By Aaron Blevins, 9/13/2012
President expects move to Koreatown will improve services for clients
Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which offers free legal services to eligible and needy residents of Los Angeles County, has begun offering those services from one centralized location in Koreatown.
The nonprofit has consolidated its three offices in the Fairfax District, Koreatown and North Hollywood into a single office at Wilshire Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. The new office is more spacious and is located near various means of public transportation.
“It’s been a very good development from a cultural standpoint — for the organization and our staff,” Bet Tzedek president and CEO Sandy Samuels said.
He said the new location opened on Aug. 29, less than a week after the organization shuttered its three smaller offices. Nine business days into the move, Bet Tzedek, which has helped more than 100,000 families since 1974, has settled in to the new building, Samuels said.
“It was a very complicated process,” he added.
While some individuals who reside near the former Fairfax office are likely frustrated by the move, the organization’s staff is excited for the new space. In the Fairfax office, attorneys were squeezed into offices, some of which were closets. The running joke was that some lawyers had to leave their office to change their minds.
Now, the team of more than 70 attorneys has the entire 13th floor and portions of the 14th. The new location has a conference room and a large library that will benefit the organization and its clients, Samuels said.
“We’re delighted to be in a space that reflects the professionalism of the work that we do,” he added.
Though some of the staff members were concerned about a decrease in services for some areas, specifically the Valley, Bet Tzedek will continue to serve all areas of the county, Samuels said.
“Our business model is not only do our clients come to us, we go to them,” he said, adding that the organization visit more than 30 senior centers in the county. “We have the ability to handle a myriad issues either through phone or we will go to the Freda Mohr Center, for example.”
Samuels said the move was prompted when Bet Tzedek’s former building on South Fairfax Avenue was sold. The new landlord was looking to refurbish the space and increase the rent, he said.
The owner of the new office at 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, David Wilstein, cut the organization a deal. Samuels said Bet Tzedek has a commercial real estate broker on its board who researched new offices. The new space has allowed the nonprofit to pay a little less on its rent, he said.
“This really puts us in a very good spot,” Samuels said.
He said the legal team’s services will not change. The attorneys will continue to tackle various issues for its clients, including elder law, housing, Holocaust survivor services, conservatorships, government benefits, employment rights and more.
Bet Tzedek began as an all-volunteer organization in 1974 and was only open one or two nights per week. Its original mission was to prevent wrongful evictions, but after the number of Holocaust survivors who became clients, they began offering survivor services as well.
The organization does not handle family law or criminal cases, though it does make referrals to other law firms. Samuels said Bet Tzedek will continue to build relationships with other entities from the Koreatown location.
“We have excellent — better than excellent — relationships with organizations all over the county,” he added.
Services have blossomed since 1974, however. Perry Simons, the director of foundation relations and communications, said that, according to its last audit, Bet Tzedek offered almost 86,000 hours of services last year, amounting to at least $26 million in legal services.
“It’s very important work that we do,” Samuels said. “We help people who really have no place to go.”
The nonprofit may look to expand its office in Koreatown, and the staff is researching ways to use technology to further interact with their clients. Bet Tzedek may begin putting lectures and information on DVDs so that clients may empower themselves, which is one of the organization’s missions.
While things are looking up for the organization, it is always in need of donations. Samuels said Bet Tzedek staffers continue to seek new sources of funding to benefit the operation and its clients.
“It’s very difficult in these difficult economic times,” he added.
For information or to donate, visit www.bettzedek.org.