An occasional look at how the crisis economy is affecting laid-off legal professionals and the options open to them.
It used to be that San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program begged people to come donate time. Now they’re turning people away.
The SF Bar Association’s VLSP holds about three CLE trainings nearly every month of the year. They offer an introduction to landlord/tenant and family law, among other things. Trainees then can provide pro bono assistance through VLSP.
In all of 2008, a total of 295 lawyers got training.
Then came the 21st Century Depression … after the jump.
In the first four months of this year, that 295 has just about doubled. More than 200 lawyers have already been trained, according to VLSP.
Tiela Chalmers, the program’s executive director, says about half the lawyers are looking for work after being laid off, or because they just earned their J.D.’s, or because their firm went under. Others are still employed, but are less busy, so they’re taking time to give back. It’s a way to keep skills sharp, she said.
The problem is that VLSP has funding problems of its own, contending with lack of staff to train and mentor lawyers and to screen clients, Chalmers said. “Typically, people who come to us often know a lot about securities law, but we don’t have a lot of those cases,” she said. Training takes staff and time. In family law,* for instance, “we have one training attorney working 75 percent of the time,” she said.
While it’s great that so many are interested in charity, Chalmers says it would help clients and lawyers if some of the support also came squiggled on a check. “Frankly, at this moment our greatest need is funding.”
— Petra Pasternak
*updated to clarify. They've got more than three-quarters of a lawyer; 14, in fact.