State Bar Honors Small Claims Project Hosted at Southwestern
Students Play Integral Role in Award-Winning Small Claims Clinic
The Standing Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services of the State Bar of California has announced that the Small Claims Court Project is the recipient of a Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award for its impact in 2011, "providing meaningful support to low and middle income citizens accessing the small claims courts." The Project is a collaborative effort of Southwestern, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the law firms of Greenburg Glusker and Selman Breitman, and the Center for Civic Mediation. The award will be presented during the Annual State Bar Meeting in Monterey, CA, in October 2012.
Under the auspices of the Small Claims Court Project, Southwestern hosts monthly free clinics at the campus, designed to assist underserved members of the community who are filing or who are defending small claims actions. Southwestern students, primarily from the SCALE program, volunteer their services under the supervision of volunteer attorneys for the Project, which is the first of its kind in Los Angeles County.
Professor Laura Cohen and Senior Associate Dean Gary Greener led the effort to establish the program on behalf of Southwestern. "We feel very fortunate to be part of a project that is a successful collaboration, meets the needs of the community and has positive results for Small Claims Court in Los Angeles," Professor Cohen said. "Through the Small Claims Clinic, litigants receive more attention and information for their specific questions than is currently available elsewhere in Los Angeles. Furthermore, it is our hope to expand and replicate the project in the future."
Law student volunteers who participate in the Small Claims Clinic gain valuable hands-on legal experience that enables them to hone their interviewing skills, identify issues and apply the law to the facts. They see first-hand how the small claims process works including how to ensure proper service, what paperwork should be presented to facilitate the hearing officer's understanding of a case, and other strategies for a successful claim. Prior to working with clients, students receive materials and training in case preparation and visit Small Claims Court to observe hearings.
Established in 1983, the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Awards recognize California attorneys, law firms, law schools, law students and associations of California lawyers who have provided or enabled the direct provision of legal services to poor persons or organizations whose primary purpose is to provide legal services to the poor, free of charge, in the preceding calendar year. Recommendations for the President's Pro Bono Service Awards are made by the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (SCDLS) to the Board of Trustees, which reviews and approves the recommendations.