By Monica Haider, Class of 2016 | On Friday, April 15, 2016 a group of six Pepperdine Law students along with Professor Jeff Baker traveled to Santa Barbara to donate their time performing pro bono work. The team partnered with OneJustice, an organization committed to promoting justice through providing free legal support to underprivileged communities. OneJustice’s Justice Bus Project is a program that sends a bus with volunteer law students and lawyers to various locations to provide legal aid to those who do not have representing attorneys.
The purpose of this trip was to help veterans with expungement of California criminal records and reduction of their felonies to misdemeanors if they qualified under Proposition 47. The team performed a number of tasks after establishing a limited scope confidentiality agreement with their clients: interviews on the progress they’ve made in their lives following their criminal history, filling out necessary forms, and explaining the next steps they needed to take to file the paperwork.
Students chose to partake in the one-day mission to gain pro bono experience, help veterans in a direct manner, and observe public defenders at work. Three attorneys from the Santa Barbara Public Defender’s office were present to assist students with complex questions regarding relief eligibility for clients. By the end of the trip most of the students found that they felt a surprisingly high level of empathy for each of their clients. They viewed it not as a task of dealing with “criminals,” but as a relational experience in briefly mentoring and encouraging them. One student participant recognized the value in her work when she learned that clearing negative records could open many opportunities for these clients. A client had been continuously turned away from potential jobs due to her felony record. Thus, reducing the negativity due to her criminal record would invariably help her social and socioeconomic situation.
The bus left the Malibu campus on Friday morning and returned in the evening. Altogether the students represented 15 veterans.