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Now Accepting Nominations For Our 2016 Awards

Now Accepting Nominations for our 2016 Awards

Do you know a dynamic legal-services lawyer who represents low-income clients, works to improve access to justice, or thinks creatively to solve difficult legal problems? Do you know any dedicated government lawyers who also volunteer their time to organize pro bono efforts or represent low-income clients? If so, we need your nominations for our 2016 Legal Services Award and 2016 Government Pro Bono Award! Each year at our Awards Ceremony, we recognize the extraordinary work of some of the District's most dedicated public-interest and pro bono lawyers. Our 2016 Awards Ceremony will take place on Thursday, December 1 at 6:30 pm. (more…)
Street Sense Columnist Connects At-Risk Residents With Legal Resources

Street Sense Columnist Connects At-Risk Residents with Legal Resources

By Sierra Blanchard-Hodge Timothy Farrell, volunteer writer for the DC newspaper Street Sense, is not your average urban columnist. His youthful exploits may appear to be … unusual—he recalls, for example, being hustled into the back of a military truck by army personnel during an evacuation in Rhodesia. But despite these experiences, Tim had a fairly privileged upbringing, and he now seeks to use his education and legal expertise to give back to the community. (More…)
Arnold & Porter Wins A Pair Of Pro Bono Criminal Cases

Arnold & Porter Wins a Pair of Pro Bono Criminal Cases

Attorneys from Arnold & Porter, along with their investigators and staff, recently won acquittals for clients in two separate, pro-bono cases. These terrific results ensured that two clients were able to celebrate the holidays at home with their families. In one of the cases, Counsel Mary Kennedy and Associate Sean Hennessy (on the right in the photo) represented a man who was indicted (along with two other codefendants) for aggravated assault while armed. After a two-day trial, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges—after deliberating for less than an hour. In the other matter, Mary and Associate Alex Berrang (on the left in the photo) represented a young man charged with first-degree murder while armed (as well as other firearm offenses). After a four-day trial, the jury acquitted their client on all counts. In each case, the jurors praised the defense team and cited the attorneys’ passion for their clients as a factor in the verdicts. (More…)
Our New Administrative Director, Leandra Carrasco

Our New Administrative Director, Leandra Carrasco

Leandra Carrasco joined us in December as Administrative Director. We’re delighted that Leandra will be using her considerable skill and enthusiasm to support pro-bono and public-interest lawyers in their work. With a background in community outreach and development, Leandra has always wanted to use her law degree to promote social justice. She received an Advocate for Justice scholarship to attend the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law and graduated magna cum laude. For Leandra, law school had two highlights: The first was completing over 750 hours of pro bono legal work at the Community Development and HIV/AIDS Family Law clinics. The second was working for the school’s founder, Edgar Cahn, as a teaching assistant and service coordinator for the mandatory Law & Justice class—which requires all 1Ls to complete 40 hours of law-related community service. (More…)
Member Profile: Jaya Saxena

Member Profile: Jaya Saxena

1.   Tell us a bit about yourself. I am an Assistant Director at The George Washington University Law School's Center for Professional Development and Career Strategy (Career Center). In that role, I advise JD students on a variety of career-related issues, including self-assessment, resume and cover letter reviews, networking and informational interviewing, and job search strategies. I also advise students specifically interested in public sector opportunities in the government and nonprofit sectors and state court judicial clerkships. In addition to counseling students, I help to coordinate a variety of programs in these areas throughout the year. Before joining GW Law's Career Center, I was a Career Counselor at the George Mason University School of Law. The work that I do now is a wonderful bridge between my coaching background and prior legal experience. Other prior experiences include working at a national healthcare advocacy organization where I primarily assisted in the management of funding to state-based health care advocacy organizations and practicing  law as a legal services attorney at Maryland Legal Aid. In the five years that I was at Legal Aid, my practice focused on public benefits and elder law. I also worked on issues related to Limited English Proficient individuals and health care reform and co-chaired the Elder Law Task Force, which comprised elder law practitioners throughout the community who regularly met to discuss legal issues relevant to an elder law practice. Immediately after graduating law school in 2005, I clerked for the Honorable John M. Mott of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  2.   What are you working on right now? Most of our students have either started their summer internships or are getting ready to graduate so the summer is the perfect time to reflect, re-energize, and start planning for the next school year. In terms of advising, I am mostly counseling students who are still seeking summer or post-graduate employment. I’m also starting to respond to inquiries about our Fall Recruitment Program. Many of my colleagues and I recently returned from the 2015 Annual Education Conference in Chicago that was hosted by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and I’m also working to put together proposals for public sector programming at next year’s conference.  3.   How long have you been a Washington Council of Lawyers member, why did you join, and what are some things you've done as a member? I have been a member for about two years. I had identified Washington Council of Lawyers as an organization that I wanted to get involved with given my commitment to public interest law, and I thought that serving as a mentor in the mentoring program would be a great way to get more active. This is my second year participating in that program;. I firmly believe that a mentor is really just anyone you can learn from and I have tremendously enjoyed my participation in that program. Through my participation in the mentoring program, I became more familiar with the organization and very quickly realized it is an incredible community of public-interest minded individuals. That insight, along with my increased familiarity with Washington Council of Lawyers programming, prompted me to get even more involved as a member of its Board of Directors. This is my first year serving on the Board of Directors and I am currently co-chair of our Membership Committee.  4.   What has been most valuable about membership and participation in Washington Council of Lawyers? There have been many valuable aspects about membership and participation in Washington Council of Lawyers. First and foremost is the opportunity to meet and interact with public interest minded law students and lawyers in the community. Whenever I attend an event—be it a happy hour or a substantive program—I walk away feeling reenergized and eager to support law students and recent graduates interested in public interest and pro bono work in my day-to-day job counseling GW Law students. Another tremendous benefit is the extensive programming that takes place throughout the year, including practical skills trainings, post-graduate public interest fellowship programs, and the upcoming Summer Forum that draws law students from throughout the country who are working in DC for the summer. 5.   How has legal practice/the DC legal scene changed since you’ve started practicing? I think it’s a tough legal market and it’s definitely more competitive than when I graduated from law school in 2005. Disadvantaged communities continue to remain in dire need of legal services, so the work is out there, but employers and organizations don’t necessarily have the resources to hire people. Meanwhile, DC has 7 area law schools with many graduates interested in establishing their legal careers in the area. If you’re a law student or recent graduate seeking public interest employment, it is critical to demonstrate a commitment to the issues and to build relationships with practitioners in the field, and Washington Council of Lawyers provides the space to do both. 6.   Any advice for law students/new lawyers? I will preface my response by stating that much of my perspective stems from my health and wellness coaching background and a blog series I’m currently writing. Generally, I think it’s critically important for law students and lawyers to engage in an ongoing process of self-reflection and discovery in order to identify their values and strengths, areas in need of improvement, what they enjoy doing, the kind of work environment suited to their personalities,…

