In his early years representing tenants in some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods, NLSLA’s Fred Nakamura was known to bring a camera and a toolbox to his clients’ homes—the first to document the problems, and the second to try and fix them. More than 40 years later, after decades of successful legal advocacy spanning multiple practice areas and impacting tens of thousands of lives, not much has changed. Earlier this year, Fred, now in his 60s, could be found walking up and down 16 flights of stairs to deliver water, food, and other basic necessities to elderly and disabled clients in a building without a single working elevator.
Each and every day Fred shows all of us here at NLSLA what it means to be a community lawyer, and we have long been in awe of his remarkable work and boundless compassion. But Fred has also spent decades deflecting the spotlight, insisting the accolades for his accomplishments go to someone else—a colleague, a mentee, an organizer, or a client.
Despite these valiant efforts to evade attention, Fred has been chosen as the 2022 recipient of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s Kutak-Dodds Prize for exceptional work in civil legal aid. The national prize—awarded to just one legal aid attorney from across the country each year—honors work that has “contributed in a significant way to the enhancement of the human dignity and quality of life of those persons unable to afford legal representation.”
Fred is a recognized expert in eviction defense, rent control, relocation assistance, federally subsidized housing, affordable housing development, homeowner fraud, and mobile home issues. He has also done voluminous direct services work, impact litigation, and policy advocacy in the areas of consumer fraud, medical debt, public benefits, family law, domestic violence, and employment law. Fred has represented thousands of individuals and families, and he has trained and mentored hundreds of lawyers. And he has done all of this work in community, for community, with clients’ voices squarely centered.
But Fred is not simply a lawyer. He fixes appliances, plumbing, and even cars. He helps vulnerable clients clean bedbug-infested apartments to avoid lease violations. And he frequently gifts items from his own home so that clients do not have to go without. He gives his cellphone number to everyone (it frequently appears on various websites and flyers), and is often the first call for countless community organizers working in low-income communities throughout Los Angeles.
We are so privileged to have Fred on our team here at NLSLA, and so happy he is getting the recognition he deserves.