What is Public Interest Law?
Public interest law is the practice of law to further interests shared by the entire public or
significant segments of it. The issues handled by a public interest lawyer reflect broad
areas of public concern. The clients served by public interest law are low to moderate
income individuals, groups, communities, and/or non-profit organizations.
Service to the Homeless Community
The homeless community in southern California is large and growing, and includes not
only individuals but families as well. The legal needs of this community are diverse and
vast. Some examples include access to public benefits, housing, health care, basic human
rights, respect and dignity. PIAC seeks to provide direct civil legal services to homeless
families and individuals as well as to advocate for the needs of the homeless population
and promote positive community and policy changes to address those needs.
Despite having served their country and ensured our freedom, veterans can be deprived of
their legal rights and are often reluctant or unable to seek help. PIAC seeks to
provide direct civil legal services veterans as well as to promote positive community and
policy changes to ensure availability of legal and social services for all veterans. Two of
the primary areas where veterans need legal representation and advocacy are
homelessness and access to health and mental health treatment (which are areas of
service provided by PIAC to non-veterans as well). Veterans may also require legal
assistance with issues such as: debt, family law matters, evictions/housing matters, access
to public benefits, social security, and access to state and federal veterans’ benefits.
Access to Health and Mental Health Care
Health and mental health care are imperative to a strong, healthy, and productive
community and should be accessible to all. However, obtaining such care is often
difficult or impossible for low to moderate income members of the community. In
addition to logistical issues with connecting individuals with these services, health and
mental health services are often improperly denied to those in need in violation of the
law. PIAC seeks to provide direct representation of individuals and groups who have
been wrongfully denied access to care or denied care itself.
Sustainable urbanism is the growth of the built environment in a healthy, socially
just, and environmentally sound manner. It encompasses such issues as
transportation, affordable housing, reduction of greenhouse gasses, preservation
of cultural, environmental, and historic resources, good planning, environmental
health, and equitable redevelopment and revitalization. PIAC seeks to be an
advocate for sustainable urbanism by helping communities organize in a socially
responsible manner, and by representing community groups seeking to enforce
plans and regulations that promote sustainable goals.
California has a long and strong tradition of ensuring that its abundant natural
and built resources remain accessible to the public. Without public watchdogs
and advocates for public access, private interests tend to seek to restrict public
access. Such restriction of access can be seen in the erection of fences and
closure of public easements for the benefit of a private interest. Barriers can be
erected for access to open space, beaches, and direct routes to public
transportation. PIAC serves as a strong advocate for preserving and opening
public access, including pursuing litigation where necessary.
Almost every household is made up of one or more employees. Secure
employment provides individuals with a means to feed, clothe, and house
themselves and their families, and often serves as a source of basic human
dignity. Ideally, employees can enjoy a working environment free from
discrimination, harassment, environmental hazards, and other illegal or damaging
employer practices. A person’s safety, livelihood, and pride should not give way
to the unfair and unlawful decision making of their employer. PIAC provides low
cost legal services against employers who fail to provide a safe work space,
required retirement or health care benefits, and a discrimination-free environment.
Having a place to call home gives a person safety and peace-of-mind.
Unfortunately, California housing prices are the highest in the Country, and many
cities do not provide an adequate number of affordable housing units. Subsequently,
people are often left with a choice between allocating their entire paycheck to housing
(money that could be used for food, education, or savings) or foregoing housing
altogether. PIAC works to enforce California’s housing element and redevelopment
statutes, participates in the planning process to compel local governments develop
affordable housing for its poorest inhabitants, and provides low cost legal services
to low income Californians and their families.
Although the U.S. and California Constitutions guarantee certain rights—free and
open speech, equal access and treatment under the laws, bodily autonomy, and
more—many of these rights are being continuously violated by the government,
corporations, and other individuals. Whether prejudice, national security,
negligence, or business decisions drive these violations, they must be challenged
to vindicate the rights and integrity of communities of individuals, and society as
a whole. PIAC seeks to help correct these violations, advance the rights of all
people, and foster equity in education, housing, and opportunity.
Nobody wants a power plant, an asphalt factory, or a toxic waste site in their back
yard—where they live, work, and play. Some have the means to prevent such
institutions from taking over their communities while others do not. The costs, in
terms of the adverse health effects associated with the resulting pollution, then fall
disproportionately on low income, largely minority, communities. PIAC seeks to
level the burdens of environmental pollution, so that every neighborhood can be
safe and inhabitable. These burdens should not fall exclusively on those who are
least able to pay the cost.
Consumers have the right to safe products and services, full information about
products and services, and protection from false and deceptive claims about those
products and services. However, many companies continuously push products
that poison consumers, advertise in deceptive and predatory manners, and even
commit outright fraud; most get away with it. PIAC holds such wrongdoers
accountable to further a safe and fair marketplace.