Member Profile: David Steib

Member Profile: David Steib

From time to time, we'll be sharing interviews with our members, so we can learn more about their legal careers and the role that Washington Council of Lawyers has played in their professional development. Today we spoke with our Membership Co-Chair, David Steib. 1. Tell us a bit about yourself. I am the Language Access Director at Ayuda, a nonprofit in DC that helps immigrants overcome obstacles in order to succeed and thrive in the United States. In my role, I work to eradicate discrimination based on national origin or disability by advocating for the use of interpreters and translators to ensure that language barriers never impede a person from receiving the services to which he or she is entitled. I have been a lawyer since 2008, when I graduated from law school. In that time, I have spent four years as a litigator in the housing unit at the Legal Aid Society of DC and two years heading the Office of Public Interest at American University Washington College of Law.  2. What are you working on right now? One exciting initiative that I am working on right now is getting legislation passed to add a private right of action to the DC Language Access Act of 2004, so that people whose rights have been violated will be able to sue to enforce their rights.  3. How long have you been a Washington Council of Lawyer member, why did you join, and what are some things you've done as a member? I have been a member since 2008. I joined because I was a new public interest attorney (I graduated from law school in 2008) and one of my colleagues at Legal Aid (Jodi Feldman) encouraged me to become a mentee in the mentoring program. I was accepted into the program, and Dena Bauman, the public interest advisor at UDC Law, was my mentor. Now I work with her as a fellow board member and on our membership committee. I have loved being a member of Washington Council of Lawyers. As a member, I have been both a mentee and mentor in the mentoring program and have attended many related events. I have also been to many of the organization's happy hours and awards functions. I have volunteered with Gifts for the Homeless. I have also participated in the litigation skills training. And I have served on the Board for the last two years. 4. What have you found most valuable about your membership in Washington Council of Lawyers? Membership has exposed me to great lawyers doing great work. That exposure has resulted in new friendships, new professional ties, and continued inspiration. In law school, my friends and I created a new student group: Students for Public Interest Community Enhancement (SPICE). The group was meant to ensure that public interest law students (as well as law students committed to pro bono) had the moral support, access to information, and camaraderie they needed in order to devote themselves to the hard row that they were hoeing. Washington Council of Lawyers is like SPICE for practicing attorneys. 5. How has legal practice/DC legal scene changed since you’ve started practicing? Since I started practicing, there has been a great increase in the number of postgraduate fellowships sponsored by law schools. These fellowships are meant to help graduating students who do not yet have employment by giving them the opportunity to practice and get experience while conducting a job search and while waiting for their bar results. On the one hand, they are a great way to get your foot in the door as a new attorney. On the other hand, they don’t always give you enough money to pay the bills. Big law firms in DC are also hiring fewer people than they were when I graduated from law school. In general, the job market seems tougher. 6.  Any advice for law students/new lawyers? Don’t hesitate to ask folks for informational interviews. You can learn a lot by talking to people about their career paths and about the resources that they rely on to keep abreast of the field and of new opportunities. Thanks to David for answering our questions. And if you'd like to join David and the other wonderful members of Washington Council of Lawyers, you can do so here.  

Member Profile: Taryn Wilgus Null

Member Profile: Taryn Wilgus Null

From time to time, we'll be sharing interviews with our members, so we can learn more about their legal careers and the role that Washington Council of Lawyers has played in their professional development. For our inaugural installment, we spoke with longtime member Taryn Wilgus Null. Tell us a bit about yourself. Currently, I’m an associate at Mehri & Skalet, a small, public spirited law firm that represents plaintiffs in employment, fair housing, and consumer protection cases.  In June, I’ll be joining the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section as a Trial Attorney.  I have been out of law school for nearly eight years and have previously clerked for a judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals and completed fellowships at the National Women’s Law Center, where I worked on education and employment issues, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where I litigated First Amendment religion issues. What are you working on right now? I am drafting a complaint in a Title VII class action involving race discrimination, working on an opposition to a motion for summary judgment in an individual Title VII case, and working on a post-hearing brief in a Fair Labor Standards Act arbitration involving unpaid pre- and post-shift work at a federal prison. How long have you been a Washington Council of Lawyers member, why did you join, and what are some things you've done as a member? I joined Washington Council of Lawyers in 2007 when I was working at my first job out of law school. One of my colleagues at the National Women’s Law Center sent me an email about the mentoring program and told me that WCL was a great organization. I joined the the mentoring program as a mentee. The year after I was a mentee in the mentoring program, I joined the Board and co-chaired the mentoring program.  I have since served as the Board President and Secretary and have served as a mentor in the mentoring program. What have you found most valuable about your membership in Washington Council of Lawyers? The connections that the organization provides have been invaluable. The community of lawyers has profoundly affected the enthusiasm that I have for practicing public interest law in DC. How has legal practice/DC legal scene changed since you’ve started practicing? The legal job market has unfortunately become much, much more difficult since I started practicing.  The silver lining for nonprofits is that in recent years they have had assistance from volunteer attorneys, as well as lawyers with fellowships funded by big law firms or law schools. Any advice for law students/new lawyers? In your first few years of practice, look for as many opportunities as you can to engage in work and activities that will expose you to new practice areas and new people.  There are many dramatically different jobs that a lawyer can have, and it can take some time to find the right fit for you. Thanks to Taryn for answering our questions. And if you'd like to join Taryn and the other wonderful members of Washington Council of Lawyers, you can do so here.

The 2015 Racial Justice Series

The 2015 Racial Justice Series

  • April 22, 2015
  • Blog

From the beginning of the civil rights movement to recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere, advocates have fought discrimination, social exclusion, and violence affecting people of color. In our three-part Racial Justice Series, we’ll explore these problems and ways to solve them. Each part of the series featured both a presentation and an active discussion. Part 1 – Looking at Ferguson and Beyond: Race, Racism and Justice Wednesday, February 11 6:30 – 8:30 pm Hogan Lovells (555 13th Street NW) This discussion of racism and the legal system featured panelists with significant experience and expertise in the areas of civil rights, racial justice, and structural inequality. The Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, D.C. Court of Appeals Professor Anthony Cook, Georgetown Law Nicole Austin-Hillery, Brennan Center for Justice The event was moderated by Camille D. Holmes, Director of Leadership and Racial Equity at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. If you missed the event, check out this Storify, featuring tweets, photos, and links from the event. We've also collected links to articles about the DOJ Ferguson report, which came out shortly after this event. Part 2 – Below the Surface: Exploring Implicit Bias in Ourselves and The Legal System Thursday, March 12 6:30 – 8:30 pm Hogan Lovells (555 13th Street NW) In this workshop we discussed implicit bias – how it impacts our practice and the administration of justice – and what we can do to correct them. The event was facilitated by Camille D. Holmes, Director of Leadership and Racial Equity at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and Sara Jackson, Pro Bono Coordinator at Georgetown Law. If you missed the event, check out this Storify, featuring tweets, photos, and links from the event. We've also collected a variety of additional resources on implicit bias. Part 3 – Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity (Film & Discussion) Tuesday, April 21 6:30 – 8:30 pm Hogan Lovells (555 13th Street NW) This event began with a screening of Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, a film directed by Shakti Butler. We then used parts of the movie to facilitate discussions about racism, identity, and inequity. The discussion was facilitated by Camille Holmes, Director of Leadership and Racial Equity at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Implicit Bias Resources

