Closing the Justice Gap: AB 2301

By Joseph L. Chairez
OCBA President

The need for legal representation for the poor exceeds current pro bono and charitable fundraising efforts. A recent study shows that there are over 8,000 low-income persons per legal aid lawyer in the state. Volunteer attorneys and the California Legislature seek to close this gap with the implementation of AB 2301.

One OCBA lawyer fighting to eliminate this justice gap is Darren Aitken. Darren is a partner of Aitken * Aitken * Cohn, where he presents plaintiffs in high profile personal injury matters. He is also a buys family man raising four children with his wife Laurie. Despite this busy life, Darren makes time to give back to the community by serving on various not-for-profit and charitable boards, including the Public Law Center and the Legal Aid Society of Orange County. One of Darren’s long term causes is increasing the amount of free legal aid to the poor. While Darren is quick to agree that the need for more legal aid is great, he counters with the comment that, ” if we all do a little, we can meet that need.”

The recent passage of AB 2301 is a first step in allowing each lawyer to do a little each year. AB 2301 is a bill that was signed by the Governor in August 2006 authorizing the State Bar to facilitate contributions from its members to support legal services.  It basically allows lawyers to make voluntary contributions through the State Bar’s annual fee statement. The suggested contribution is $100, but members can donate whatever amount they choose. The funds needed health care and special education services. These services will be provided by approximately 100 legal services programs  that are qualified recipients of the State Bar’s Legal Services Trust Fund Program.

According to Darren, many lawyers truly want to get involved and help provide legal aid, but just can’t find the time to do so. For them, this new Justice Gap Fund is the perfect answer: “Want to help, check the box.” This fund also provides partners at larger firms with a unique opportunity to donate on a larger scale. Specifically, Darren suggests managing partners encourage the firm’s attorneys to make the contribution or try to establish a firm policy that the firm will pay the funds unless the attorneys want to opt out. These “little steps can make all the difference”, says Darren.

The Justice Gap contribution option will appear on the State Bar 2008 Annual  Membership Statement. If you want an easy way to help close the justice gap, check the box and make your contribution. For more information on the Justice Gap Fund, go to