Skyline College’s Paralegal Clinic: Inspiring Agents for Change

Jesse W. Raskin, J.D.

 

Access to justice for all is a serious issue. The American Bar Association acknowledges that the legal profession fails to adequately address the “major gap between the civil legal needs of low-income people and the legal help that they receive.”¹

Rebecca L. Sandefur, PhD, affirms: “The consequences of these situations can be severe, and they do not fall equally on all who experience them. People in low-income households are more likely than others to experience negative consequences from civil justice situations, including adverse impacts on health, confidence, and income.”²

canstockphoto12954690In 2011, with this deep concern in mind, as well as a desire to create a better model of teaching beyond the traditional lecture-based Socratic classroom (which fails to meet the needs of students who seek to build work-related proficiencies), I sat down to write a project proposal that I hoped would address both of these issues.

Two questions guided my efforts:

1. Can we improve the effectiveness of the civil justice system for people priced out of the legal market?

2. Can we provide authentic opportunities for students to build the competencies needed to thrive as legal professionals, as well as an awareness of access to justice needs?

Inspiration dawned: Skyline College’s Legal Clinic. The following year, Skyline College provided the financial support and encouragement needed to launch the clinic, and co-founder Maria Segarra Gaudio, J.D., and I developed invaluable partnerships with consultant Eumi Lee, J.D., and the SparkPoint Center on campus. As a licensed California attorney with experience on immigration matters, landlord-tenant cases, and domestic violence restraining order petitions, Gaudio is an invaluable resource.

Since 2013, the clinic has served as an innovative hub for legal access and paralegal education.
Our vision:

1. Provide access to justice for students, faculty, staff and the community at large who have been negatively impacted by the exorbitant cost of legal services.

2. Empower students to become agents for change through a service learning model designed to address the access-to-justice gap.

Early results are promising. Under Gaudio’s supervision, paralegals-in-training provide information, limited service consultations, and legal referrals. The clinic has assisted dozens of clients facing pressing legal issues, including immigration, domestic violence, tenants’ rights, and more.

“Working in the clinic was a life-changing experience,” asserts graduate Priya Goldwyn. “I never knew what a difference I could make just by pointing someone in the direction of the right legal form.”

As proud as Gaudio and I are of the clinic’s impact, we are also aware of our limitations. Like many organizations serving under-resourced communities, our funding is limited and insecure. We want to help, teach, and achieve more, and we dream of hosting law student interns and volunteer attorneys. But Gaudio wisely reminds me that we must move slowly and cautiously: “It is imperative to help those we can rather than try to grow too quickly and move beyond our ability to operate effectively.”

From September to November, the clinic is offering free services weekly in the SparkPoint Center at Skyline College. Appointments are preferred, but drop-ins are welcome. For more information, call 650-738-7035 or visit www.skylinecollege.edu/sparkpoint.

Footnotes
1 Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans [Legal Services Corporation, September 2009].

2 Accessing Justice in the Contemporary USA: Findings from the Community Needs and Services Study [Rebecca L. Sandefur, ABA, August 8, 2014]

Associate Professor Jesse W. Raskin, J.D., a licensed California attorney, is the tenured professor of Legal Studies and Legal Clinic co-founder at Skyline College.