  • March 14, 2015
  • Blog

By Sara Jackson There is a wealth of literature available on implicit bias, and articles on the subject appear almost daily. The following is a non-exhaustive list of video, web, and print resources, some of which we used or referenced at our March 12 event. Videos Immaculate Perception?—Jerry Kang Ted Talk How to Overcome our Biases? Walk Boldly Towards Them—Verna Myers Ted Talk How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race—J Smooth Ted Talk American Denial—Independent Lens film on Implicit Bias Online Resources Project Implicit ABA Spotlight on Implicit Bias Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: Understanding Implicit Bias Academic Articles Implicit Bias: A Primer for the Courts—Jerry Kang State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review—Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity Trojan Horses of Race—Jerry Kang, 118 Harvard Law Review 1489 (2005) (Professor Kang’s original law review article on implicit bias and the Implicit Association Test) Implicit Bias in the Courtroom—Jerry Kang, et al., 59 UCLA Law Review 1124 (2012) The Id, The Ego and Equal Protection in the 21st Century: Building on Charles Lawrence’s Vision to Mount a Contemporary Challenge to the Intent Doctrine—Eva Paterson, Kimberly Thomas-Rapp & Sara Jackson, 40 Conn. L. Rev. 1175 (2008) (examines where implicit bias plays out in society and in the law, and discussed inroads for updating our jurisprudence to reflect modern social science) Recent News Coverage Is Everyone Just a Little Bit Racist?—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Across America, Whites Are biased and They Don’t Even Know It—Chris Mooney, Washington Post When Talking About Bias Backfires—Adam Grant & Sheryl Sandberg, New York Times Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People —Matthew Hutson, Washington Post Sara Jackson is a member of our Board of Directors. By day, she is Pro Bono Coordinator at Georgetown Law's Office of Public Interest and Community Service.

Racial Justice Update: The DOJ Ferguson Report

  • March 7, 2015
  • Blog

By Greg Lipper At the first installment in our Racial Justice Series, we talked about racism, recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere, and how lawyers can address these issues. This week, lawyers at the DOJ Civil Rights Division issued a lengthy, scathing report on law-enforcement practices in Ferguson. We’ve collected a variety of links to coverage of the report and its implications for the legal system: Release of the Report Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department – DOJ Civil Rights Division Ferguson Police Tainted by Bias, Justice Department Says – N.Y. Times The Gangsters of Ferguson – Ta-Nahisi Coates/The Atlantic Reactions in Ferguson… and Beyond Silence in Ferguson, and Defiance Elsewhere, In Wake of DOJ Report – St. Louis Post-Dispatch Ferguson Mayor Says Scathing DOJ Report ‘Not Proof’ of Widespread Abuses – St. Louis Post-Dispatch The Problem Is Way Bigger Than Ferguson, Justice Department Report Reveals – Huffington Post Ferguson’s Neighbors In St. Louis County Greet Damning DOJ Report With A Shrug – Huffington Post Reforming Ferguson Law Enforcement Policing Task Force Recommends Body Cams, Better Reporting, More Sleep For Officers – Huffington Post Some in Ferguson Who Are Part of Problem Are Asked to Help Solve It – N.Y. Times After the Justice Department Report, What’s Next for Ferguson? – Washington Post The Federal Government Probably Won’t Dismantle the Ferguson Police. That’s a Good Thing – Vox The Ferguson Court System Nixon calls for improving Missouri courts after DOJ report on Ferguson – St. Louis Public Radio Two Police Officers, Court Clerk Out at Ferguson Over Racist Emails – St. Louis Post-Dispatch Ferguson Judge Behind Aggressive Fines Policy Owes $170,000 in Unpaid Taxes – The Guardian Greg Lipper is our Communications Director. By day, he is a litigator at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. You can follow him on Twitter at @theglipper.

2014 Presidents’ Award For Public Service: Avis Buchanan

2014 Presidents’ Award for Public Service: Avis Buchanan

  • December 3, 2014
  • Blog

For the last ten years, Avis E. Buchanan has been the director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia(PDS), which provides defense, and related legal and non-legal services, to indigent adults and children charged with crimes and delinquent acts in the local DC courts. PDS is widely regarded as one of the best public defender offices in the country, local or federal; Avis is the longest-serving director in PDS history. As director of PDS, Avis oversees an extensive range of cutting-edge legal and non-legal services aimed at providing the best possible representation to criminal defendants. PDS has a staff of 220, roughly half of whom are lawyers. PDS has seven legal units and, uncommonly, pulls from those to create practice groups that focus, for example, on forensics and mental health, two chief aspects of trial and sentence-mitigation work. Specialists not only assist in individual cases but push for reforms of local and federal policies and legislation. They also run training programs for lawyers, social workers, investigators, and others working on the front lines of DC justice. Indeed, PDS was set up as a model public defender organization, Avis says. “We give people a fighting chance, just as rich people have… We are helping people at a very crucial time in their lives. We are dealing with people facing scornful, judgmental attitudes.” PDS attorneys force the system to see people as human beings – not just criminals, or bodies moving through the system. Avis has worked to expand access to justice throughout her career, in both civil and criminal cases. After graduating from law school and clerking for a federal appellate judge, Avis joined PDS as a staff attorney in 1982. She represented criminal defendants for six and a half years, during the height of the crack epidemic in D.C. For the next 13 years, Avis served as a staff attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Project, and then director of litigation at Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. There, Avis litigated individual and class action civil rights cases across the country. After over a decade of litigating civil-rights cases, Avis returned to PDS in 2002, as deputy director, and then became its director in 2004. Avis, who grew up in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, says that the struggle for civil rights has been a “running theme of my existence” and results directly from the influence of her father. Her parents’ values and her faith led her into public interest law and continue to guide her work. “The idea of helping people and doing for others is what I was taught at home and taught at church,” she said. And Avis continues to be active in her community: she sits on her church’s board of trustees, her former elementary school’s board, and on the board that runs the local Adventist Health Care system. She also sits on the board of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and on our own Honorary Board. Finally, Avis is a mentor to young people in a variety of settings. She has served as a mentor through the public interest program at Harvard Law School, and has volunteered to be a mentor at Georgetown Law. She also reaches out to younger people at church, and takes time to help young people who friends or colleagues send to her for advice. “I have them come down to the office, introduce them to attorneys and take them to do court-watching,” she says. “It demystifies the job, and shows them it is within their reach.” We’re not the first to notice Avis’s accomplishments. She has received the Wiley A. Branton Award from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Edwin D. Wolf Award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. We’re pleased to join these organizations in honoring Avis’s many contributions to both civil and criminal justice.

