By Alex Kurtz After an election so close that it almost automatically generated a recount, in April LaRuby May won the Ward 8 seat on the DC City Council. Although she won by a narrow margin, Councilmember May has continued to garner support even after being sworn in; she encourages constituents’ participation in their community with the goal to “see Ward 8 rise.” Her newsletter, The Rise, first published just a month into her term, keeps Ward 8 informed about her work, providing residents with necessary information to actively participate in their community through community meetings and “pop-up” offices. It also helps them meet their own families’ needs, providing public safety contact information and agency response timeframes. It was her work with children, in part, that led May to law school and to her current position. While working for a nonprofit that served children, and teaching them about the importance of giving back to their communities, May was urged by the children to become a lawyer. Their enthusiasm played an important role in her decision to attend law school at the University of the District of Columbia, where her legal education was influenced by a strong commitment to public service. Since then, she has dedicated herself to serving others. Councilmember May assured the children and families that she serves that her actions would be consistent with her words, and she has strived to honor this commitment since entering office. As an ambassador for Ward 8, she and her colleagues at organizations such as the Neighborhood Legal Services Program have worked closely to ensure that constituents are connected with the legal services they need. When May finds a particular legal need that isn’t covered by the available services in the District, she seeks help from law firms. She also recently co-introduced legislation with Councilmember Brandon Todd that, if approved by her colleagues on the Council, would provide seniors with access to legal clinics. May is also the first Councilmember to introduce Pop-Up Office Hours in Ward 8. Her goal is to connect residents with resources from various government agencies in DC, such as onsite emergency benefits and immunizations so that students can start school on time. May believes that the government shouldn’t always expect people to come to them, and that it should bring services to the people who need them most. Alex Kurtz is a student at Washington College and a former intern at Washington Council of Lawyers.
The DC Office of Human Rights is sponsoring a Know Your Rights Workshop at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library on Tuesday, September 22, at 7:00 p.m. The workshop will cover fair housing issues, focusing on discrimination against people with vouchers or other subsidies, discrimination against people of color, people with disabilities, and other protected communities. The Anacostia Neighborhood Library is located at 1800 Good Hope Road SE, and can be reached by Metrobus routes 92, V5, W6, and W8. To request a reasonable accommodation or interpretation for the workshop, please contact Teresa Rainey at (202) 727-5343 / email@example.com by September 11.
By Daniel Choi In a small room at the Francis Gregory library in Ward 7, a staff attorney from the Neighborhood Legal Services Program is ready for a different kind of legal clinic—one targeting the needs of people trying to get jobs. The librarian makes an announcement over the speaker, and in the course of two short hours, seven people stop by for free one-on-one legal consultations about their criminal records, discrimination, wage theft, credit reports, suspended drivers licenses, and other barriers to employment. NLSP launched Jobseeker Legal Clinics in October 2014 as part of its larger Breaking Barriers to Employment project. An NLSP attorney visits DC Public Library branches across the District, including those, like Francis Gregory, located East of the River. NLSP is hoping to reach low-income and homeless library patrons who are seeking work but whose legal barriers are preventing them from obtaining and keeping stable employment. Since the project began, NLSP has held nearly 60 Jobseeker Legal Clinics and 10 know-your-rights presentations, and has performed over 165 individual legal consultations at various branches of the DC Public Library. Jobseeker Clinics will resume in fall 2015. Why hold clinics at the Library? While the overall economy is improving, this is not true for all residents of Washington, DC. According to December 2014 numbers, Wards 6, 7, and 8 had respective unemployment rates of 6.2 percent, 13 percent, and 16.3 percent; the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent during the same period. With the transition from paper to electronic job applications, and the high cost of computer and internet access, more and more unemployed DC residents are turning to the Library as a resource for their job application needs. In fact, according to the American Library Association, nearly two-thirds of libraries provide the only free computer and internet access in their communities. Fortunately, DC Public Library is leading a national trend in transforming library spaces from passive information repositories to active social-service centers. With 25 branches around the city, including seven locations East of the River, the DC Public Library is already in communities where help is needed. The Library recently hired a full-time social worker, and many librarians are already systematically assisting patrons with computer skills, cover letters, and resumes. From the legal end, NLSP provides assistance and resources to librarians and patrons alike. With an official partnership in place, NLSP is trying to connect low-income library patrons with legal and social-service organizations throughout the city. NLSP is interested in expanding our partnerships and involving more pro bono attorneys in the library. Ultimately, the goal is to break down barriers to employment—both systemically and one barrier at a time. For more information about NLSP, the Breaking Barriers to Employment Project, or Jobseeker Legal Clinics, please visit www.nlsp.org. For specific questions, please contact Heather Hodges, Pro Bono Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 269-5119.
