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San Diego Law Practice Bridges ‘Justice Gap’

Anthony Medina

A different kind of law firm recently celebrated its opening in downtown San Diego.

Founded by Anthony Medina ’12, People’s Legal Services’ goal is to provide cost-effective and accessible representation to underserved families and individuals.

“The high cost of legal services has created a justice gap,” says Medina, “where families and individuals either risk their financial security to hire an attorney or face the daunting task of navigating the judicial system alone.”

People’s Legal Services is a nonprofit that operates a sliding scale of fees dependent on family size and income, starting at $75 an hour with a free 30-minute initial consultation. The difference with this practice is its aim of being sustainable on fees rather than grants while still being able to serve those who ordinarily could not afford legal representation.

“During my time at California Western I was lucky to clerk and intern at amazing organizations such as the ACLU, California Innocence Project, and the EEOC,” says Medina. “I earned a fellowship in San Francisco at La Raza Centro Legal and was selected for a number of national student conferences. The aggregate of these experiences both motivated me and convinced me of the necessity to do my best to be ‘part of the solution,’” he continues.

Medina also participated in the Access to Law Initiative (ALI) incubator program at California Western and was a student of the founder and former director of the program, Robert Seibel. Prof. Seibel, who has since retired from teaching, has worked with Medina on the creation of this non-profit for four years.

Seibel, who is Chair of the Advisory Board of People’s Legal Services, believes it is an idea whose time has come. “There is a huge group of people who are just above the Federal poverty level but still have very modest incomes who simply cannot afford to pay $300-$400 an hour for legal services,” he says.

“Studies have shown that 90 percent of the people in Family Court don't have a lawyer,” continues Seibel. “This kind of legal practice is important because of the huge failure of the legal system to serve all these people.”

Medina’s fellow directors, Yunuen B. Mora ‘11, Kyle L.H. Hargrave ‘12, and Michelle Luna Reynoso ‘16 are all alums of California Western and share his desire to bridge the justice gap in service to their community .

“The lessons we learned at California Western reinforced our desire to provide proactive and inclusive representation,” says Medina. “To do work that assists in bringing justice to underrepresented and vulnerable communities.”

Currently, the overwhelming majority of People’s Legal Services’ cases fall under the Family Law banner including divorce, parentage, child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, restraining orders, and guardianship cases. They also offer representation in unlawful detainer actions and offer document preparation and consultation for small claims cases.

“We are very near to launching our Immigration Services Program,” adds Medina. “This will assist clients with a large number of services including a focus on helping DACA and undocumented students at local institutions of higher learning.”

Medina hopes to grow his team and capacity to assist a higher number of local individuals and families as well as replicate their City Heights Community Law/Satellite Law office (in partnership with the San Diego Employee Rights Center) to include locations in Southeast San Diego, Barrio Logan, and Chula Vista .

Recently, People’s Legal Services has expanded to North County by merging with a similar nonprofit, Sage Legal Services, run by another CWSL alum, Christina Alkire ’14.

“People’s Legal Services is here to be a resource and community advocate,” says Medina. “To do so, people need to know that we are open, representing clients, and spending time listening in order to manifest real solutions to community issues.”

For more information on People’s Legal Services visit: peopleslegalservices.org