2014 Law Firm Award: Sidley Austin

2014 Law Firm Award: Sidley Austin

  • November 25, 2014
  • Blog

Our 2014 Law Firm Award goes to our longtime friends at Sidley Austin LLP. Sidley is a global law firm with more than 1,800 lawyers in 18 offices around the world, including in Washington, DC. While often hired to handle complex transactions and “bet the company” litigation, Sidley also recognizes its profound responsibility to use its lawyers’ skills and experience to provide services to individuals and organizations that otherwise would be unable to afford legal representation. “Pro bono is something our firm’s management cares deeply about and takes personally,” say Jeffrey Green, partner and firm-wide chair of Sidley’s Pro Bono Committee, and Becky Troth, pro bono counsel for Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office. As one indication of the firm’s commitment to pro bono work, Sidley’s lawyers and staff devote more than 100,000 hours to pro bono projects annually. Sidley’s Committee on Pro Bono and Public Interest Law was instrumental in implementing four significant firm-wide initiatives in the last ten years: (1) the Capital Litigation Project, handling death penalty appeals; (2) the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project, representing clients in political asylum and other immigration matters; (3) the Veterans Benefits Project, representing veterans in benefits appeals; and (4) the Africa-Asia Agricultural Enterprise Program, serving the world’s poorest farmers and their communities. In addition to these firm-wide projects, Sidley has served pro bono clients in virtually every area of the law, from individual actions to recover disability benefits and child support to national cases affecting voting rights and marriage equality. Another important component of Sidley’s pro bono work is its fellowship program, which allows associates to work at nonprofit organizations before they join the firm. Over the last twelve years, more than 60 incoming Sidley associates have served as DC Bar Pro Bono Fellows at local legal services organizations. Since March 2012, Sidley also has sponsored a loaned associate program with the Legal Aid Society of DC, through which a Sidley associate spends four months working full-time with Legal Aid’s Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project. Over the last year, Sidley has received significant recognition for its pro bono program. Among many other distinctions, it was included among Law360’s Pro Bono Firms of 2014; received the 2014 Exceptional Service Award from the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project; and won the Pro Bono Counsel Award from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Finally, Sidley has provided extensive support directly to Washington Council of Lawyers and our projects. Betsy Howe, a Partner in Sidley’s DC office and chair of Sidley’s Pro Bono Committee in Washington, served as our treasurer in 2012–2013 and our president in 2013–2014. Becky Troth has been an important part of the DC Pro Bono Weekworking group for many years; together, with Mayer Brown’s Marcia Maack, Becky organized the Virtual Pro Bono Fair, a lasting resource for the pro bono community. We are also grateful for the firm’s generosity with use of their space and sponsorships of our events. It is due to the strong support of law firms like Sidley Austin that we have been able to grow, thrive, and better promote pro bono service and public interest law. We are grateful to Sidley Austin and pleased to honor the firm with our 2014 Law Firm Award. You can learn more about Sidley and our other award winners at our 2014 Awards Ceremony.

2014 Legal Services Award: Jodi Feldman (Legal Aid DC)

2014 Legal Services Award: Jodi Feldman (Legal Aid DC)

  • November 14, 2014
  • Blog

Our inaugural Legal Services Award goes to Jodi Feldman, Supervising Attorney for Pro Bono and Training Programs at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Jodi is known throughout our legal community for her work ethic and commitment to pro bono service, but she also has been called the quintessential “unsung hero.” Most of her work involves building infrastructure behind the scenes – creating and improving programs that enable pro bono attorneys to provide high-quality legal help to thousands of people in need. After graduating from Georgetown Law, Jodi practiced at Wiley Rein before becoming a Staff Attorney and Pro Bono Coordinator of the Legal Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health. Jodi then joined Legal Aid in 2004, and jumpstarted its pro bono program. Legal Aid has increased the number of cases it places with volunteers every year for the past four years. Last year, attorneys contributed a staggering $16.5 million worth of attorney time for Legal Aid. Jodi’s work has increased not only the quantity of Legal Aid’s referrals, but also the quality of the resulting representation. She carefully matches pro bono lawyers with appropriate cases, makes sure that those lawyers get a Legal Aid mentor while working on their cases, and follows each case’s progress to its finish. She meets with various law firms throughout Washington, DC and coordinates firm-specific trainings. Jodi’s leadership also inspired unemployment-insurance referral relationships with both Arnold & Porter and McKenna Long & Aldridge and led to the establishment and maintenance of Skadden’s domestic violence Impact Project. On top of all of that, Jodi has given back to our legal community. She manages Legal Aid’s student intern program. She has been an active member of Washington Council of Lawyers and served on our board for several years. In fact, one board member notes that Jodi’s enthusiasm inspired her to become a member and participate in our events. Jodi is dedicated, energetic, and enthusiastic – and she gets results. We couldn’t be more pleased to honor her with our Legal Services Award. You can learn more about Jodi and our other award winners at our 2014 Awards Ceremony.

Meet Lydia C. Watts – Our New Associate Director

Meet Lydia C. Watts – Our New Associate Director

  • November 7, 2014
  • Blog

Over the past few years, we've expanded our programs, events, and activities. In fact, we've been expanding so much that we needed more staff to keep all of the trains running. So we're pleased to announce that Lydia C. Watts will be joining us as our Associate Director. A summa cum laude graduate of American University's Washington College of Law, Lydia has an impressive and diverse array of experience and a deep commitment to public interest law. She is Deputy Director of the DC Access to Justice Commission, which works to address barriers to the justice systems facing low- and moderate-income people in Washington, DC. Since September 2005, Lydia has also been a Principal of Greater Good Consulting, which specializes in nonprofit organizational development. Lydia was previously Executive Director and Co-Founder of Women Empowered Against Violence, Director of Quality and Program Enhancement of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, Executive Director of the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. She is the founding board chair of the Network for Victim Recovery of DC, a holistic service provider for victims of crimes in Washington, DC. And she serves on the Board of Directors of Mentoring Today. As for her new position, Lydia is as excited as we are: "I am so honored to join the staff of the Washington Council of Lawyers. As a long-time public interest attorney in DC, I am very familiar with all of its amazing programs, events, and opportunities to keep our community informed and united. I am  eager to be a part of expanding those offerings and getting to know our members even better." A warm welcome to Lydia, and we hope you all get to meet her soon!

Our 2014 Award Winners

Our 2014 Award Winners

  • October 28, 2014
  • Blog

We're pleased to announce the winners of our 2014 Awards: Legal Services Award Jodi Feldman Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia Government Pro Bono Award John Bowers US Department of Justice, Civil Division Law Firm Award Sidley Austin LLP Above & Beyond Award Gregory Lipper Americans United for Separation of Church and State Presidents' Award for Public Service Avis Buchanan Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia Please congratulate these fine folks and organizations, and join us for the Awards Ceremony on December 4, at 6:30 pm.

Meet Our 2014–15 Officers

  • September 2, 2014
  • Blog

We are a mostly-volunteer organization with an all-volunteer board from whom we select all-volunteer officers. Thanks to these board members for serving as our officers for 2014–2015. Paul Lee (President) is Pro Bono Manager at Dechert. He previously served as the pro bono coordinator for Kids in Need of Defense. Paul has run ten marathons and has bungee jumped off of Victoria Falls Bridge. He also obsesses over maps and knows every world capital. Jim Rubin (VP) is Counsel at Dentons, where he focuses on environmental and natural resource issues. Jim previously spent fifteen years at DOJ’s environmental division and a year at the White House working on climate issues. But after serving as a guest bartender at our “serving justice program” this summer, Jim is seriously reconsidering his choice of profession. Kelly Voss (Secretary) is Pro Bono Counsel at Covington & Burling. Before joining Covington, Kelly was a staff attorney at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. When not working or otherwise thinking about public interest law, Kelly likes rooting for the Nationals, spending time outdoors, and dabbling in countless hobbies (even mastering a few of them). Patty Stasco (Treasurer) practiced for five years at Arnold & Porter, especially enjoying her pro bono immigration work. She now works as an attorney for the federal government. On her down time you’ll likely find her woodworking, shopping at the farmer’s market, or watching school buses go by with her twenty-one-month old son excitedly shouting, “Bus! Bus!” Greg Lipper (Communications Director) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Before that, he did trial and appellate litigation for six years at Covington & Burling. Greg loves animals (especially dogs, bears, and elephants) and would love to be interviewed by Grover. You can find him on Twitter at @theglipper.

