Karla Barrow has left her post as managing attorney of the Santa Monica office of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA). But she feels she’s left things in good hands — the hands of her longtime colleague, Ryan Bradley.
Barrow recently accepted the position of chief operating officer at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The switch marks her first change in organization since June 1999, when she obtained her first legal job at LAFLA after finishing law school at the University of San Diego and passing the bar.
“I had done various clinics in law school and a clinic focusing on advocacy, so I was really lucky a position opened doing government benefits,” Barrow said.
Barrow worked as a staff attorney with the foundation, then a government benefits attorney, before becoming managing attorney.
LAFLA has provided civil legal services to poor and low-income people in Los Angeles County for over 85 years. It is comprised of five neighborhood offices, three domestic violence clinics and four self-help legal access centers.
According to the organization’s website, nearly 12,000 individuals and families are provided with legal services annually and an additional 35,000 litigants are helped through LAFLA’s four self-help legal access centers. Another 20,000 are assisted through referrals, workshops and community outreach activities.
Barrow said she was lucky to go into an organization where she was able to provide direct services and represent people right away.
“I was pleased with the work I was doing at LAFLA from the start, but encouraged to work on policy issues as well that affected population, the living wage campaign in the early 2000s,” she said. “Doing advocacy for government benefits. Even as a young attorney I felt very lucky to have both immediate advocacy opportunities and also leadership opportunities.”
Barrow spoke fondly of her time with LAFLA, saying how close the team there is.
“Personally, I’ll tell you the fabulous work that everybody does, and really believed in the mission and because they stayed so long you develop very close friendships,” she said. “I started when my son was in the first grade and he’s graduated now. It’s a family of sorts when people are there that long.”
One of the members of Barrow’s work family was Bradley, who has moved into Barrow’s former roles a few times now.
“Ryan, as I moved into management, he took my old job and became the government benefits attorney,” Barrow said. “And it is great to see him succeeding in leadership and taking the managing attorney position now.”
Barrow said Bradley is a “wonderful advocate” and very thoughtful in both his interaction with community partners and his advocacy that affects the population.
“He’s been very active in changing some of the administrative hearing rules to make them benefit both client and customer. He’s making sure that benefits and systems are in place that get people from A to B.”
Bradley attended law school at UCLA and, like Barrow, was hired as a LAFLA staff attorney after passing the bar.
“About eight years in I applied for and took on the job of government benefits here in Santa Monica,” Bradley said. “[Karla and I had] always been friends. It was always very nice working with her. She had a very collaborative nature which I hope to emulate.”
Bradley said some of the challenges he knows he will face in his new role are mastering the technical rules of opening and closing cases and dealing with the many grants that LAFLA receives, mainly within Santa Monica.
“I think I’m pretty good at it as a whole, but now I’m spending a lot of time referring to things,” he said. “I have a binder on my desk I open six times a day, always making sure we get this right. I want to make sure we’re meeting the rules.”
Bradley enjoys working at LAFLA for the power it gives him to solve problems others can’t.
“I think for most people, when they see problems they feel like, ‘I have my own job. I have my own life. I cant help this person,’” he said. “Whereas we help people no matter what. We don’t worry about the source of income. We will help a person who is homeless just coming off the beach and give them a chance at government benefits and make sure all their legal rights have been vindicated.”
Bradley said LAFLA’s office in Santa Monica seeks out partners and looks to be a good partner with other city agencies and nonprofits.
“We feel like in partnership we can holistically deal with these issues,” he said. We feel like there is this larger framework at play.”