Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012-01-01 "Lawyers offer free consultations at public libraries in Benicia, Vallejo" by Tony Burchyns from "Vallejo Times-Herald" and based on press-release from Solano County Library
Suzanne Sprague is the kind of lawyer who likes bringing the law to the people.
That's why she and some of her colleagues started the Lawyer in the Library program in Benicia.
Sprague and other lawyers spend two hours a month at the Benicia Public Library offering free consultations and referral services, mainly to those who lack access to the courts. The program is similar to successful ones in Vallejo and Vacaville.
"We just think it's a good community service for the people," said Sprague, an attorney with Gizzi & Reep in Benicia.
"We're not there to solicit business," she added. "A lot of times, we're just helping them find resources."
So far, about 10 attorneys are involved in the service, which offers 20-minute consultations on a first-come, first-served basis on the first Thursday of the month. The program started two months ago, with its third installment coming Thursday.
Sprague previously volunteered for a similar program that's been around for years at Vallejo's JFK Library. That program has become so popular that it's offered twice a month, on the first and third Wednesday.
"It speaks directly to me," said Vallejo JFK reference librarian Nancy Atkins, whose father Merton Wray was a municipal court judge in Whittier from 1965 to 1974. "It's extremely helpful to us that we have lawyers come in and give correct, relevant information. People are uniformly grateful. That's why it functions. Grateful people, and it's simple."
"And we don't use a bunch of paperwork," Atkins joked.
The program is meant to provide general legal guidance to residents with information that's meant to help them help themselves. People who may need help from a private attorney are generally referred through the Solano County Bar Association.
"It's only one facet of what a library does," Atkins said. "There are few other public agencies where you can go in and get free legal information and we think of it as an extension of the reference desk."
Sprague said the topics that come up run the gamut, but generally include bankruptcy, landlord-tenant disputes and family law issues.
"It's an opportunity to give back," said Scott Reep, who serves on the nonprofit Benicia Library Foundation board. Along with Sprague and others, he helped bring the program to Benicia.
It's not the first time Reep's done pro bono work. He said he started the nonprofit Law Center in Contra Costa County about 10 years ago. About 30 attorneys were involved when he left the board about four years ago while shifting his practice to Solano County.
"It would be nice to have something similar in Solano County," Reep said. He added that starting the library program is "a first step" in expanding free and low-cost legal services to the needy.
"Then we can direct people in the right direction," he said.
The volunteer attorneys may offer basic advice, but they will not act as people's lawyers. Nothing that is said or done during the program creates an "attorney-client" relationship. However, Sprague said discussions are considered personal and confidential.
While the State Bar of California urges all attorneys to devote at least 50 hours per year to providing free legal services, there's no public service requirement.
"It's a goodness of the heart thing," said Bob Hawley, the State Bar's deputy executive director. The profession promotes pro bono work, but he said it's really up to law firms and lawyers to meet that responsibility.
"There have been times when I've really been able to answer people's questions and I've really been able to help them," Sprague said. "The other thing is, this is just how I was brought up. Volunteering is just part of who I am. That's just me."

Legal Help: Free or low-cost services
"Lawyer in the Library" Program
Benicia Public Library
150 E. L St., Benicia
First Thursday of month at 6 p.m. (sign-ups start 5 p.m.)
Brief legal advice and referrals
Translators welcome

"Lawyer in the Library" Program
Solano County Library
John F. Kennedy Library
505 Santa Clara St., Vallejo
First and third Wednesdays of month at 4 p.m. (arrive early)
1-866-57-ASKUS (1-866-572-7587)

Solano County Family Law Facilitator
Hall of Justice
600 Union Ave., Fairfield
Monday, Tuesday Thursday, Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Services in Spanish offered Monday, Tuesday and Friday
(707) 207-7348

Legal Services of Northern California
1810 Capitol St., Vallejo
(707) 643-0054 or 1-800-270-7252

Referral Service
Solano County Bar Association
744 Empire St., Suite 201, Fairfield
Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to noon.
$45 for matching client with attorney plus 1/2 hour consultation
(707) 422-0127

Solano County Small Claims Advisor
General Information: (707) 207-7335
Direct consultation line: (707) 422-7433
Accessible Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon.

Dispute Resolution Service
Solano County Bar Association
744 Empire St. Suite 201, Fairfield
(707) 422-5087

SafeQuest Solano
Services for sexual assault and domestic violence victims
(707) 421-6881 or (866) 487-7233

Equal Rights Advocate Advice and Counseling Hotline

Workers Rights Clinic
(415) 864-8208
Wednesdays, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Women's Employment Rights Clinic
(415) 442-6647

Senior Legal Hotline
(800) 222-1753
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.; Thursday until 7 p.m.

No comments:

Post a Comment