Meet Our Summer Intern – Mike Mazella

Meet Our Summer Intern – Mike Mazella

  • July 30, 2014
  • Blog

This summer, we had the privilege to work with a fantastic college student, Mike Mazzella. As Mike’s summer internship with us wraps up, we asked him a few questions: Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? I’m a rising Senior at the University of Arizona Honors College, and I’m majoring in Communication with an emphasis on Pre-Law. I’m also a member of two fraternities, and a former Student Body Senator. Pre-Law? So you want to be a lawyer? Yes! I first got interested in law in high school on my debate team. I started following big cases, getting involved with politics, and delivering more public speeches. I found that I had a talent for rhetoric and research. Plus I’ve always wanted to do something that puts me in a position to help other people. What attracted you to Washington Council of Lawyers? I think Washington Council of Lawyers is great because we not only want to help those in need of assistance, but we also want to help people improve their standard of living. The legal community can have a monumental impact on the lives of those in need: everything from helping people find jobs, to keeping a roof over their heads, and making sure they have access to affordable and nutritious foods. It feels good to give back, but it feels even better to have a hand in solving an ongoing problem. What was your favorite part about working for us this summer? All of the amazing people I’ve met this summer. I was lucky enough to be paired with an amazing boss [editors note: Mike is referring to our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez] who thought it was important to introduce me to as many lawyers and public advocates as possible. I’ve really gotten the inside perspective on public-interest law and what it takes to make it. Their advice and encouragement has set me up perfectly for the next four years. What exactly did you do for us this summer? I washed Nancy’s car and walked her dogs…No, I’m just kidding. Mostly I helped to spread the word and set up for events that we hosted. A lot of it was logistics: making name badges, organizing guest lists, setting up the spaces, designing posters, taking notes, and conducting interviews. What is the most important project you’ve worked on this summer? That would have to be the East of the River Blog. For about the past month I’ve sat on a committee designed to create a blog with the goal of inspiring lawyers in DC to do more pro bono work east of the Anacostia River. Our plan is to demonstrate the benefits of doing that kind of work by showcasing some success stories and interviewing the people who made them possible. You’ll see the results of our efforts beginning this fall. Sounds like you’ve been pretty busy. What do you do in your spare time? Here? Sleep! Or I hang out with my friends in the dorm where I’m staying. I’m also taking two classes right now, so that takes up a lot of my time as well. When I’m back home, I perform every week with my improv comedy troupe, and that keeps me going until the weekend. Do you see a future for yourself here in DC? Absolutely, I love this city. I could completely see myself going to school here and then staying to pursue my career. I’ve figured out the subway system, so by now I’m practically a native. Thanks, Mike, and thanks for all of your help this summer! We can't wait to welcome you back to the DC legal community!

Law Students Inspired To Do Public Service at Sold-Out Summer Forum

  • June 14, 2014
  • Blog

On June 12, we held our annual Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. We were joined at Arnold & Porter by over two hundred eager lawyers, summer associates, and legal interns—eager to learn about how to make public service and pro bono work an integral part of their legal careers. Our Executive Director Nancy Lopez got things underway by sharing a line from “For Good”—from the musical Wicked—describing how we can be changed for the better by the people who come into our lives. Nancy drew not only the obvious conclusion—that clients in need can have their lives changed by lawyers who care—but also the converse: that clients can change their lawyers for the better too. Then it was on the keynote speech, delivered by Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation. After urging everyone to join Washington Council of Lawyers, Jim shared some words of encouragement and advice for new lawyers. Among other things, lawyers shouldn’t feel the need to devise a master plan: “You shouldn’t have a plan,” Sandman said, because “opportunities for change are around every corner and you should welcome them and follow those that prove promising to bigger and better accomplishments.” He urged young lawyers to get involved in their communities, retain flexibility by living beneath their means—“I drove over here today in my 2003 Honda Civic. With a smile on my face, because I love what I do”—and to work hard on time management. The rousing and humorous speech concluded with Sandman telling the crowd to “find and collect as many mentors as possible. They can even be younger then you, but find people who inspire and motivate you and don’t let them go.” Attendees then broke out into one of five sessions. Each featured panels of experienced lawyers and advocates with experience in a particular field of public-interest or pro bono work. Attendees learned (among many other things) about the diverse career paths of civil-rights lawyers; coping with the intense emotional demands of criminal litigation; the complicated legal and humanitarian issues involved in immigration cases; the unique skills that new lawyers can develop working on pro bono transactional matters, and the desperate need for representation of parties in DC family court. It was a ton of information and inspiration packed into just over two hours. And we can’t wait for next year’s event!

The Exoneration of Sabein Burgess: Pro Bono Lawyers Overcome Junk Science and Help to Free an Innocent Man

On May 28, we cosponsored (along with the Constitution Project, the Innocence Project, and Steptoe and Johnson) a panel on the recent exoneration of Sabein Burgess. Burgess spent nearly twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aleta Spraguehas this report on the panel. At age 24, Sabein Burgess was convicted of murdering his girlfriend at their Baltimore home. His defense attorney called no witnesses during the two-day trial. Burgess was sentenced to life in prison; he remained incarcerated until this year –despite the emergence of contradictory eyewitness testimony and another man’s confession. Eventually, a team of attorneys demonstrated that he was convicted based on faulty forensic evidence. On February 21, 2014, Burgess, now 43, was finally able to return home. The panel featured attorneys from both Steptoe and Johnson and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), which worked together on behalf of Burgess. The panelists explained how the justice system failed Burgess by providing an ineffective defense attorney and repeatedly disregarding evidence of his innocence after his conviction – particularly the confession of Charles Dorsey, who today is considered the primary suspect. The conviction of Burgess rested almost entirely on questionable gunshot residue evidence – the validity of which wasformally reassessed by the FBI in 2005. Gunshot residue evidence has a high risk of contamination; today, the FBI has stopped using this type of evidence. Parisa Dehghani-Tafti of the Innocence Project explained how gunshot residue evidence and other forensic science tools were created by law enforcement, are subject to confirmation bias, and generally lack scientific rigor. Indeed, according to MAIP, “flawed forensic science testimony has been a factor in more than half of the DNA exonerations nationwide and in more than 20 percent of all exonerations nationwide.” Unfortunately, the Burgess story is not unique. A 2012 study found that more than 2000 individuals had been convicted and then exonerated of serious crimes since 1989. Mere weeks before Burgess’ release, another study found that exonerations in the U.S. have reached a record high—though an increasing number are linked to false confessions induced by plea bargains, rather than DNA evidence. Most disturbingly, a recent analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that nearly one in twenty convictions in capital cases are wrongful – meaning that around 120 of the 3000 individuals on death row are innocent. As one panelist noted, “you have to think twice about the death penalty itself…when a case like this makes its way through the system.” Attorneys who worked on the case urged audience members to find ways to become involved with exoneration work (or with any pro bono cause that speaks to their passions). To learn more about the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and identify opportunities to volunteer, click here.

