We had the good fortune of connecting with Antoinette Balta, Esq., LLM and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Antoinette, what are you most proud of in terms of your business?
I am proud that Veterans Legal Institute is an opportunity for low-income Veterans and their families to access justice in a meaningful way that can take them from homeless to hopeful. A no-cost, zealous legal advocate can remove barriers to housing, healthcare, education and employment, ultimately giving the Veteran an empowering hand up. Access to justice isn’t a guaranteed right- often times, the most vulnerable populations go without services simply because they cannot afford an attorney. It is incredibly rewarding to build a people-oriented, passion-run nonprofit that effectively assists our great country. I am grateful to the service-oriented team at Veterans Legal Institute that aids each Veteran, whether their case is big or small, in a transformative way that results in raising the standard of living for thousands of our nation’s heroes.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My parents both immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and were very cognizant of all the opportunities available on American soil that are unique to other countries. As a result, work ethic and sharing our dinner table was a common theme impressed upon my siblings and I. With full emotional support from my parents, I became the first woman in our extended family to attain an advanced degree with the intentions of paying it forward. I entered law school with the dream of becoming a legal aid attorney- but school loans and the cost of living in Southern California made that financially improbable. I simply couldn’t afford to work in public interest full time. After several years in private practice, I was able to make a life change and enter the world of public service. This opportunity was made possible by the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow program (similar to “Teach for America”, but for attorneys) which funded a position for me at a local legal aid for 2 years. Through this fellowship, I was able to further develop my interest and understanding of public interest law and working with at risk populations. As a result of this experience, the foundation from which I built Veterans Legal Institute was inspired and VLI has since served over 6,000 Veterans and Active Service Members pro bono. Starting from scratch is never easy, especially when you are not selling a product or service that provides an income. However, a combination of passion, a hard working team, and patriotic supporters, fueled Veterans Legal Institute’s growth. While we still have mountains and mole hills to overcome each day, we are blessed with the opportunity to serve and use that purpose as one of many reasons to push forward each day.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Southern California is an eclectic treasure trove of history, beaches, and fun dining with no shortage of places to explore. When I have visitors who want to explore, it is always a great opportunity to take the day and share with them some of highlights of where I live. Some of my favorites include the Mission Inn in Riverside, the Battleship IOWA Museum in Los Angeles, Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, a ferry trip to Balboa Island, and art hunting and a size of pizza at the Pizza Bar in Laguna Beach. Food is a passion of mine and I enjoy inviting people to my home for dinner parties that often feature a combination of Lebanese, Italian, and American cuisine paired with my favorite wines. Whenever I go out or serve at home, my beverage of choice is any vintage from Daou winery. Apart from having high quality, low sugar wines at a great value, Daou has historically been a quiet supporter of those in need and I like to give back to those who give back to the community.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It takes a village- and we have an incredible team at Veterans Legal Institute who all share the same values of quality service and impressive work ethic. Their dedication and passion for service are the beating heart of Veterans Legal Institute. The VLI team consists of attorneys, executives, paralegals, administrators, and over 200 volunteers each year (including college and law students). We log in over 10k in-office volunteer hours each year that ensure that a Veteran’s call for help is always answered. VLI is a collaborative, people led life-line that works in communion to improve the lives of Veterans in need.