This year, two local attorneys share in the prestigious honor as recipients of the James D. Loebl VCBA/VLSP, Inc. Pro Bono Award. Alfonso Martinez and Kathleen Barrett will be honored at the VCBA Annual Installations and Awards Dinner on November 23 at 6 p.m. at the Spanish Hills Country Club.
Recipient Kathleen Barrett runs her own firm, Law Office of Kathleen M. Barrett located in Simi Valley. Her solo practice primarily focuses on family law, wills and trusts. Kathleen retired as the Chief Administrative Officer in the Department of Neurology at UCLA when she made the decision to go to law school. Her primary motivation was to provide pro bono or low cost legal assistance to people who could otherwise not afford legal representation.
During her second year of law school at Ventura College of Law, Kathleen interned at Grey Law of Ventura County, assisting on pro bono cases. After her internship ended, she stayed on to conduct legal clinics at senior centers in the area once or twice a month until a few months ago when she started a free legal clinic at the Free Clinic in Simi Valley. She was also appointed to the Board of Directors of Grey Law two years ago. She still sits on Grey Law’s board today.
In Kathleen’s third year of law school, she interned with Debi Jurgensen, who also handled many pro bono cases through VLSP. Through Jurgensen’s mentorship, Kathleen says she was able to be involved in a number of cases with Jurgensen and to continue taking cases on her own after being sworn in as an attorney.
Verna Kagan, who heads the VLSP program, gave Kathleen the good news about being a recipient of the VLSP Pro Bono Award. Kathleen expected Verna to give her another pro bono case, but Verna delivered the exciting news that Kathleen was to receive an award for her dedication to providing low or no cost representation to the residents of Ventura County.
Kathleen says that she is beyond thrilled to be honored with this award because it is tangible recognition that she is making progress toward accomplishing the goal she set for herself when she started law school, of providing legal representation to those who could otherwise not afford it.
The Co-recipient Alfonso Martinez works at Dion Law Group in Westlake Village, where he practices family and criminal law. Because Al is bilingual, he also handles other types of cases when he receives referrals from other attorneys with Spanish speaking clients. Al reports that one day after being admitted to the Bar he began volunteering as a pro bono attorney for the Oxnard legal aid office of the California Rural Legal Assistance (“CRLA”). Former staff attorney Alfred Vargas suggested Al speak with Verna at VLSP to help take cases involving Spanish-speaking clients.
Never one to turn down the much needed help, Verna contacted Al within 24 hours. She assigned him a family law case with a cross-over criminal element. With little time to prepare for a hearing the next day, Al won the hearing for the client on cross-examination of a witness. As a result, the District Attorney discharged the criminal complaint. Al’s client was so thankful and happy to be reunited with his children that he cried as he hugged Al. “It felt good to make a difference in his life. I have been taking pro bono cases through VLSP ever since.”
Al reports he found out about winning the Pro Bono Award by returning a phone call from Verna. Verna said she was calling for two reasons: the first was to ask if he was going to the Installations Banquet. To which Al replied, “You mean the Law Prom? Of course.” Then Verna said “great, because you are getting an award.” In case you had any doubt, the second reason for Verna’s call was to assign Al a last minute child custody case with a Spanish-speaking VLSP client.
Both recipients have the same advice for attorneys as to why they should take pro bono cases: It’s a great way to gain practical experience in dealing with clients, other attorneys and judges, especially for new attorneys. The gratitude of the client is often more meaningful than a check deposited into your bank account. Also through the VLSP, you can give someone a voice that would otherwise not have the opportunity to be heard.
If, after reading this article you are inspired to take on a pro bono case or two, please contact Verna Kagan at VLSP by calling (805) 650-7599.
Rachel Coleman works at the Law office of David Lehr and is a member of the Citations Editorial Board.