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Photo: Government Pro Bono Roundtable

Government Lawyers, Meet Your Pro Bono Clients

Government lawyers often hesitate to do pro bono work, since the navigating the ethics questions and potential conflicts can feel like too big an obstacle. But the federal government has made tremendous strides in helping government attorneys take pro bono cases, and DC’s legal services providers now provide many opportunities. On January 13, a lively bunch of government lawyers spent lunchtime at DOJ’s Patrick Henry Building to learn how to provide pro bono legal services to low-income DC residents. We convened this year’s Government Pro Bono Roundtable to encourage government attorneys to take the plunge and do pro bono work. Julie Abbate, a DOJ lawyer and a member of our board, moderated a panel featuring Joey Bowers (DOJ), Nicole Murley (also DOJ), Laura Klein (DOJ’s Pro Bono Program Manager), and Scott Risner (USAID). The panelists, who are pro bono veterans, shared tips for finding pro bono opportunities and explored ways to make the pro bono experience meaningful and productive. Among their suggestions: Seek out training: organizations like the DC Bar and, ahem, Washington Council of Lawyers offer many useful training sessions; Most legal services organizations provide a mentor to government attorneys taking on pro bono cases; Don’t be shy about letting your colleagues know that you are working on a pro bono case, and be sure to let your clients know that you have other cases and may not be able to respond to them immediately; If you don’t have the time to commit to a full case at the moment, consider a discrete opportunity like the DC Bar’s Advice & Referral Clinic. As it turns out, we’ll be leading a volunteer group to this clinic on the morning of Saturday, February 14. Finally, you can learn more at, which has a dedicated page for Federal Government Pro Bono Attorneys. Doing pro bono work can be invigorating. You get to learn about a new area of law and keep your practice vibrant. It’s work, of course, but it’s rewarding work. And it’s an ethical responsibilty. So if you’re a government attorney, we hope that a rewarding pro bono case is in your future! (We’d like to thank Red Velvet Cupcakery for providing cupcakes for the event. As it turns out, pro bono work is good for both the soul and the stomach.) Lydia C. Watts is our Associate Director. You can follow her on Twitter at @lydiawatts.

Photo: East Of The River Residents

Another Win for Community Organizing

By Aja Taylor (This blog post originally appeared on the Bread for the City blog, and is reposted here with permission.) In early 2013, Bread for the City’s Taylor Healy and I worked with a group of (very awesome) seniors at Victory Square Senior Apartments to get them a bus stop in front of their building. We organized them, helped them draft testimony and they kicked butt and successfully changed their access to a major transportation system (woot woot for systemic change! See the blog post here.). We worked with those same seniors to do some deeper training around how to self-organize and even took three of them to a WIN training to get EVEN MORE tools. They were incredibly engaged and eager to learn more about how to fight for themselves. This past November, residents from Mayfair (another housing complex in the Kenilworth neighborhood of DC) and an organizer/colleague from DCPNI, approached us about some changes that WMATA wanted to make to their bus route. Essentially, WMATA wanted to end bus service to the ONLY grocery store in the neighborhood (dumb!), and hadn’t really kept the community at large in the loop about the changes. Once residents found out, they wanted to do something. We talked to our Victory Square residents, had a couple of strategy sessions with stakeholders and leaders from each of the buildings in Kenilworth, DCPNI and the ANC, so that we could get a plan together. The residents organized a meeting with WMATA on November 13th where they turned out (after one week of work!) OVER 40 community members to a meeting where they told Metro their demands. Besides making flyers (shout-out to Andrew Lomax!), the professional organizers/lawyers took a back seat, and the residents really made sure that their voices were heard and their stories came through. They used the training that they’d received, and some tips from the pre-meetings, and they ROCKED it! Last week, WMATA’s top dog of bus planning sent a letter saying that they are recommending to the Board of Directors that none of the scheduled changes take place at this time. They heard the community loud and clear, and the community WON! THIS is what happens when you equip people with the tools and knowledge necessary to affect change for themselves and their communities. This wasn’t a bunch of paid organizers and lawyers making this happen, but it absolutely was a beautiful manifestation of our investments in these residents and this community. Changing a transportation system is HARD WORK–almost impossible–and in Kenilworth, they’ve kicked butt TWICE! WMATA is the largest single employer outside of the government in this area–a multi-billion dollar business–and it takes guts to go up against big money and fight. I’m just overwhelmed with pride right now, and I’m so thankful to end 2014 on this note! THIS is the sort of rock-star stuff the Community Lawyering project does. Whoohoo! Aja’s work is made possible in part through private funds awarded by the DC Bar Foundation.

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