The New Volunteer Training Experience: What the Center Can Offer You
When Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie was appointed to the bench, her colleagues told her family court was a disfavored assignment. “And that is exactly where I was assigned,” said Fujie, the day’s keynote speaker, to incoming volunteers at the Harriett Buhai Center’s annual New Volunteer Training. “And I love it. I really feel like I make a difference. I get to help people with their very personal matters.” Her enthusiastic attitude inspired and energized the Center’s new recruits, and encouraged those who were not family law practioners for the information-packed day ahead.
Fulfilling Law School Dreams
During the morning session, volunteers met in small groups with Buhai Center staff attorneys and active volunteers to review the fundamentals of family law in California. Sascha Bensinger, Center volunteer and clinical professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, explained to the group that she came to the Center because she was approached to teach family law, but had never actually practiced in that area. “A colleague suggested I volunteer with the Buhai Center.” Bensinger told the crowd that most applicants say they want to go to law school to help others. “Many students graduate and enter the legal profession feeling unfulfilled,” she continued, “but at the Center you have the opportunity to actually help clients—to really make a difference for them.” She emphasized that this is why she continues to provide pro bono assistance.
Professional and Well-Organized Materials
Volunteers were provided with extensive materials to reference, including the Center’s manual California Family Law Basics and were trained by experienced Center staff attorneys and volunteers. Trainees remarked that the materials provided were “incredibly impressive, informative and thorough.” The training was organized by Buhai Center Staff Attorney Judy Behar-Schwartz, who also led some of the smaller break-out sessions. Many trainees actively participated by asking insightful questions and responding to hypothetical scenarios posed by the instructors. One attendee commented that it was “the most professional and well-organized MCLE” she had attended.
Volunteers are the backbone of the Buhai Center. We welcome lawyers, law graduates, paralegals, interpreters, community members and students to become involved in the Center’s programs. The Harriett Buhai Center handles the most personal and important legal problems an individual can face – issues concerning safety, the well-being of one’s children and financial security. Volunteers play an active role in the Center’s mission of protecting victims of domestic violence, improving the welfare of children living in poverty, and assuring people in need meaningful access to the courts.
Serving as the largest independent pro bono family law firm in Southern California, the Center offers its new volunteers thorough training and supervision in family law. Volunteers may expect to address family problems including: divorce, custody and visitation, support, restraining orders, paternity and division of property. The Center provides its volunteers with a learning environment, networking opportunities and chance to give back. The Center maintains professional liability coverage for its volunteers.
For more information on volunteering or law student internships, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 213-388-7505 ext. 319.
- Law Students
- Certified Paralegals
- Licensed Professionals
- Community Members
- Graduate/Undergraduate Students
“My experience volunteering at the Center has been life changing. It has renewed my faith in the legal profession and has reminded me of how fortunate we all are to have been given the opportunity to be in a position where we can and should help others.” – Erin, pro bono volunteer
“It’s rewarding to see people leaving the Center feeling good about themselves. I find the Center to be so well organized. The supervision is super and very hands on. All is made easy to accomplish.” – Mary, 10 year volunteer
Opportunities for Volunteer Lawyers Under the guidance of Center legal staff, volunteer lawyers may:
- Interview clients
- Prepare pleadings and other legal documents to help clients represent themselves in court
- Represent clients in court on a limited scope basis for a single court appearance or take a case for full representation
- Mentor other attorneys
- Provide advice in non-family law areas such as tax, criminal law, trusts and estates
Requirements for Volunteer Lawyers
- Attend one of the Harriett Buhai Center’s New Volunteer Training seminars.*
- 50 hours of office pro per assistance within 12 months following the training and/or
- Acceptance of one case for full representation** and/or
- Acceptance of two cases for limited scope representation within 12 months following the training**
*Volunteer lawyers with more than 3 years of family law experience may not need to attend
**Available only for California licensed attorneys, based on requisite experience and skills
“My internship at the Center not only fostered thorough and superior legal skills, but also fostered a commitment to volunteerism. It solidified my decision to practice family law.” – Jennifer, former law student intern
“The Center provides many opportunities for students to strengthen their legal skills from client counseling to preparing motions. The staff attorneys are very helpful in making sure students get the best experience. This is a great place to learn family law and help people in really emotional situations.” – Marine, former law student intern
Opportunities for Law Students:
Law students enrolled in approved California or American Bar Association accredited law schools are welcome for a range of opportunities under supervision of Center attorneys:
1. School Year/Summer Internships:
- Interview and assist clients
- Analyze cases
- Prepare pleadings, write declarations and conduct research for clients
- Designed to foster passion for public interest, the Trope and Trope Fellowship annually affords one University of Southern California Gould School of Law student with an opportunity to be immersed in family law as a summer intern at the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law.
