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A New Precedent
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Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Maria Hall (JD 2003) thinks law needs an urgent care system.
By Julie Riggott
|“Building a more collaborative profession, that’s a huge goal of mine,” says Maria Hall JD ’03 who is co-president of the L.A. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and vice president of the board of the Mexican American Bar Foundation.|
Maria Hall (JD 2003) aims to improve access to justice not just one case at a time, but by changing the system.
“Law is based on precedent,” she says. “Well, who’s the one making the precedent? We are. So if we decide we want to do things in a better way that helps more people, we can do that.”
Hall keeps her skills sharp with housing, employment and civil rights cases in her private practice, but she’s working to change the system through the Los Angeles Incubator Consortium.
As attorney development director, she coaches a dozen Incubator lawyers each year: new solos who are both entrepreneurial and team-spirited, united in their desire to serve communities that have historically lacked access to justice.
Hall pairs Incubator attorneys with mentors and legal aid organizations seeking help for low-income clients. At the same time, they attend business management, marketing and substantive law workshops to give them tools to run financially viable practices.
Now in its fifth year, the Incubator has launched 52 diverse solo law practices throughout L.A. County. Its lawyers have collectively donated more than 5,500 pro bono hours to legal services organizations.
Hall says she is trying to systematize a way to get people in need paired with attorneys they can afford. “I think of my work as urgent care,” she says.
“There’s the emergency room, which might be compared to legal aid or the court’s self-help services,” she explains. “Then there are high-priced specialists for those who can afford them. But there’s not really an equivalent to an urgent care system in law, where people can go when something serious is wrong and they need someone with expertise to do triage, explain the process and direct them to help.”
Hall enrolled at USC Gould with an interest in environmental justice. As an Irmas Fellow, she worked at Communities for a Better Environment, which sued industrial facilities polluting low-income neighborhoods in Southeast Los Angeles. During those two years, she saw all kinds of other community legal needs: illegal evictions, police misconduct, immigration scams.
The takeaway was transformative: “I realized that lawyers can have a huge impact on helping people who don’t have money, but it’s up to us to find ways to provide legal services in a way that is economically viable for both the attorney and the client.”
“Building a more collaborative profession, that’s a huge goal of mine,” says Hall who is co-president of the L.A. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and vice president of the board of the Mexican American Bar Foundation.
This year, Hall and Incubator alumni attorneys launched a new nonprofit, Lawyers and Communities Together (Lawyers ACT). With their first grant, they started a legal triage project in Wilmington. The attorneys give know-your-rights workshops and then provide one-hour “limited scope” advice sessions in 16 areas of law for those facing urgent legal matters. Participants leave with options and concrete next steps. “I’m excited that it’s working, and now more social service agencies are asking about this ‘new model!’”
Most of all, Hall, who earned the USC Latino Law Students Association Inspirational Alumnus Award in 2017, wants new lawyers to know that they can make a living while following their heart.
“With a law degree, especially from USC, you can find a job that you want to do. You don’t need to be hired by somebody; you can hang up your shingle,” she says. “Stay true to yourself. Never stop soul searching and thinking about what makes you happy. And you really can earn a living by doing that. I promise.”
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