Our Looking into Low Bono series addressed an often-overlooked question: how do we provide legal services to people who are above the poverty line, but who would struggle to pay for legal services at the market rate. According to the ABA, in 2012 nearly a million people had their legal needs unmet due to “insufficient resources.” In 2013 –2014, the D.C. Bar convened a group to examine models for addressing these unmet legal needs. And in August of 2014, the American Bar Association urged its House of Delegates to adopt a resolution exhorting bar associations, courts, law schools, legal services organizations, and law firms to advance initiatives that encourage and equip newly-admitted lawyers to meet the legal needs of “underserved populations.” Looking into Low Bono promoted a community-wide discussion about various approaches to increasing the provision of “low bono” legal services aimed at clients who are ineligible for free legal assistance. If you weren’t able to make it for these events, or if you were but still want more information, we’ve collected some of the key resources that were identified or discussed at our Looking Into Low Bono series. And if you’d like to find out even more, or join our Google Group, please email our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez. Intro to Low Bono/The Justice Gap American Bar Association, Be the Change (video) Modest Means Programs (October 2014) Further Reading (October 2014) Supporting Reduced-Fee Lawyers D.C. Bar Practice Management Advisory Service: A free and confidential service of the D.C. Bar to provide practice management information and resources to members. It offers a variety of services, including telephone consultations for practice guidance and ethical questions. All consultations are confidential. It also offers trainings, such as Basic Training and Beyond, Successful Small Firm Practice, Lunch & Learn opportunities, confidential counseling services for stress and substance abuse, and an attorney-client arbitration board to aid in settling fee disputes. Civil Justice, Inc: A nonprofit organization that offers a lawyer referral service. Attorneys who participate in the Civil Justice Network are solo and small firm Maryland attorneys who receive referrals, mentoring, and networking opportunities that allow them to expand their own practices while increasing access to legal assistance for traditionally underserved members of the public. Reduced-Fee Lawyer Referral Services Washington State Bar Association’s Moderate Means referral program: Washington State Bar Association partners with the law schools of Gonzaga University, Seattle University, and the University of Washington to operate this referral program. Access to Justice Lawyer Referral Service (coming soon): This service will be launched by attorney Steven Krieger and will connect reduced-fee lawyers with modest means clients in Virginia. Montgomery County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service D.C. Bar, Courts, Lawyers, and Administration of Justice Section, 2011 Report on the Proposed Code of Judicial Conduct Incubators Incubator and post-graduate residency models developed by law schools, bar associations, and private firms help low-bono lawyers develop the skills necessary to represent individuals, families, and businesses: The Affordable Law Firm of DC: A partnership between Georgetown Law, DLA Piper and Arent Fox to create a non-profit law firm, staffed by new Georgetown graduates, to provide affordable legal services to modest-means clients American Lawyer, Georgetown Pairs Up With DLA Piper, Arent Fox to Open Low Bono Firm Chicago Bar Foundation, Justice Entrepreneurs Project: Trains lawyers interested in running reduced-fee law practices Arizona State University Alumni Law Group incubator program Using Technology Technology can help reduced-fee practitioners (and even pro se litigants) get valuable information and do legal work more efficiently. Presentation by Billie Jo Kaufman, American University Washington College of Law Presentation by Briane Cornish, Responsive Law Presentation by Tanina Rostain, Georgetown Law on using apps to help litigants find information Debt & Eviction Navigator: An app that supports social workers serving home-bound elderly; built by Georgetown Law and Jewish Association Serving the Aging New York City Earned Sick Time Advisor: A self-help app to determine user’s entitlement to paid sick leave under NYC law; built by Georgetown Law and A Better Balance *** We’ll continue to look into Low Bono in the coming months. Our next event takes place on September 21, and it's free and open to all. If you’d like to find out even more or join our Google Group, please email our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez. Finally, if you'd like an even more detailed summary of our low bono series and these resources, our low bono working group has put together a longer Compendium of Resources.
