Law Day May Be Forgotten, But Law Lives On in ELA

In the spirit of Joaquin Murieta, the pursuit of justice continues at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

By C. J. Salgado
Published on LatinoLA: May 3, 2013

Law Day May Be Forgotten, But Law Lives On in ELA

May 1st, Law Day, came and went in East L.A. without any flutter. What a shame. And I am not talking about May Day.

Rather, every May 1st, it is "Law Day" across the nation and has been for over fifty years, ever since President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed it so. Meant to be a national dedication and remembrance of the principles of "liberty, justice and equality under the law," nowadays, when still many vulnerable populations suffer injustices, this special day is often slighted at best or forgotten altogether at worst, even by those that are dedicated to the profession of law itself.

Equality for all people, the theme this year, surely depends on the power of law being known to and accessible to those that need it most. What better way to promote that than by recognizing this day and putting out the word? In keeping with these purposes, the American Bar Association, a national association of attorneys, dedicated a lot of it's website on Law Day topics. However, other legal organizations, surprisingly, fell short.

For example, on the fa?ºade of a rather humble building on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. is a large rendering of Joaquin Murieta, the legendary Mexican bandido of the California Gold Rush era, who came, by some accounts, to symbolize for minorities and other oppressed groups of those olden times, a "hero avenger." His supporters said he resisted against the unfair transgressions of a foreign culture and doled out a form of early street justice.

Of course, that was long ago. Today, ostensibly in the spirit of Murieta, the pursuit of justice continues in this very building, where the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), locally provides "civil legal services to poor and low-income people" at this neighborhood office in East L.A. Undoubtedly, this legal assistance center advocates for the poor and serves thousands of community members through its representation, referrals, education, and other services. Of course, with poverty rates of 20-30% in this community, there is a critical need for these legal services like, say, obtaining government benefits. LAFLA was essentially quiet when it came to promoting Law Day. Sadly, Law Day was forgotten in East L.A.

Even the State Bar of California, the largest state bar in the country with over 240,000 lawyer members, was hush-hush this year about Law Day. No news releases. No speakers. No events. In fact, it did not even put Law Day on its Events Calendar! So much for making the law known in the pursuit of equality for all.

Now, with regard to equality under the law, besides the law being known to those in need, the law must be accessible as well. Here, there are problems, too. Let's face it. Getting legal advice is generally expensive. Hourly rates, for example, can run $200 to $400 an hour or more. It's no wonder that residents of low-income communities, like East L.A., can face significant barriers when seeking legal services.

So much so, that the State Bar of California is considering a proposal to allow "limited-practice licensing," to create a sort of "legal technician" that could give "basic legal advice on routine matters." Proponents say it will improve access to justice because as things are now, many turn to non-lawyers for legal services because they can't afford an attorney, e.g., going to a "notario" in East L.A. on matters of immigration.

Unfortunately, because a notario is a lawyer in some Latin countries, that designation in the U.S., as simply one who can legally witness and certify documents, can lead to fraudulent exploitation of those seeking legitimate legal services.

These are all the more reasons to mark your calendars and remember Law Day next year. As President Obama said in his proclamation this year on Law Day, "I call upon all Americans to acknowledge the importance of our Nation's legal and judicial systems with appropriate ceremonies and activities"

There is no simpler yet more meaningful way to embrace equality for all, than to celebrate it, every chance we get.

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