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New Program Helps San Diegans Get More Access To Legal Services

Attorneys Robin Sassi and Eric LaGuardia explain the Access to Law initiative on KPBS Evening Edition.

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California Western School of Law started the Access to Law Initiative last month. It places eight attorneys who each operate their own practices in an office in downtown San Diego’s Symphony Towers. In exchange, the attorneys pledge to provide at least 100 hours per year of pro bono, public service and “sliding scale fee” legal service.

Attorney Robin Sassi told KPBS the program helps new lawyers like her by giving them time to build their practices.

"The way it also helps with the community is that people who need low cost or pro bono legal help, they can come to us," she said.

The new lawyers are mentored by professors and practicing attorneys.

Attorney Eric LaGuardia, a consumer rights lawyer who said he "represents the little guy," told KPBS the program acts as an incubator for recent law school graduates.

"We get the support system to make sure what we think is the right thing to do is the right thing to do," he said.

In a city like San Diego where hiring an attorney often costs $300 an hour or more, the program also aims to help those who are trapped under prohibitive legal fees. For example, Sassi said she has helped tenants in issues with landlords.

The program was started by California Western professor Robert Seibel and modeled on an initiative at City University of New York. San Diego's Thomas Jefferson School of Law is currently establishing a similar project, making San Diego the only city in the nation with two such programs.

San Diego also has the Legal Aid Society and the Volunteer Lawyer Program, which handle legal affairs for those who can't afford them.


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