Pro Bono Without Borders: Getting Involved In Global Pro Bono

Pro Bono Without Borders: Getting Involved in Global Pro Bono

  • January 27, 2014
  • Blog

On Wednesday, January 29, we'll be hosting Pro Bono Without Borders, a panel discussion about global pro bono. To preview the event, Renuka Nagaraj interviewed Jessica Ryckman, Special Counsel & Program Manager at Lawyers Without Borders, about doing pro bono work with an international dimension. Here's what Jessica had to say: How did LWOB start, and what was the inspiration for it? Christina Storm, the current director, started LWOB about 15 years ago. At the time, she wanted to volunteer for an international program and she could not find any outlets to do this. This inspired her to start a quality program for lawyers and judges who wanted to do pro bono work abroad. What is the mission of LWOB? LWOB focuses on strengthening the rule of law and increasing access to justice around the world and providing pro bono lawyers the opportunity to work on these projects. How did you personally get involved with LWOB? I was working at a law firm and wanted to work on an international pro bono project. I found a project in Liberia that provided training for attorneys and judges on human trafficking laws. After working on this project in Liberia for about 3 weeks, I was hooked and wanted to do this kind of work full-time. I asked Christina Storm if there were any opportunities and fortuitously, LWOB was looking for someone in DC at that time. What do you do at LWOB? I am a Project Manager and Special Counsel and manage some of LWOB’s Africa programs. For example, I have been working, in conjunction with the US Department of State, on a Liberian human trafficking program, which produces in-person trainings and educational materials. I also work on LWOB’s Kenya initiative, which is creating an independent, Kenyan national-led program and also produces annual trainings there. What are the different kinds of projects that LWOB offers? There is a wide range of programs. LWOB does a lot of trainings for judges, lawyers and law enforcement abroad. We also send participants to observe important court proceedings as a neutral party to report on procedure and fairness at the proceedings. For example, LWOB volunteers observed the Caprivi Strip treason trial in Namibia, the longest and largest trial in this country’s history. Furthermore, LWOB creates graphic novels for countries with low literacy rates, on important topics—such as gender rights, human trafficking, inheritance and succession, and HIV/AIDS. Along the same lines, LWOB makes educational coloring books for children, such as one specific to children in Liberia on the dangers of trafficking. Does LWOB work with attorneys of all experience levels? Yes, LWOB takes volunteers of many experience levels. It works with college students, law students, attorneys, and judges. What advice do you have for those who are thinking of doing global volunteering? Just jump right in! If you are interested in pro bono work abroad, contact organizations that do this work and talk to people who have done it before. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Sometimes, people think that they can’t make the money or time commitment for a pro bono project. However, it’s not as time-consuming or complicated as you may think. So take the next step and start researching how you can start volunteering. What do volunteers like most about working with LWOB? A lot of people say that volunteering for LWOB was a life-changing event. Volunteers also most frequently comment that the LWOB programs are really well-organized and substantive. They had the chance to really get down to the nitty-gritty when working abroad and to work and build relationships with local lawyers and judges. Are you especially proud of any particular LWOB projects? LWOB has been training on a human trafficking in Liberia since 2007. Liberians have had a human trafficking law in place since 2005, and the first prosecution under the law was not until 2013. This case involved a prosecutor and judge that LWOB trained. After talking to them, they credit the training with helping them understand the law and how to hear and prosecute a trafficking case. That is something I’m so proud of, because it shows the impact you can have in other countries. To learn more, register to attend Pro Bono Without Borders – this Wednesday, January 29.

2013 Legacy Award: Larry Schneider (Arnold & Porter)

2013 Legacy Award: Larry Schneider (Arnold & Porter)

  • December 2, 2013
  • Blog

by Aleta Sprague “Don’t sit back. Step up, take a case - just do it.” So advised Larry Schneider, when I asked him for a few words of wisdom for new attorneys seeking to get involved with pro bono practice. And he should know. The winner of our first-ever Legacy Award, Larry has made pro bono work a priority throughout his career, providing both direct services to low-income clients and leading the way in crafting policy reforms to improve the nation’s immigration system. Larry’s commitment to pro bono work emerged in law school, during which he represented clients in both civil and criminal matters through the law school’s clinics and spent a summer working at a legal services organization. Upon graduation, he joined Arnold & Porter, inspired in part by the firm’s established commitment to public service; according to longstanding policy, the firm urged each attorney to devote 15% of his or her time to pro bono matters. Larry joined the firm’s Pro Bono Committee early in his career and also took on a series of leadership positions with the Washington Council of Lawyers, including a term as president in 1983–1984. A pivotal moment in Larry’s pro bono career was the passage of the Immigration Control and Reform Act in 1986, while Larry was serving as Chair of the DC Bar Public Service Activities Committee (now the Pro Bono Committee). Larry recognized that many individuals in DC would newly qualify for citizenship under the Act, but that there was insufficient capacity to accommodate all their legal needs. So Larry began organizing a pro bono effort among area law firms, and got Arnold and Porter to partner with Ayuda and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. Through this collaboration, volunteer attorneys were able to both serve clients through clinics and identify and address policy issues. Since then, Larry has led Arnold and Porter’s pro bono immigration efforts. One of the most challenging aspects of the work has been coping with deficiencies within the immigration system itself – for example, due to inadequate resources, there are often significant delays in cases being set for hearings. This challenge, however, has also created an opportunity. One of Larry’s most significant projects in recent years involved evaluating the entire U.S. deportation system and providing recommendations for reform. The project, an effort of over fifty Arnold and Porter attorneys, culminated in alengthy report analyzing all aspects of the deportation process and providing sixty policy recommendations for both administrative and legislative action. While Congress has yet to act on the legislative recommendations, a number of administrative changes have been put in place as a result of the report. The policy recommendations themselves, which were endorsed by the ABA, emerged from issues that pro bono attorneys were observing in their cases. The report provided an opportunity to address these issues more systemically. Larry noted that working on pro bono matters as a team helps tremendously in enabling attorneys to balance pro bono work with the rest of their practice – though ultimately, “if you want to do something, you can make time for it.” At Arnold and Porter, for example, two attorneys, along with an associate mentor and a supervising partner, are assigned to each asylum case. This model provides both flexibility and sufficient support to enable new attorneys to feel comfortable getting involved and taking on cases. Larry is an ideal recipient of our inaugural Legacy Award. In addition to his commitment to pro bono work in the DC area, he has been a Washington Council of Lawyers member for over 35 years. Larry served as our president from 1984–85, and has been one of our most trusted advisors, as well as a wonderful mentor to our future leaders. We are pleased to recognize Larry's exceptional contributions to both pro bono work and the Washington Council of Lawyers. Don’t miss our 2013 Awards Reception to learn more about Larry and this year’s other award winners!

