Community Profile: Julia Wilson, Executive Director of OneJustice

The Equal Justice Conference is just a month away! Today, meet one of this year’s conference co-chairs, Julia Wilson, Executive Director of OneJustice. Julia was recently interviewed by Steve Grumm for the ABA’s Access to Justice Blog, cross-posted below.

Julia Wilson

Julia Wilson

Julia R. Wilson is responsible for leading OneJustice’s statewide network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses that together provide life-changing legal assistance to over 270,000 low-income Californians each year. In addition to her executive responsibilities at OneJustice, Julia enjoys traveling around California providing training and consulting support to the executives and boards of the legal nonprofit organizations in OneJustice’s network. Her programmatic areas of expertise include designing innovative pro bono delivery systems and building effective and engaging board governance, including training board members how to be joyful “sparkplug” friend- and fund-raisers for their organizations. In 2012, she was named by the Daily Journal as one of California’s Top 100 Attorneys in recognition of her work at OneJustice.

Steve: OneJustice was founded by law students, and still does much to engage students in pro bono and public interest work today.  Some public-interest law offices struggle with how to maximize their use of law students to both a) get work product and b) provide a learning experience.  Please offer three strategies you’ve learned for maximizing the impact of law-student contributions while also maximizing their experience.

Julia:  Ah yes, we frequently hear from legal services nonprofits about the joys and frustrations of working with law students.  We believe that law students are an extremely important, and sometimes undervalued, resource for the legal services community to expand services for clients.  However, we also believe that nonprofits can underestimate the planning, supervision, and ongoing management required to effectively leverage law student time and energy.

In terms of advice for maximizing law student contributions, we would offer this.  First, nonprofits should spend a bit of time planning and articulating the goals and objectives for involving law students in the work.  There are many situations in which law student involvement can be highly leveraged, such as helping to staff clinics to do intake and screening, advice and counsel, or even sometimes brief services (under the supervision of an attorney, of course).  Law students can also assist individual attorneys with their caseloads over longer periods of time through research and other assistance.  These opportunities all work best when the nonprofits spend just a bit of time upfront articulating exactly why they are involving law students, the role that law students will fill, and what success will look like (i.e., using students will increase the total number of clients served, or will allow more time to be spent with each client at the clinic, or will increase the number of clinics per month, etc.).

Second, we should ensure basic human resources practices, even for law student volunteers. As evidenced by the feedback in a series of retention and recruitment studies in various states, our sector struggles a bit with the effective management of our human capital.  Sometimes our management of volunteer resources is even less structured.  The need to manage talent effectively applies equally to law students; often you get out of the person what you are willing to invest.  We recommend that nonprofits do things like draft a formal job description for the law student role – whether short-term at a clinic or longer-term like an externship.  Share it with the student(s) and check for understanding. Invest in a bit of professional development, including an on-boarding or orientation program.  This can be as short at 30 minutes before a one-time clinic, or a full professional development plan for semester-long interns. Employ best practices in delegation, including stating criteria for satisfaction, checking for understanding, and setting up a clear process for check-ins and feedback.  As our sector improves our management of paid employees, we should transfer those same skills into managing all volunteers – including law students.

And our third piece of advice is that nonprofits should think about how they can partner with other organizations to share the time needed to implement our first two recommendations.  One of the benefits OneJustice offers to the nonprofits we support is that they can outsource to us much of the preparatory work in engaging law students.  We can help identify the ideal law student role in clinics or other service settings, including strategizing about which roles can maximize the strengths law students bring to the work.  We can conduct trainings and orientations for large groups of students at once, enabling them to hit the ground running and reducing the training required by individual legal services providers.  They could consider collaborating to take on different aspects of the planning, preparation, training, and management of law student volunteers – sharing the burdens in order to jointly maximize the benefits.

Read more of Steve’s interview with Julia, here.

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