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Investing in the next generation of lawyers

By Scott Wylie

Scott Wylie
Wylie

For much of the past decade, I have had the opportunity to serve on the board of our California Bar Foundation helping to distribute the money that the generous members of our legal community voluntarily donate. Tens of thousands of our colleagues over the years have assisted the effort to build a better justice system for all Californians by supporting the foundation. I hope that you will continue to support our foundation this year, or, if you are new to the profession or the foundation’s efforts, that you will join us. Information on the foundation can be found at www.calbarfoundation.org.

The California Bar Foundation has a unique place in the state’s effort to improve the justice system. Because of our statewide presence, we are often the only funder available to small or rural bar associations, lawyer groups or isolated legal services agencies wishing to do good in their community. Numerous pro bono efforts throughout California got their start from a grant from our foundation. We have also supported the charitable efforts of the State Bar of California, including professional development for local bar leaders, diversity pipeline projects and the distribution of the bar’s many public education guides.

The program I am most proud of, and one which distinguishes the foundation from other legal charities in the state, is our scholarship program that invests in the next generation of public interest attorneys. This past year alone, our foundation distributed over $200,000 in scholarships to help future public interest attorneys fund their law school education and take the California bar exam. Since the creation of the foundation in the 1980s, we have given away more than $2 million to support these worthy students with stunningly effective results. The vast majority of past recipients continue to practice in the public service arena, helping close the justice gap in California.

A great example is attorney Jessica Aronoff. Jessica received a foundation scholarship in 1997 while attending UCLA School of Law. Prior to and during law school she distinguished herself through work with the California Women’s Law Center, Public Counsel’s Homeless Youth Project and the Children’s Partner-ship in Santa Monica. After graduating sixth in her class, she joined Break the Cycle — then a new organization — as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, spearheading the design and implementation of its legal services program. 

Ms. Aronoff is presently the executive director of Break the Cycle, now a national nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts on the issues of dating and domestic violence and their impact on youth. Her work touches the lives of thousands each year, and she has become a national spokesperson and advocate for domestic violence prevention, especially violence against youth. Her work is important and inspiring and my inelegant words do not do it justice.

When asked about the impact the foundation’s scholarship had on her career, she very humbly noted that “the support was so important. With the stunningly high cost of a legal education and the fact that I had always planned to go into public service, it made all the difference.” She also noted the importance of the foundation’s support of California nonprofit organizations. “It is often hard to convince foundations to fund legal services. Having the California Bar Foundation as a funder provides credibility to our efforts with other funders.”

Even the thought that some of the support I provide to the California Bar Foundation might fund a scholarship for another Jessica Aronoff keeps me giving each year. Visit her organization’s Web site to learn more, www.breakthecycle.org. I think you will be impressed. The foundation certainly has been and gave Break the Cycle a grant that helped it expand the legal services program Jessica helped create almost a decade ago.

Ms. Aronoff’s story helps illustrate the comprehensive, multi-pronged approach our foundation has to closing the justice gap in California. By investing in public interest attorneys, providing grants to nonprofit groups, the courts and bar associations, and through investments in the State Bar’s public education efforts like Seniors and the Law, the foundation marshals the goodwill of its donors to make California a better place.

When you get ready to pay your bar dues, please make your annual voluntary donation to the California Bar Foundation so we can continue this work. By doing so, you may be funding the legal education of the next Jessica Aronoff. 

• Scott Wylie is president of the California Bar Foundation. He can be reached at rswylie@sigecom.net.

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