With the guidance and support of the Armenian Bar Association, the Armenian Law Students’ Association of Southwestern Law School (“ALSA”) has partnered with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (“NLSLA”) to provide pro bono services to indigent clients. During the past year, the three organizations have met and conferred on several occasions to map out effective ways to meet the legal needs of the most vulnerable members of the community. Brigitte Malatjalian, a third-year law student and leader at Southwestern, recognized the benefit of bridging the gap and offering this type of service in the Armenian Community and initiated the joint discussions with NLSLA.
On June 24, 2017, the first pilot clinic from this collaboration took place at the NLSLA Glendale branch. With the aim of expanding access to justice, the inaugural event focused on Expungement and Proposition 47 relief. Volunteers – including ALSA members from Southwestern Law School, practicing attorneys including Armenian Bar members, and other community advocates – committed their respective synergies to complete several Expungement petitions.
Under the California Penal Code and Proposition 47, certain low-level, nonviolent felonies can be reclassified to misdemeanors on old criminal records or, alternatively, expunged entirely. For many people, old criminal records that contain convictions for low-level, nonviolent crimes have created barriers to stability. Many find it difficult to secure jobs, housing, student loans and other opportunities for economic security and family stability.
Through the leadership of NLSLA supervising attorney, Kevin Reyes, participants engaged in a very smooth process where the clients were instructed to obtain their Court Dockets and DOJ Rap Sheets, then to call to make an appointment. In the meantime, NLSLA prepared folders for each anticipated client. On the day of the clinic, clients were checked in and welcomed into private rooms where they were assisted with the appropriate paperwork, including the preparation of motions, declarations, and next-step instructions. Each consultation lasted more than an hour. Mr. Reyes stated, “As a result of all your hard work, we were able to help ten clients with 16 expungements. That’s ten people who are one step closer to breaking down the barriers they face to employment, housing, reunifying with their family, and restoring their civil rights. This work is helping people get a second chance at life and find employment that will allow them to better support themselves and their families.”
Future clinics are scheduled to take place the fourth Saturday of every month at the NLSLA Glendale location. In order to promote these pro bono programs and to educate the public about the services being offered, ALSA and the Armenian Bar will access their contacts in the Armenian community, such as English/Armenian newspapers, broadcast media, and various community centers, educational institutions, and churches.
Armenian Bar Association Student Affairs Committee Chairwoman, Lucy Varpetian, remarked, “The pilot clinic was successful in many immediate and impactful ways. Not only were clients provided with a second chance through the expungement program, but this clinic solidified ALSA’s, the Armenian Bar’s, and NLSLA’s alliance of public service to open and broaden the access to much-needed legal services in the Armenian community.”
For more information about the future clinics or for volunteer opportunities, please contact the Armenian Bar Association at ArmenianBar@ArmenianBar.org.