October 26, 2011
Neighborhood Legal Services of California
Neighborhood Legal Services of California, Pacoima, CA
I had the opportunity to intern with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. This is legal aid office that covers the Greater Los Angeles area with an office in El Monte, Glendale and Pacoima. I primarily worked with the Worker’s Rights Advocacy Group (WRAG). WRAG hosts three self-help clinics a week where workers come in to get assistance with: calculating overdue wages, preparing demand letters, doing expungements, preparation of claims for Labor Commissioner Hearing, and trial preparation. These clinics are very well attended and on average we saw 18 litigants per clinic. These clinics are staffed by one intake screener, one supervising attorney and 6-10 volunteers. If during the intake process it appears that the litigant will need further assistance than can be provided through the clinic, the screener will evaluate the litigant for NLS eligibility to bring the case “in-house”. During the summer I had the opportunity to do several wage calculations and demand letters, it is unfortunate the number of employers who refused to pay the worker and assumed that because of their legal status, they were not entitled to wages. After given an employer ample time to respond to pay, we would then assist the litigant with filing their claim with the California Labor Commissioner for a hearing. Although this is a slow process because of the number of claims being filed, it is a fair process that allows workers to have their case heard and if they are able to prove their claim, they are usually able to recover not only the overdue wages, but also penalty fees for the waiting time. Another type of case I saw fairly frequently was requests to have criminal records expunged. These requests were normally submitted by litigants who were having a hard time finding work because of their criminal record, in these cases we would sit with the litigant to help draft a declaration to explain how they had turned their life around in the time since their convictions and why having their record expunge would help them. These cases normally take from 3-9 months from start to finish. The unit I worked in was the smallest at NLS and because of that I believe I was able to get much more exposure and hands on experience than other interns. I chose to work with NLS because I wanted to be able to go home for the summer while helping a community I identified with. Being a Spanish speaker, I was able to work directly with monolingual Spanish speakers. I would say 70% of the litigants that attended the clinics were Spanish speaker. I would highly recommend other students to consider interning with NLS. This summer they had a total of 14 law students covering all three offices and they cover a large range of practices. I did not have experience with labor laws or employment law before this summer and the experience I gained, really helped me see that this is an area I would like to explore further.