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Dave Pai is VLSP's Volunteer of the Month for June

Monday, May 01, 2006

  • By: Psyche Philips
  • Organization: VLSP


May Volunteer of the Month Dave Pai

In 1998, Dave Pai came to visit a friend in San Francisco.

"I loved it so much that I never left," he said recently. "I was living on the East Coast at the time, and felt a tremendous sense of balance when I visited here."

Dave's first job in San Francisco was working at VLSP as a client advocate, listening to clients and placing cases with volunteer attorneys. "It ranks as one of the best jobs I ever had," he says about the experience. Later, while in law school at UC Hastings, Dave and his classmates dreamed of establishing a law firm that would use the income from paying clients to fund public interest representation. "That dream sounds pretty naïve to me today, but in a sense, I'm living it through VLSP's programs," he reflected.

Dave currently works with Sandy Cipinko, a plaintiffs-side trial lawyer. "We mostly represent individuals who have been injured or defrauded. It's kind of like doing public interest work in the sense that you're seeking justice for someone who has been seriously harmed. But there's also a business side to it, so you can't take cases purely on principle, as much as Sandy tries to. Volunteering with VLSP helps me deal with that harsh reality. Without VLSP, I would probably have trouble sleeping at night."

Dave has donated more than 20 of his Saturdays at VLSP's Legal Advice and Referral Clinic (LARC) over the past two years. LARC began in the main library in downtown San Francisco, where it continues to be held the second Saturday of every month. Clients drop in on a first-come, first-serve basis to speak with an attorney about their legal issue free of charge. Each client is first screened by a non-attorney volunteer, such as a paralegal or law student, and is then matched with an attorney for a ten-minute consult. Social service volunteers and interpreters are also present to answer questions and assist individuals in accessing resources.

Dave's enthusiasm and dedication to volunteering have helped pave the way for the opening of VLSP's most recent LARC location that opened last July in San Francisco's Bayview / Hunter's Point district. This second location has experienced rapid growth, enabling VLSP to serve more clients from a more diverse population than ever before. Many attorneys who cannot find the time to volunteer during the week show up at the one of the two monthly LARC clinics to answer clients' questions, and you can be sure you'll see Dave giving clients advice, listening carefully and directing them to valuable resources they may not have been aware of.

And it's not just the clients who walk away feeling more informed. Dave says he gains invaluable experience through volunteering. "I love doing LARC because I seem to get more out of it than the clients do-- as a younger, less experienced lawyer, its fun to work with a dozen other volunteer attorneys and hear their stories. Sometimes, I even pick up a tip or two on practicing law. And you get to meet different people, both attorneys and clients, you otherwise would not have a chance to get to know."

Despite the modesty and quiet consistency that Dave brings to volunteering, his hard work has not gone unnoticed.

"Dave has been a stalwart volunteer since the inception of the Bayview Legal Advice and Referral Clinic. He takes on the most challenging clients with a variety of legal issues with great facility, compassion and calm," said VLSP supervising attorney Haydée Alfonso when she heard Dave was May's volunteer of the month.

"Dave has a wonderful combination of patience, compassion and moral outrage that makes him a fabulous advocate for the disadvantaged." VLSP Interim Director Tiela Chalmers said when nominating him.

Dave may be a dedicated volunteer, but he still finds time to have fun. When he's not volunteering, you can probably find him brushing up on his ability to "hang ten." A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, his most recent travel plans include what he calls a "surfari" to Baja or Costa Rica.

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