By Domonique Williams and Gavette Richardson On a hot day in late August 2014, a group of law students from Howard and Catholic Universities, along with supervisory attorneys from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, converged east of the river to meet our new clients—a group of tenants in a Congress Heights neighborhood who reported serious health and safety violations in their apartments. These residents had come together as a tenants association and had engaged with the WLCH to stand up for their rights and bring about change. Along with our colleagues at Catholic’s clinic, we were asked to represent seven tenants facing numerous housing code violations. Although we had been given a brief overview of the situation in our clinic classes, nothing quite prepared us for the breadth of violations we encountered, or the stories that the tenants told us about their fight to improve their living conditions. We inspected each unit and found multiple violations— including infestations of mice and bedbugs, hanging and exposed electrical wires, lack of exterior lighting, broken locks on exterior doors, leaks, floods, and more. As the late afternoon turned into evening, our group of students and lawyers stood outside to do a final assessment of the building’s conditions. We found standing water and sewage in a common hallway, rust in tubs, mold on walls, and a building-wide water heater that stopped working every time it rained (the basement flooded, extinguishing the pilot light). We also took note of the rats playing in large trash piles of old couches and dilapidated furniture outside the building, and the lack of proper safety lighting in the back. We were left asking why any property owner would allow residents to live in such conditions. Considering that the communities surrounding Metro stations are some of the most coveted residences in the city, why would any owner allow buildings to fall into such disrepair? The WLCH lawyers suggested a horrifying answer: the worse the living conditions in the buildings, the higher the number of tenants who leave on their own, ultimately making it easier to redevelop the apartment buildings. After notifying the housing provider of the numerous violations and receiving no response, we filed a Housing Conditions suit in Superior Court. At our initial hearing, the housing provider's lawyer admitted that the buildings were unlivable but suggested that, because the buildings were slated for redevelopment, the housing provider should be responsible for making only the most basic repairs—even though the redevelopment could be years away. We objected to the idea that when housing providers hope to raze or sell a building they somehow become exempt from the housing code. Many of our clients spoke up to describe the horrible conditions in their building, and it was their voices that seemed to persuade the judge that enforcement of the housing code should not turn on the housing provider’s redevelopment plans. In the months after our initial hearing, we worked tirelessly for our clients. We sent letters to property managers, participated in court-appointed housing inspections, worked with opposing counsel to organize repair efforts, and represented our clients in court. Ultimately, all of the conditions were abated, but the redevelopment of the area is still pending. In light of this experience, we have also tried to amplify our clients’ voices in the redevelopment process; we recently testified at a Zoning Commission hearing related to the redevelopment. Our experience representing these clients was invaluable. It not only gave us courtroom experience but also opened our eyes to the severity and ubiquity of housing problems faced by DC residents, particularly those in disadvantaged neighborhoods east of the river. We still think about these tenants and wish them the best in their ongoing efforts to protect and enforce their right to safe housing. Domonique Williams and Gavette Richardson are rising third-year law students at the Howard University School of Law. They represented tenants from the Congress Heights neighborhood in housing litigation as part of their work with Howard’s Fair Housing Clinic.