Pro Bono Opportunities

Disability Rights California welcomes law firms, attorneys and others who want to provide pro bono or volunteer assistance on disability related civil and service rights matters. We invite you to help us create a barrier free and inclusive society for Californians with disabilities.

Our work would not be possible without the generous contributions of many volunteers and pro bono counsel. We received assistance from dozens of private attorneys and law firms who helped us:

  1. get better medical and behavior services for foster children and children with psychiatric disabilities, allowing those children to be served at home instead of forced into institutions;
  2. keep open a nationally recognized rehabilitation hospital in Los Angeles County serving people with severe disabilities;
  3. open a drop-in center for people with psychiatric disabilities in Oroville;
  4. improve the assessment and community placement process for Californians with disabilities who need long term care;
  5. get notices in their own language for San Franciscans regarding their rights to get In-Home Supportive Services; and
  6. achieve many other victories for people with disabilities.

These are links to recent or on-going class action cases where pro bono attorney work has proved critical to their success:

What kind of opportunities are there to volunteer or do pro bono work?

Disability Rights California provides a wide variety of opportunities.

  1. Individual Representation: Representation of individual clients with disabilities. This could include negotiations, administrative hearings, transactional negotiations or other legal issues. Administrative issues include special education hearings, Regional Center hearings for individuals with developmental disabilities, Social Security or other benefits hearings, housing issues, or many other issues where individuals need additional help trying to resolve an issue or get necessary benefits.
  2. Co-counseling on Impact Cases: Co-counseling with our staff on class actions, amicus briefs, appeals or other impact cases. Over the years, we have been involved in important class actions and individual litigation on a broad range of disability issues, including deinstitutionalization, rights of children to access appropriate health services, access to mass transit, fair housing and discrimination issues?
  3. Projects: Working with our staff on projects ranging from fundraising to publications to public policy work. While most assistance is needed for litigation, opportunities also exist for those interested in other areas.
  4. You tell us! If you have a particular interest or skill (bankruptcy? transactional work? nonprofit expertise? other?), we may be able to match it with a client with a particular need or with a special project.

What are the benefits of working with Disability Rights California on a pro bono or volunteer basis?

You will have the satisfaction of making a big difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities. In addition, you can partner with a leading California disability rights organization and our expert lawyers and advocates on cases ranging from individual justice to groundbreaking disability rights litigation, including issues of first impression in California. For experienced lawyers, you can use your expertise where it makes a real difference -- for less experienced lawyers, get some good training while making a difference.

Following is the Pro Bono spotlight from our 2011 Annual Report:

Our work this year was successful because of our generous pro bono partners, including Morrison & Foerster LLP, which contributed over 800 hours in 2011 alone to the Darling v Douglas litigation. In 2010, when the State appealed the second injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Morrison & Foerster stepped in to write a compelling amicus brief in support of argument that ADHC is a necessary service to help people with disabilities to remain in their homes. We are especially grateful to partners Ben Fox and Shirley Hufstedler in the Los Angeles office for their hard work and excellent legal work on the appeal.

In March 2011, Morrison & Foerster joined the litigation team and made innumerable and critical contributions to our successful efforts. In particular, partner Ken Kuwayti provided sound strategic advice, drafted and edited legal documents, and negotiated with opposing counsel. Associate Stefan Szpajda provided tremendous support on various motions and discovery issues and associate Ben Petersen also jumped in to assist with some of the dozens of declarations filed this year. And when we were faced with an unexpected appellate brief on a very short timeline, partner Seth Galanter led a team to draft and submit our brief, stepping in to do a job that no one else on the team could have managed. We are grateful for Morrison & Foerster’s support!

Where are these opportunities?

Disability Rights California has offices in Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as staff in remote parts of California. People with disabilities live everywhere in California, so we welcome the help of volunteers outside the bigger metropolitan areas.

Will I get any help?

Yes. Our attorneys and advocates can provide training, technical resources, advice and materials such as manuals and sample pleadings. Even if we are not directly co-counseling, we remain available for consultation as needed.

How much expertise do I need?

Some of our cases and projects are suitable for new lawyers or those with less experience, and provide excellent training in handling individual cases or legal research projects. Others are complex, and the opportunities vary from research projects to issues where we utilize the expertise of highly experienced lawyers and experts in their fields.

How much time and resources would it take?

We welcome all volunteers and pro bono assistance. If you have a lot of time (a large firm or retired lawyers for example, or recent graduates looking for experience), we will look for a bigger project. If you just have a limited amount of time, we will try to team you on a case or project that will utilize your time most effectively.

Is there any financial contribution expected or reimbursement available?

Our budget is limited, and comes primarily from federal and state sources, so we generally can not reimburse costs of volunteers or pro bono attorneys and firms. In some instance, opportunities exist to recover attorneys' fees from the opposing parties if we prevail. We do not charge clients fees as most of them are indigent and does not generally expect them to advance costs.

Do I have to be a lawyer?

We welcome volunteers of all kinds, not just lawyers. Paralegals, law students, experts, and other professionals are welcomed. We occasionally have projects suitable for undergraduate volunteers.

Have others done this?

We are grateful for the time of hundreds of firms and individual lawyers with whom we have had the pleasure to work over the last 26 years, ranging from many of California's largest firms to solo practitioners.

How do I sign up?

If you are interested in looking into pro bono or volunteer opportunities with Disability Rights California, please e-mail your resume to