Cal West School of Law's Community Law Project Serving More Residents Than Ever
by Rebecca E. Neely
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Cal West operates two locations in coordination with its community law project. The first one, launched in 2004, is operated weekly at the First Lutheran Church, and is nearby the California Western campus. The second is located in City Heights, and was launched in the fall of 2009.
The project has grown from just a handful of people, many homeless, who would show up on Monday evenings, to a packed room, and a need for scheduled appointments, sometimes weeks in advance. Volunteer attorneys offer their services and specialize in a range of issues, including housing, family, criminal law to personal injury and immigration. Although these attorneys don't represent these individuals in court, they help guide them through the often complicated legal process.
The Executive Director of the Community Law Project, Dana Sisitsky, was quoted as saying in a recent interview: “At one consultation, they'll provide them with: ‘This is the map of how you get through your divorce case. Come back in a month with your paperwork and we'll work on that.' They'll sort of guide them through the entire process…. They're looking over their paperwork, they're telling them what's going to happen, they're giving them advice on how to present themselves in front of the judge—sort of just basic information that someone who is involved in a big court case and is frazzled may not think of.”
The Community Law Project is unique in that in conjunction with the legal services, there are also medical and dental clinics offered. Staffed by students from University of California, San Diego's School of Medicine, the clinics offer a small pharmacy and acupuncture services. Dr. Ellen Beck is the medical clinic's program director, and feels having ‘one stop shopping', as it were, is beneficial for a variety of reasons – not only do the logistics make sense for the people in need of the services, often, legal, medical and social issues overlap – giving students a prime opportunity to learn, and to help the ‘whole' person, so to speak.
The project is operated concurrently with the church's Third Avenue Charitable Organization (TACO), which Jim Lovell directs, and the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project, a medical clinic operated by UCSD medical students and supervised by Dr. Ellen Beck, M.D. Clinical Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UCSD.
In 2005, Linda Morton, a law professor at Cal Western, contacted Lovell and Beck about offering a law clinic that for the most part would be staffed by Cal Western students, and be supervised by a licensed attorney.
Morton was quoted as saying in a recent interview: “I wanted our students to learn a broader approach to problem solving. I can teach them theory until they're blue in the face, but until you're in the trenches and seeing it and doing it, it doesn't come alive unless you're actually walking the walk.”
Founded in 1924, California Western School of Law is a private, non-profit law school located in San Diego, California and is the oldest in the city. It is also home to the Southern California “Innocence Project.”