by Nefertari Elshiekh
This week, we took a deeper dive into additional practice areas where individual representation is often the stepping stone to systemic change. This intersection of the impacts of policy and direct representation was elucidated during the Poverty Law Panel, held on July 14th. Debbie Cuevas Hill, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, moderated this panel.
- Tracy Goodman, Children’s Law Center
- Ted Howard, Wiley Rein LLP
- Keeshea Turner Roberts, Howard University School of Law
- Bradford Voegeli, Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP)
The discussion began with an explanation of the specific work each panelist does and how that has changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tracy, who is the director of the Children’s Law Center’s medical-legal partnership, explained how her organization has shifted to focus on pandemic-related considerations, which adds a new layer to all of her work. Ted, who is the pro bono partner at Wiley, described the wide array of opportunities he has to do good work ranging from impact litigation to civil rights, giving him the opportunity to make an impact both individually and on behalf of the firm. Keeshea, who is an adjunct professor, emphasized her privilege in being able to “teach young minds how to be great lawyers,” and addressed how Howard School of Law is at the forefront of making access to justice a reality. Bradford, who directs pro bono cases and volunteer programs at NLSP, highlighted how he aims to make sure his volunteers have a good experience, are well trained, and receive mentorship on the cases that are assigned to them.
Some of the panelists also touched on how to find opportunities for pro bono services within the District. Nationally, there are comparable pro bono opportunities and organizations doing this work. Anyone interested in pro bono and public-interest opportunities in this area should look to similar organizations within their local communities.
The panelists also discussed pressing issues that D.C. and the rest of the nation are facing: the pandemic and the anticipated avalanche of cases once moratoriums end, and the racial inequalities that have always existed, but have been exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, Keeshea underscored how despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, to date, the work is still not done. She offered striking statistics from a study she found, which reported that black households are twice as likely as white households to be evicted. The work she and her students do aims to bring a more fair and equitable resolution by amplifying the voices of the people they represent.
We were also reminded that with the emotional work in this area, it’s important to recognize the toll it can take. Both Keeshea and Tracy echoed the importance of self-care and focusing on what you can control in each case. Even if you didn’t get the exact outcome you had hoped for doesn’t mean it is a negative outcome, so take comfort in those wins and use that to propel you to keep doing this work.
Nefertari Elshiekh is the 2020 Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Intern.