The Joy of Public Service Not only a duty, it’s our obligation 

Angela Lai President, Sacramento County Bar Association
By Angela Lai
Sacramento County
Bar Association

“Certainly, life as a lawyer is a bit more complex today than it was a century ago. The ever-increasing pressures of the legal marketplace, the need to bill hours, to market to clients, and to attend to the bottom line, have made fulfilling the responsibilities of community service quite difficult. But public service marks the difference between a business and a profession. While a business can afford to focus solely on profits, a profession cannot. It must devote itself first to the community it is responsible to serve. I can imagine no greater duty than fulfilling this obligation.” 

– Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Last night, I attended a fundraising art show held by My Sister’s House, a local non-profit organization that serves women and children impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking by providing shelter, job training, and community services. Many of my fellow SCBA members were in attendance as well.

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SCBA members at My Sister’s House “Art with a Heart” Art Show: Elizabeth Sarine, Latika Sharma, Natalie Butcher, Derek Ledda, Angela Lai with daughter Valerie, Gloria Ochoa, Darrel Woo, Nancy Lee, & Administrative Law Judge Tim Aspinwall

A community member came up to me and asked: “So how did you find out about My Sister’s House in the first place?” I looked around the room, and saw many of the first mentors and friends I met after I first joined the Sacramento legal community. Indeed, lawyers played a critical role in identifying our community’s need for an agency to address domestic violence. Lawyers helped found My Sister’s House. Lawyers have played key leadership roles on its board of directors and advisory committee since its inception, including board president Darrel Woo, recipient of this year’s SCBA Pro Bono Award. In 2007, SCBA affiliate Asian/Pacific Bar Association of Sacramento (ABAS) founded a weekly pro bono legal clinic at My Sister’s House, which continues to operate to this day.

This is just one example of the many ways we devote ourselves to the community we are responsible to serve.

As President of the SCBA, I have the privilege of working with countless volunteers. Between our board, divisions, sections, and committees, the SCBA relies on at least 150 volunteers who generously donate their time, energy, and expertise so the SCBA can better serve our legal community and the community at large.

I continue to be inspired by the many things to which our lawyers and judges devote themselves, not only to the SCBA and the legal community, but also to the community at large. At last year’s SCBA board retreat, Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Stacy Boulware-Eurie spoke of her regular meetings with at-risk children and their families to talk about the impact of truancy through the nationally recognized Partners Against Chronic Truancy (PACT) developed by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender, the Department of Human Assistance, local school districts, and the Sacramento County Superior Court. Our judges and lawyers helped found and continue to support the law academies at C.K. McClatchy High School and Florin High School. From educating girls in Kenya to providing for the homeless in Sacramento, most non-profit organizations have lawyers who serve on their boards and advisory boards. We help serve the poor and the underprivileged. We are Big Brothers and Big Sisters. We are coaches and Girl Scout troop leaders.

So, how did I come about helping serve victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking with My Sister’s House? I started my legal career working in the Domestic Violence Unit at the District Attorney’s Office in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Even though I left criminal prosecution, I remained committed to efforts to combat domestic violence.

What is your favorite giving organization? Let us know, and consider sharing your story in the Sacramento Lawyer magazine.

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