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Meet Grace Fonseca, New Supervising Attorney for FLASH

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

  • By: R. Fretz
  • Organization: VLSP




The Volunteer Legal Services is thrilled to welcome Grace Fonseca, new supervising attorney for the Family Law Assisted Self-Help Project (FLASH), which offers pro se litigants assistance with divorce papers. Grace brings formidable experience and a quick laugh to the VLSP team.

"It's very fulfilling being on the front lines, helping people one-on-one, everyday, through the labyrinthine family law system," Grace says of her new position.

Grace, a New York native and graduate of St. John's University School of Law in Queens, is no stranger to legal services. Prior to coming to San Francisco, Grace worked as a staff attorney for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York's Legal Referral Service. Once she made the jump to the left coast, Grace spent two years at the Alameda County Bar Association, where she ran the Lawyer Referral Service, Fee Arbitration, and Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs.

FLASH, a self-help-based program designed to guide hundreds of pro se customers through the legal system as they attempt to file for divorce, was launched four years ago, when the congestion in the San Francisco courthouse caused by filers who did not have the proper documentation, advice, and fees forced county clerks to clamor for a solution. The answer was FLASH, a joint project between VLSP and the San Francisco Superior Court.

"This is a tremendous service," Grace explains. "The work is refreshing because there's a very specific need, and FLASH directly addresses that need."

Grace, a native Spanish speaker, provides initial consultation and follow-up in English and Spanish. The first meeting tackles the petitions, fee waivers, and financial statements required by the law as well as instructions on how to serve the customer's spouse properly. The average litigant will spend five to six months from initial filing to final judgment.

"The people I work with at FLASH are happy for the help because it's a tangle of paperwork," Grace says, adding, "It's pretty overwhelming given the emotional issues. Grateful customers will shake my hand and won't let go!"

The need for this type of service is so great, word of mouth is the only advertising FLASH needs. The way it works, as Grace explains, is that the family law facilitators in the Self Help Center at the courthouse screen "walk-ins" for income- and case-appropriateness, diverting those who qualify to FLASH. Because Grace resolves so many simple dissolution cases, the family law folks are freed up for more complex custody issues.

Grace's smooth transition to VLSP followed a similarly smooth transition to California. "People say I'm a natural Californian!" Grace laughs. "The adjustment from Long Island to Russian Hill has been effortless." Perhaps it's the view of the Bridge from her window that inspires Grace to get out and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty of the Bay Area, such as the recent 7-hour hike she took to the peak of an extinct volcano in Sonoma.

Grace lights up when she talks about her two stepsons, Ben and David, who likely require more energy than an all-day hike. "They love superheroes and they're always running, playing, and running some more," Grace says with a twinkle that lets you know she can more than keep up.

We look forward to Grace's leadership in providing expanded outreach to the Spanish-speaking population and further streamlining current processes in order to serve the greatest possible number of San Franciscans representing themselves in Family Court.

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