by Nefertari Elshiekh
July 9th marked the first of five virtual panels in our Summer Forum 2020 series, starting off with the Transaction and Non-Litigation Practice panel.
The panelists included:
- Nicole Austin-Hillery, US Program Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
- Darryl Maxwell, Assistant Director of the DC Bar Pro Bono Center
- Jim Joseph, Co-chair of Arnold & Porter’s Tax Practice
- Walter Smith, Executive Director of DC Appleseed
The discussion was moderated by Susie Hoffman, the Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring.
The panelists began the conversation by talking about their career trajectory. While some had a less conventional path, Jim described his linear path, having been with Arnold & Porter for 31 years and Nicole mentioned how everything she did since junior high was strategic, as she knew she wanted to be a civil and human rights lawyer.
The conversation centered on how the work of each of the panelists has changed since March to be more responsive to the unique needs and concerns facing society in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walter, who is mainly involved in the policy arena, described how DC Appleseed works on almost every major issue facing the city whether it be housing, education, or healthcare. However, the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. Walter touched on how it often takes a year or so for DC Appleseed to complete their work, but with the pandemic, they have had to have a faster turnaround.
Jim, who has done both transactional and policy work, talked about how his firm has pivoted as the times have changed to help where it is most needed. He helped set up a pro bono program to help restaurant owners with getting access to stimulus money, which has included over 1000 restaurant owners participating in training sessions.
Darryl highlighted that his work allows him to support people that are not only looking to start businesses but who are also looking to grow non-profits. This gives them the ability to make a larger footprint and support even more people in need within the region and beyond.
All the panelists emphasized that one difference between impact litigation and policy work is the time. As Nicole mentioned, policy and research allow you to be responsive to the moment, which is great for her because as she put it, “I’m impatient. I want justice yesterday.” Nevertheless, Walter highlighted that it is crucial to have litigation in your toolbox to bring about systemic reform.
The conversation concluded with the panelists talking about how we can create real change in the country right now and what people can do to help. Nicole passionately underscored the work Darryl and his organization does: “If you can help groups of people, who have been historically set aside and left out, if you can help give them the tools to build wealth and gain access to better systems that can help their communities, that’s what real change is. That’s real impact.”
Nefertari Elshiekh is the 2020 Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Intern.