1. How did you learn about Advancing Justice-LA?
While I've been aware of Advancing Justice-LA as a legal aid organization since law school, I really got introduced to their specific work by the SAFE Project’s Supervising Attorney, Sandra Chung, whom I know personally through the Korean American Bar Association (KABA). Sandra encouraged me to attend the SAFE Project's DVRO training and clinic earlier this year, and I've been involved ever since.
2. What prompted you to get involved?
When I passed the bar exam a few years back, I made a promise to myself that I'd strive to help those in need and serve the community as an attorney. About a year into working as an attorney, I saw that I had made very little progress towards that promise. I identify strongly with the SAFE Project's mission, and have volunteered with the unit to learn how to use my skills as an attorney to serve the community. Volunteering with SAFE has also allowed me to put these skills into practice.
3. What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience as an Advancing Justice-LA volunteer?
I feel that I've learned more from my volunteer experience with Advancing Justice-LA than I've contributed, especially through the SAFE Project. For one, I received hands-on training from Sandra and her excellent staff in regards to the law, document preparation, building client rapport, and the litigation process for domestic violence cases. I certainly do not believe I could have gotten better training or experience from a classroom setting.
In a more personal sense, directly hearing the survivors’ stories face to face and seeing the physical, emotional, and mental struggles that they go through really put into perspective how helpless and vulnerable API domestic violence survivors can feel. This is particularly true in a society where API survivors frequently lack resources, the know-how, or even the language skills to safely and properly navigate abusive situations. I realized how fortunate I am to be able to use my education and skills as an attorney to serve the most vulnerable members of my community. My experience has also encouraged me to continue to build upon my skills and grow as an attorney, not take such opportunities for granted, and offer some reprieve for those in need.
4. Do you have an inspirational story you can briefly tell about your experience volunteering?
The volunteer experience reminded me that there are many ways to help those in need, including simply hearing someone out, or even taking a second to acknowledge them. These small steps can make a difference in encouraging someone to take action to improve their situation. My most recent volunteer experience can attest to this notion.
On a recent case, I was representing a survivor at a restraining order hearing, so I prepared fairly extensively throughout the week. I practiced my opening statement and argument multiple times, reviewed important facts, and memorized useful evidentiary rules. I ended up using none of what I had prepared for the hearing because the case ended up settling that morning. I managed to get the opposition to agree to all of our demands without my even making an appearance on the record. My client told me afterward that my mere presence gave her the courage and confidence to stay firm with her position.
That morning, it wasn't my years of education or the hours of preparation that made the key difference for my client. It was the simple fact that I was there with her to hear her story and acknowledge her circumstance - that’s what gave her the courage to stand firm and break the cycle of abuse. I think this applies to almost any situation in our daily lives, but can be an especially powerful tool in a volunteer setting. Simply taking the time to listen and acknowledge someone can not only make an impact in that person's life, but may pay huge dividends for your own life and experience.
5. What advice would you give other individuals who want to participate in volunteer or pro bono work at the organization?
I'd like to encourage individuals to simply just do it. We've all been there - many of us live very busy lives and have lots of our own issues to deal with. I know personally how easy it can be to make excuses not to volunteer on a day off or during an evening that can be used to rest or take care of errands. But I can also guarantee that at the end of any volunteering session I feel better about having done so. Again, you do not have to be an attorney or have legal knowledge to help out. The organization can help you participate in any capacity as long as you're willing to learn and give them your time.