal issues were helped and free childcare was provided. In 2015, KABA contributed a total of more than 500 pro bono hours and served more than 400 individuals.