Stephanie Barclay might practice law here in San Luis Obispo County where she attended public schools (C.L. Smith, Laguna Middle School & SLO High School), but her path to working as Legal Director for San Luis Obispo Legal Aid Foundation (SLOLAF) was paved by the example set by her parents.
Growing up in a home with two working parents who valued giving back to the community clearly resonated with Stephanie and her sister, Erika Schuetze. Ken and Judy Barclay, both educators with full-time jobs, always found time to volunteer. From Friends of the Library, Girl Scouts, PTA, Congregation Beth David, Central Coast Memorial Society and many other worthwhile local organizations, they made it clear to their daughters that helping was a priority. “No one sat us down and told us how important volunteering in your community is,” Stephanie said. “But, through their example, we got the message.”
Today, Erika, a marketing communications consultant, is PTA President at Los Ranchos Elementary School and serves on the board of directors for Congregation Beth David and Spokes. In addition to Stephanie’s job as Legal Director for SLOLAF, she is Vice President of the SLO County Bar Association, past president of Women Lawyers Association of SLO County, and volunteers for the PTA and the SLO County Mock Trial Program.
Stephanie’s desire to help others changed her professional direction. With degrees from UC Davis and Santa Clara University School of Law, Stephanie began her career working in San Francisco for three large law firms. While these jobs provided excellent experience, something was always missing, so she sought out other possibilities. Her interest in a career in public service was launched when she was hired to work in the San Francisco Attorney General’s Office in the False Claims Section where she prosecuted companies that were defrauding the government.
In 2003, she moved back to the Central Coast to get married and start a family. Although her marriage ended, she doesn’t regret moving back home. For her first nine years living in the area, Stephanie worked for a local firm doing business and real estate litigation. While she enjoyed living and working in her hometown, that desire to give back was pushing her to look for other opportunities, which ultimately led her to volunteer on the board of directors for SLOLAF (which was called SLO County Legal Alternatives at that time)—an organization founded in 1992 to help people who could not afford legal assistance.
Although she enjoyed volunteering on the board, it still wasn’t quite enough. Stephanie felt something was missing; she knew there was more she could do professionally to help others in need. That door was opened for her when she learned that SLOLAF’s only employee had resigned and SLOLAF needed to hire a new Project Director for Senior Legal Services Project.
Realizing that this opportunity could be exactly what she was seeking, Stephanie resigned from the board, applied for and was soon hired as the new Project Director. At that time, in 2013, the organization’s entire operating budget was approximately $50,000 and the organization was headquartered out of one room in an office building leased by another non-profit organization.
I asked Stephanie who started SLOLAF and she said it began with a few “do-good” attorneys who simply wanted to increase services for those in need in SLO County. At a time when lawyers are often the brunt of jokes referring to their greed-laden ambitions, here was a real-life example to dispel such generalizations. The organization’s first programs were a Temporary Restraining Order Clinic for victims of domestic violence and a Conflict Resolution program, which later spun off on its own and became Creative Mediation. In 1996, the organization was awarded a grant to provide legal assistance to seniors and Senior Legal Services Project was created which is SLOLAF’s biggest program to this day.
“I enjoy helping others who are feeling overwhelmed by the process. You can imagine a 90-year-old woman who is losing her home due to reasons beyond her control. She has no family support and doesn’t know how to use a computer or other resources to help her out of her situation. That is where we come in and try to help. That is where I find my passion for my profession.”
While she is the only lawyer employed by SLOLAF, there are about 20 volunteer attorneys who help SLOLAF clients on a regular basis, and even more whom she can call on for their specific expertise when needed.
Many of Stephanie’s colleagues credit her for growing the organization from a budget of $50K to $350K and from a staff of one employee to four employees with more volunteers than ever before and from one program to three programs. In addition to Senior Legal Services, SLOLAF opened a Family Law Advice Clinic last August.
SLOLAF runs the Family Law Advice Clinic twice a month at the SLO College of Law located on Broad Street in SLO. Low-income self-represented residents can get free legal advice on divorce and custody issues from a volunteer attorney by making an appointment with SLOLAF at 805-549- 0794. SLOLAF also works with CAPSLO— Community Action Partnership by providing legal aid to veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless with the goal of permanently housing them in SLO County. To determine eligibility in this program, call CAPSLO at 805-237-0352.
Recently, Stephanie was presented the John L. Seitz Award. This award recognizes lawyers whose community contributions exemplify the best attributes of the legal profession. When Michael Seitz publicly presented the award, he noted that he could not recall a reward recipient ever receiving as many nominations from the local bar association as Ms. Barclay.
“I can’t take all of the credit for the organization’s success,” remarked Stephanie. “SLOLAF has a very dedicated and supportive board of directors and many wonderful volunteers who I relied on to help with the caseload while I focused more time on grant writing and fundraising.” Thanks to her successful fundraising and grant writing efforts over the last few years, the organization was able to hire a full-time Executive Director for the first time in its 27-year history.Stephanie is thrilled to have Donna Jones join the SLOLAF team and to have more time to serve their clients and expand the organization’s legal programs in her new position as Legal Director.
Today, Stephanie Barclay is a working mother with two young daughters—13-year-old Talia wants to be a veterinarian like her dad while 11-year-old Mariella plans on becoming a teacher. What impressed me most about Stephanie was her belief that all people deserve legal representation when fate confronts them with problems beyond their means. She doesn’t just talk about what should be done for those in need; this admirably altruistic lawyer goes ahead and gets it done.
And the generosity of her parents has come full-circle. Ken and Judy step in and support SLOLAF when they can offer help and Stephanie’s sister, Erika, helps whenever she’s needed. The powerful example of giving back is not lost on Stephanie as she is already seeing philanthropic efforts by the next generation.
Stephanie Barclay and her network of “do-gooders” truly make a difference in our community. You can, too. Be a volunteer in your community. For more information about SLOLAF: www.slolaf.org.