Volunteer Spotlight: Florencia Cudos
Friday, October 01, 2004
Kudos to Cudos!
Culture shock is expected when you travel to a new country, but for Argentine attorney Maria "Florencia" Cudos, coming to the United States packed an extra jolt: the Bar exam. "With an Argentine university law degree and professional license, you are an attorney in Argentina," she explains, "You don't have to take an exam."
Instead of immediately cramming for the California Bar, Florencia has spent the past five months boning up on the intricacies of the U.S. legal system by generously volunteering her time and skills to the Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP)'s Family Law Assisted Self Help (FLASH) Project.
FLASH is a unique program that helps low-income individuals navigate
pro se* divorce proceedings on-site at the San Francisco Superior Court. Monday through Thursday, customers come in for a one-on-one appointment with a FLASH attorney. The emotionally volatile nature of divorce is such that issues of child support, spouse support, custody, visitation, and restraining orders frequently come up.
Florencia describes a memorable experience with a customer who decided to divorce the morning of the interview. "She was very upset and impatient," Florencia recalls, "but once I explained to her that I was trying to do my best and was there as a volunteer to help her, she apologized and changed the way she was treating me." Of pro bono work, Florencia says, "It feels great to help people. While I am still learning the American law system, I am being useful to someone else."
FLASH Supervising Attorney Leongah Wheeler can't speak highly enough of her outstanding volunteer: "Florencia is a gem. She is extremely patient with the litigant. In addition to her stellar intake skills, she is quick to take the initiative in other areas. She created a new intake database, has translated into Spanish much of the literature provided to the customers, and is always looking for ways to help FLASH function more effectively. In addition, she is always charming and personable. She is a huge asset to FLASH and to the Family Law Facilitator's Office."
Florencia makes a point to explain the dissolution process to each customer so that they fully understand their rights and obligations. For that, she says, her customers are very grateful. "You get to know people from all over the world with different kinds of problems, but they are all trying to work them out."
Such diversity is of course the hallmark of San Francisco, where, a year after moving here, Florencia is still exhilarated by the character and variety of neighborhoods: "With their shops, cafes and very different people - depending on where walk, I feel like I'm in another city or another country!" she says.
An avid world traveler, Florencia says she misses being with her family and friends in her hometown, Santa Rosa, more than anything, while foods like ours asados and chorizos are a close second. Florencia could no doubt find these specialties in San Francisco, but chances are, they wouldn't taste quite as good as they do at home in Argentina.
* A litigant who files on their own, without counsel