2013 Awards Keynote Speaker: Paul Smith (Jenner & Block)

  • November 27, 2013
  • Blog

by Elise Helgesen Aguilar I was honored to speak with Paul M. Smith, Partner at Jenner & Block LLP, and keynote speaker for our 2013 Awards Ceremony. I asked him to take a look back on his extraordinary career in civil rights and pro bono work. Below are his insights: Lawrence v. Texas Paul has had a remarkable career, from arguing one of the biggest civil rights cases of our time, to receiving numerous professional accolades. He has even served as President of the Washington Council of Lawyers, where he said he was honored to have made so many good friends who continue to “fight the good fight” all across town. When asked to describe his greatest professional accomplishment, Paul said that it was without a doubt arguing and winning the 2003 Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas, because it has had the greatest overall impact. That victory laid the foundation for advancing gay rights and was a necessary predicate for issues like marriage equality. Becoming a lawyer Paul said that his real interest in pursuing a career as a lawyer began in college. That was the era of Watergate, when lawyers became publicly acknowledged for their work in ferreting out corruption and bad dealings. He knew that the law was a profession in which he could make a difference. This eventually led him to the civil rights field as well, where he was inspired by women’s rights, African-American civil rights, and the environmental movement. Career Challenges Paul's greatest challenge has been maintaining a high volume of pro bono work while managing the expectations of working in a law firm. He noted that this requires going above and beyond the expectations of the firm. Judging from Paul's long list of accomplishments, it’s obvious that he has been very successful in overcoming this challenge. Supreme Court  I was most excited to hear more from Paul about his experiences arguing before the Supreme Court. He has done so fourteen times. He stated that the first experience was “pretty harrowing,” especially as a thirty-year old. He also said that while he has learned over time how to better prepare, that arguing before the Supreme Court justices never gets any easier; in fact, the Court has become even more aggressive over time toward lawyers. I tried to press Paul on whether he would reveal any particular rituals, superstitions, or lucky articles of clothing that he dons in preparation for the Supreme Court. He said he had none, and that he prepares by memorizing his opening lines so as to not go completely blank when he faces the justices. But it’s clear that he doesn’t need any lucky rabbit’s foot – his hard work and dedication to civil rights and civil liberties are more than enough.

2013 Presidents’ Award: Judith Sandalow (Children’s Law Center)

2013 Presidents’ Award: Judith Sandalow (Children’s Law Center)

  • November 26, 2013
  • Blog

by Sara Safriet Judith Sandalow came to focus on children and the law after being a foster parent of two boys approximately 16 years ago; she later adopted them both. When Judith was approached by Children's Law Center, this experience allowed her to view the world from the perspective of her future clients. Before joining CLC, Judith graduated from Yale Law School and then returned to Washington, DC as a Juvenile Justice Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. After starting a juvenile clinic at DC Law Students in Court, Judith developed a successful criminal-defense practice specializing in representation of juveniles and adults charged with serious crimes. When she joined CLC in 2000, Judith had no previous experience with fundraising, organizational leadership, or recruiting and managing pro-bono attorneys. But her passion – to help the community that she herself was part of – led her to learn these skills. Indeed, her leadership and dedication have helped CLC expand from three people to a staff of over 80. CLC is now the largest nonprofit legal services provider in the District of Columbia. Approximately one-fifth of CLC's 2,000 cases each year are managed by pro-bono attorneys. Judith believes that it is not difficult to engage pro-bono attorneys in the District: many local attorneys have exhibited an extraordinary capacity to give their time, resources, and dedication to important causes. For those interested in or thinking about taking on a pro-bono case, Judith believes that there are many benefits to doing so with CLC: (1) helping the lawyers feel connected to their communities, (2) engaging with a part of the city that one does not often interact with, (3) putting the world in perspective and helping to stop sweating the small stuff in our lives, (4) learning more about a new area of law, and (5) breaking down stereotypes and educating one another – pro bono lawyers have an opportunity to see how smart, tenacious, inventive, and passionate the poorest of the District’s residents can be. We'd also be remiss if we didn't point out that Judith and her colleagues have  worked actively with Washington Council of Lawyers. CLC lawyers have served as faculty at our litigation skills trainings, and CLC's current and former pro bono directors are members of our board. Last but not least, Judith has donated her time to the our mentor/mentee program.

2013 Poverty Simulation: A Recap

2013 Poverty Simulation: A Recap

  • November 21, 2013
  • Blog

by Cheryl Polydor "I felt beaten down." "I felt humiliated." "I felt like my entire life was spent filling out forms and standing on lines." "I felt powerless." That's a sampling of the comments made by this year's Poverty Simulation participants, after spending a morning enacting the role of a person living in poverty in the United States. The three-hour interactive program, originally developed by the Missouri Community Action Association, gave participants a taste of the day-to-day reality of dealing with landlords, employers, store owners, social workers and legal aid lawyers who held the participants' fate in their hands. The program was facilitated by attorney and social justice activist Tiela Chalmers. A group of about 50 lawyers and students were on hand to play the roles of low-income working families, undocumented individuals. senior citizens, single parents, and others living in poverty – as well as the  representatives of a system that often felt arbitrary, oppressive, and just plain broken. Transportation passes were required to go everywhere – even to the office where the transportation passes were distributed; if you ran out of passes for the month, you were out of luck, even if you needed one to visit the doctor, the legal aid bureau, or the unemployment office. Landlords and bankers gave incorrect or incomplete information to struggling families who might have avoided eviction and remained in their homes if they'd been fairly informed of their options. The police seemed to be unfairly targeting people in the community, while being slow to provide help when it was actually needed. Participants were visibly moved by the program, and some said they were inspired to work on ways to change the way the system works – or doesn't work – for people and communities living in poverty. Chalmers encouraged us to continue to see beyond the statistics and reports, and to remember both the tangible and the emotional cost to individuals living in poverty, whose numbers may at some time have included some of us sitting in that room. It was a challenging, rewarding event – and we can't wait to do it again next year.

