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Lawyers extend a helping hand during Law Week and all year long

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San Diego lawyers have discovered that devoting time to helping others less fortunate adds a rewarding dimension to their careers -- a fact never more evident than this week.

May 1 to 7 marks the San Diego County Bar Association's 48th annual Law Week celebration. Law Week provides an opportunity for lawyers throughout San Diego to give back to the community through service events and educate the public about the justice system. The Bar and its sister organization, the San Diego County Bar Foundation, have long been dedicated to assisting those without access to legal representation, during Law Week and beyond.

"As lawyers, we have special skills that we should be sharing with others," says Cindy Davis, a lawyer and community volunteer. "Volunteering can give attorneys an incredible sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that they may not get in their Monday through Friday law practice."

Davis, who is a deputy city attorney for the city of San Diego, has been active for several years in the county's Bar Association and is currently the foundation's president.

This year's Law Week is packed with 12 events and observes the theme, "Liberty Under Law: Separate Branches, Separate Powers," reflecting the fundamental importance of the separation of powers to our democratic form of government. It is at the heart of the U.S. Constitution and inspires emerging democracies worldwide.

Today attorneys will field questions from the public on a wide range of legal topics through the KNSD NBC 7/39 Ask-A-Lawyer program. English-speaking attorneys will staff a call-in program during KNSD's morning news broadcast. In the evening, KNSD Channel 43 "Mi San Diego" will host a Spanish language call-in program.

Tomorrow, May 4, is Family Law Facilitators Day. Attorneys will answer questions about family law at four courthouses around the county, including 220 W. Broadway in downtown San Diego, Chula Vista, El Cajon and the downtown family court.

On Saturday, May 6, the Bar will host Free Law at Kobey's. Volunteer attorneys and paralegals from the San Diego Paralegal Association will staff a free legal information tent at Kobey's Swap Meet at the San Diego Sports Arena from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Kobey's patrons will be able to obtain basic legal information or be referred to an attorney through the Bar's Lawyer Referral & Information Service. The Bar has served hundreds of San Diegans through Free Law events for over 25 years.

"Volunteers use their legal skills and knowledge to make a difference for someone who would not otherwise have access to legal assistance," said Kobey's chairperson Cirrus Alpert. "It promotes an understanding of our legal system and how it affects the everyday lives of the public, which is what Law Week is all about."

The legal community also reaches out to local schoolchildren during Law Week. Seniors from Madison, Crawford, Montgomery and San Diego high schools will get a chance to view trials and hear from Judge John Thompson at Youth Day in Court. Sunnyside Elementary School fourth graders will participate in a mock trial at bankruptcy court during the week. The Bar also sponsors poster, essay and oratorical contests for K-12 students in connection with the Law Week theme. Those winners will be recognized along with the Bar's 2006 Service Award honorees at the Law Week Awards Luncheon on Friday, May 5.

In addition to these programs, a children's book drive will run throughout the entire month of May. Bar members and the public are encouraged to donate new or gently used books for children of all ages. Drop-off locations include the Bar Center and San Diego Public Law Library branches throughout the county.

Law Week is not the only time the Bar Association reaches out to the community.

The San Diego County Bar Foundation also extends a hand to the San Diegans. Established more than 20 years ago, the foundation funds many local organizations that provide legal services and promote legal education, citizenship and the ideals of justice.

"Our mission includes ensuring that those unable to afford legal services receive the representation that they need and deserve. We strive to make the concept of 'equal representation for all' a reality," said Davis.

Each year, the foundation grants funding to such organizations as Casa Cornelia, Center for Community Solutions, Legal Aid Society San Diego, San Diego Justice Foundation, San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Southwest Center for Asian Pacific American Law, Voices for Children and Volunteers in Parole.

Every organization the foundation supports provides a unique service: Casa Cornelia's Asylum Program offers pro bono legal services to victims of human rights violations. The Center for Community Solutions' Project First Step gives free assistance with temporary restraining orders and other civil legal matters in cases of domestic violence.

In addition to an endowment of more that $1 million, the foundation is funded through voluntary donations from members of the San Diego County Bar Association, gifts and fundraising programs held throughout the year.

Lawyers interested in getting more involved with the community are encouraged to contact the Bar. To learn more about the Bar Association and Foundation, visit www.sdcba.org.

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