In the Spotlight: Tom Cain


It has been said that those who can, do. And those who can do more, volunteer. Tom Cain is a perfect example of this concept. Co-founder of the Lawyer in the Library program, Tom is also one of the dedicated attorneys who volunteers to work at the two monthly clinics, assisting pro per litigants in navigating the legal system. In addition, Tom serves on the Board of Trustees for the Law Library, holding the seat of Vice President. He has been a tireless advocate for the Law Library, both in recruiting volunteer attorneys to help at the two monthly Lawyer in the Library clinics, and working towards more secure funding sources for all county law libraries in California. Tom’s love of law libraries and his interest in serving them originated more than 35 years ago when he worked at Golden Gate University School of Law Library.

An attorney with more than three decades of practice experience, Tom has taught at Golden Gate University School of Law as well as JFK University School of Law. He is an expert in mediation and conflict resolution and heads the widely respected Congress of Neutrals. Tom practices law in Walnut Creek in the areas of business litigation, trusts and estates, mediation and real property. His dedication is an inspiration to all.

What is your legal background?

I’ve been practicing law for 36 years. About 25 years ago, I began to shift my practice from general civil litigation to probate and estate litigation. I’ve been teaching at JFK College of Law for 25 years, which I really enjoy. In the 1990s I became fascinated with comparative law through annual travel to Japan to visit my wife’s family. I studied comparative law at Hastings which has given me a broader, functional approach to law, which directly led to my obsession with ADR.

What kind of Pro Bono / volunteer work do you do?

I put in a lot of volunteer work through The Congress of Neutrals [see below]. It has been an education and a pleasure working with the clerks of the court and with the great bench officers we have who refer cases out for mediation. Working with Carey Rowan, Law Librarian, The Congress of Neutrals started a volunteer program at the Contra Costa County Public Law Library, “Lawyers in the Library.” Twice a month, attorney volunteers come to the law library (Martinez and Richmond branches) and provide general direction and guidance to members of the public who cannot afford an attorney. It’s a blast. The staff at the law library are is wonderful.

What got you interested in volunteering with the CCC Public Law Library?

I worked my way through law school in the law library at Golden Gate University. I believe strongly in access to justice. There is nothing intuitive about law. Our citizens need help. Who can afford an attorney? People need a place to go for direction and assistance – for many, that place is the Contra Costa County Public Law Library. In 2015, the Law Library was contacted more than 40,000 times with inquiries. The Public Law Library is a treasure, and it deserves special attention because of budget issues.

Tell us more about The Congress of Neutrals. What do you do there? What volunteer opportunities are available?

I’m on the Board of Directors in charge of program development. After being a visiting scholar during my Summersummer visits to Japan, I brought those experiences, together with my association with law students at JFK University, to The Congress of Neutrals, a non-profit. The Congress has trained hundreds of mediators, and since 2002 has conducted done about 9,000 mediations for the Superior Court. In 2009 we started a restorative justice program for juvenile offenders, known as the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program [VORP] of Contra Costa County. We recruit and train mediators and offer a great 40-hour training.

What have you gained, or learned, from this Pro pro Bono bono work?

I’m grateful every day I’m not a party to a lawsuit. I appreciate the many volunteers in Contra Costa County. Most of the volunteer and pro bono work in this County is done quietly by people who point the way, conduct tours of the courthouses, talk daily on the phone with people who need guidance, and assist in the Bar Association’s moderate means program. Others build up the Contra Costa County CCC Bar Association, accept appointments from bench officers, serve in conservatorship and other clinical service programs, and take the time to be collegial with fellow attorneys. It’s a great county to practice law.

Why do you think it is important for attorneys to give back to their communities?

It keeps you fresh, and helps you sleep at night. It’s only a slight shift, to go from having a job, to belonging to a noble profession. Besides, the people you meet are just amazing.