- Each year, one outstanding student is chosen among a worthy pool of candidates to participate in the 10-week fellowship program. Under the guidance and supervision of experienced Center staff attorneys, the student will interview clients, draft pleadings, conduct legal research for trials briefs and assist clients with filing documents with the court. By participating in client interviews and assessments, the student is presented with an occasion to hone their client communication and counseling skills. The Center supervising attorneys also encourage the student to exercise their analytical skills by assisting with case strategy and management.
Law School Graduates:
- While awaiting bar results law graduates can participate in internships to strengthen their legal skills and gain experience interacting with clients.
Requirements for Law Students and Graduates:
- School Year Internships: Minimum requirement: 15 hours per week for 10 weeks.
- Summer Internships: Minimum requirement: full-time for 10 weeks.
- Law School Graduates: Minimum requirement: 150 hours during 3-month period (post bar exam to bar results).
What the Summer 2013 Law Students Are Saying: “Watching the Black Letter Law Come to Life”
“I have seen victims of domestic violence—who are scared and unsure of themselves—morph into assertive women and men who know their rights and want to take charge of their cases after coming to the Buhai Center,” said summer 2013 intern, Suzanna Megrabyan. “You would not experience that in a classroom.” The resounding message from the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law summer interns is that law schools are providing them with an extensive substantive foundation, but they lack tangible experience. The Center’s Summer Internship program strives to create a hands-on, educational environment where interns can hone the skills and build the confidence needed to practice law.
Each summer, students from various accredited law programs are selected to join the Harriett Buhai Center and are exposed to a wide range of opportunities—including conducting client interviews, drafting pleadings and filing documents with the court. Summer 2013 law student Brittany Gorin said that she wanted to intern with the Center because “it is addressing actual problems affecting women and children in Los Angeles.” Throughout her internship, Ms. Gorin has learned she loves working with people. “At the Center, you can interact with clients and witness actual results, and know that you are helping someone.”
Over the years, the Harriett Buhai Center has developed a strong mentorship program where students enjoy staff attorney feedback. “The supervising attorneys are very responsive to our inquiries and tailor the experience to fulfill our goals,” noted summer intern Debbie An. Center attorneys help law students apply the information they learned in the classroom to real cases. “It is amazing to watch the black letter law come to life,” remarked summer 2013 intern Andrew Jones, returning from the spring. “It goes beyond a law school exam that requires issue spotting and applying the law to achieve one final result. It requires that we take each client’s case and adapt the law to resolve their conflict,” echoed intern Jeremy Abrigo. “It has a humanizing effect.”
“The Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law is a wonderful teacher! I absorb new information every time I volunteer.”- Jennifer, paralegal volunteer
Opportunities for Certified Paralegals:
Certified paralegals may engage in the following volunteer opportunities under supervision by Center lawyers:
- Interview clients
- Assist volunteer lawyers in pleading and legal document preparation for clients representing themselves at court
Requirements for Certified Paralegals
- Meet California law requirements for certification as a paralegal
- Attend one of the Harriett Buhai Center’s New Volunteer Training seminars
- 50 hours of office pro per assistance within 12 months following the training
“It is an honor to volunteer as a translator for the Harriett Buhai Center. Language is a real barrier to many people and I am proud to help bridge the gap.” – Michelle, interpreter
Opportunities for Interpreters :
Individuals with strong Spanish fluency skills or certified in American Sign Language play an integral part in the Center’s volunteer program. Interpreters may:
- Assist volunteers in interviewing clients
- Provide written translation for attorneys and clients
Requirements for Interpreters
- Strong oral and/or written fluency skills; field tested or with educational certification
- Participation in a Spanish language interpretation program or paralegal program
- ASL certified
“After a day of volunteering I feel like I made a difference and helped someone move their life forward. It is personally rewarding to believe that the work and the assistance given at the Center makes lives better.” – Jennifer, 15 year volunteer
Opportunities for Licensed Professionals
The Harriett Buhai Center is looking for licensed and/or experienced professionals in the following areas:
- Real Estate Appraisal
- Grant Writing
- Social Work
Requirements for Licensed Professionals Time requirement based on specific project or case.
“It is so easy to make a difference and help people turn their lives around by volunteering just one day at the Center! The most rewarding aspect of the experience is being able to witness clients undergo a transformation from helplessness and despair to empowerment and hope for a better future for themselves and their children.” – Valerie, 10 year volunteer
Opportunities for Community Members
Individuals with the following skills and interests are encouraged to apply to help the Center’s operations:
- Public Relations
- Administration and Management
Requirements for Community Members Time requirement to be arranged.
“The Harriett Buhai Center offers its volunteers the opportunity to learn via hands on experience. During my time with the Center I always felt that I was a part of the team.” – Xochiltl, undergraduate intern
Opportunities for Students: The Center accepts Graduate and Undergraduate students as volunteers in the following areas among others:
- Business Administration
- Social Work
- Program Evaluation
Requirements: Internships will be made by special arrangement.