Alameda County
Bar Association


Poverty Workshop

What is the Poverty Workshop?

The Poverty Workshop is a unique training for attorneys, staff, service providers, students and others who are interested in learning about the challenges and situations that low-income people deal with day to day. It offers the chance to understand how to work more effectively with members of this community, and to consider critically the ways in which we deliver services. This role play simulates one-month in the life in a low-income community, with each “week” consuming a 15-20 minute period. Participants are divided into “families,” ranging in size from one to five persons. Each group is assigned a different life scenario, and volunteers live the life of that family for one month, trying to work and access benefits, buy food, and maintain housing. The training also uses participants or volunteers to play the vital roles of community resources, such as the bank, the employer, the doctor and other resources the family members will interact with during the “month.” The workshop is very detailed and has an impact on participants that cannot be conveyed by books. It strives to educate pro bono attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants and law students about the realities our low-income clients face day to day, and the impact pro bono services have on these individuals and families.

What people are saying about the Poverty Workshop

“This was such an amazing experience. My favorite workshop by far! I loved how it had the capability to have us play out our roles and really take on a new lifestyle. I think every person in that workshop felt some kind of emotional change and became engulfed in the poverty lifestyle.”

“We often speak about being empathetic in our line of work, but this really put the saying “walk a mile in their shoes,” into perspective.”

“Great learning without being “taught” activity. It was so fun & we were all so vested in helping our families survive that you learned a lot about human nature & the extent families go through to make ends meet without a lecture or PowerPoint needed.”

Poverty workshop - End Poverty NowThis interactive workshop has something to teach all of us about working with low-income families and communities.

Participants will experience:

  • How people find themselves in multiple legal problems at the same time
  • The role of crime and scams in low-income communities
  • The economics of being poor
  • Why our clients don’t show up for appointments, or follow through on referrals – and what we can do about it


For more information, or to book a poverty workshop for your organization or conference, please contact Tiela Chalmers at or (510) 302-2208. All proceeds go to Legal Access Alameda (formerly known as the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation) the pro bono arm of the Alameda County Bar Association. Legal Access provides free legal services to low-income people in Alameda County and is one of the largest providers of pro bono legal services in the county.