Best Practices In Pro Bono Returns With A Focus On Client-Centered Collaboration

Best Practices in Pro Bono Returns with a Focus on Client-Centered Collaboration

  • November 4, 2013
  • Blog

I recently had a chance to talk to our board member Paul Lee about the new season of the Best Practices in Pro Bono Program. This year’s four-part series will focus on Client-Centered Collaboration. (By the way, the first session is just around the corner, on November 6, 2013 from 8:30 to 10:00 am at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which is generously hosting the program for the second year.) Paul brought me up to speed on how Best Practices got started and some exciting new developments for next year. The start of a beautiful friendship Paul explained that we launched the Best Practices program last year to bring together local legal services providers and law firms to explore how to develop and strengthen pro bono collaborations. Both groups are deeply committed to providing excellent pro bono services, but they rarely had the chance to sit down together and talk candidly about their shared goals. As a result, the theme of the inaugural Best Practices program was Building Effective Pro Bono Relationships, with four sessions examining the continuum of pro bono services from start to finish. The sessions highlighted how to develop strong pro bono partnerships, training and preparing volunteer attorneys, connecting clients to pro bono representation, providing mentoring and supervision once a matter is placed, setting boundaries with clients, closing out matters, and keeping the collaboration going. The Best Practices program also looked at non-traditional models of pro bono service and focused on collaborating for impact. Participants in last year’s program came from a wide range of local legal services providers and law firms, ranging from very small to quite large, and including organizations with long-established pro bono programs and groups considering new or expanded pro bono programs. New year, new theme In its second year, the Best Practices program has a new theme: Client-Centered Collaboration. Plus, the program will now feature opportunities for informal (and low-key) networking before each sessions begins. The first session—Who is Our Client?—will take a close look at how poverty impacts the legal issues many pro bono clients face. Poverty is an enormous issue in the DC area, and a large percentage of clients served through pro bono efforts are low-income or otherwise struggling financially. This session will examine the interaction of poverty and legal issues and assess how to prepare volunteer attorneys to navigate these issues. The second session—Holistic Support for Our Client— is a counterpart to the first session, with a focus on clients’ non-legal problems. Holistic Support will address questions such as: What do we do to address clients’ non-legal issues? Is that the role of pro bono? How can we take a holistic approach by connecting clients with resources and assistance for non-legal problems? The third session—My Client, the Organization—expands on the client-centered theme to explore pro bono services for organizational clients. Many law firms are particularly well-situated to provide pro bono services to organizations given expertise in corporate structures, tax, and other relevant areas. This session will tackle how law firms can target pro bono work to serve organizational clients—and how legal services providers can take advantage of law firms’ expertise in serving organizational clients. The final session—How Well Are We Serving Our Clients?—will focus on evaluating pro bono efforts from a client-centered perspective. The discussion will examine questions such as: How well are we serving our clients? How should we evaluate our work? When we finish a matter, how do we assess our work and identify areas of success and need for improvement? The most important meal of the day Best Practices is unique for its breakfast hour meeting time. I had to ask Paul about the breakfast offerings, which I’ve heard are quite the draw. Paul noted that donuts are especially popular, but he gives all the credit to our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez, who brings the food, and Fried Frank, which provides excellent coffee.

Pro Bono Week Wrap-Up: Lawyers Seek to Protect Immigrants from Notario Fraud

  • October 28, 2013
  • Blog

by Laura Buchs DC Pro Bono Week wrapped up on Saturday with a Forum on Potential Immigration Reform and Stopping Notario Fraud, led by the DC Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). About thirty law students attending the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair joined area immigration attorneys for an informal meeting before the panel presentation. The forum provided law students with a comprehensive overview of how immigration reform could affect the practice area and how to advise clients to prepare for any changes. In particular, speakers discussed the ever-growing harm caused to immigrants by notario fraud – that is, fraudulent immigration consultants (notarios), who “capitalize on immigrants’ vulnerability and ignorance of the U.S. legal system to offer substandard, false, or nonexistent immigration services.” Ayuda, with the help of the DC Bar, has launched Project END (Eradicating Notario Deceit/Eliminando Notarios Deshonestos), a direct legal services project aimed at providing remedy for the harm caused by these fraudulent consultants. Attorneys with clients who have experienced notario fraud, who have any questions, or who would like to refer a case to Project End are encouraged to contact Ayuda attorney Cori Alonso-Yoder law clerk Anne Schaufele.

Pro Bono Week Preview: Equal Justice Works Presents the Scales of Justice Award

  • October 23, 2013
  • Blog

By Wing Li Equal Justice Works, an organization dedicated to mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice, will host its Annual Awards Dinner this evening at the Renaissance Washington. The Scales of Justice Award recognizes those who have promoted equality, justice, diversity, public and pro bono service and serve as an inspiration to students and the legal profession. This year, Equal Justice Works will be honoring D. Cameron Findlay, who has had an exemplary career in both the private and public sectors. A strong proponent of public service, Findlay has served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff, and as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, and clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. In the private sector, Findlay has continued to serve those in need, and paved a path for others in the private sector to follow his lead by developing, encouraging and supporting pro bono service. Currently, he is Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Archer Daniels Midland Company. He previously served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Medtronic, the world’s largest medical device manufacturer. Findlay launched Medtronic Legal Department’s first pro bono program. As part of the program, Medtronic attorneys have worked on pro bono projects at the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, provided mediation for unrepresented parties, and conducted business advice clinics for startups in remote regions of the state. Under Findlay's leadership, Medtronic joined forces with other in-house counsel of Minnesota-based corporations in an effort to amend the Minnesota pro bono practice rules to increase the number of lawyers providing pro bon assistance to those in need. Thanks to Findlay’s leadership, Medtronic co-sponsored two 2012 Equal Justice Works Fellows: Nicole Witnauer, co-sponsored with Greenberg Traurig, works at Catholic Charities in Atlanta to provide direct representation to immigrant women seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); and Karla Altmayer, co-sponsored with Kirkland & Ellis, works at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago to provide comprehensive legal representation, outreach, education, and advocacy to female farm workers who are victims of employment-based sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Through both his public service and private sector initiatives, Findlay epitomizes the mission of Equal Justice Works by demonstrating that everyone – whether in public service or the private sector – has a responsibility to help create a just society and mobilize the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice.

Pro Bono Week Preview: The Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic—Guiding Local Entrepreneurs During Pro Bono Week (and All Year Long)

  • October 22, 2013
  • Blog

By Anne King This evening, October 22, 2013, the DC Bar Pro Bono Program’s Community Economic Development Project will host aSmall Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic as part of Pro Bono Week. The Small Business Clinic is held regularly throughout the year (in every month except August). But it’s a particularly good fit with Pro Bono week because it offers a unique volunteer opportunity for local attorneys: advising community entrepreneurs on legal questions that come up when starting or running a small business. Tuesday’s clinic will take place at the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Small Business Resource Center. To reach entrepreneurs across the city, the clinic rotates to different locations each month, holds Saturday sessions a few times a year, and also offers occasional Spanish-language clinics. A valuable service for community-based entrepreneurs Running a small business—or launching one—can be complicated. The clinic offers an invaluable resource for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs: free legal advice. As Darryl Maxwell of the DC Bar Pro Bono Programexplains, entrepreneurs come to the clinic with a wide range of questions, including queries about business formation or transitioning from a sole proprietorship, requests for help with real estate contracts and leases, licensing and patent issues, requests for advice on classifying employees and independent contractors, and many more. But the most common question is: “I want to start a business. What should I do next?” Clinic volunteers provide an important service in discussing the pros and cons of various entity formations, dispelling myths about launching a business, and pointing entrepreneurs in the direction of useful resources. The clinic encourages entrepreneurs to visit any time they need assistance—and there are many repeat visitors. For example, a clinic visitor might receive assistance with an operating agreement one month, and then the following month she might need help drafting a lease after finding the perfect space. A rewarding experience for attorney volunteers Clinic volunteers have an opportunity to make a real impact on local economic development by assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs. Volunteer attorneys act as advisors, counselors, and sounding boards, and they enjoy having the chance to discuss exciting new business ideas with local community members. The clinic draws a diverse group of attorney volunteers, ranging from first-year law firm associates to retired attorneys, from government lawyers to solo practitioners, and many more. Several volunteers make the clinic a regular part of their pro bono work, and some attend almost every month. The clinic’s limited scope—volunteers provide brief advice, and aren’t required to commit to ongoing representation—means participating is manageable for attorneys with busy schedules. Although many volunteers have expertise in relevant areas of the law, such as intellectual property, real estate, and employment law, attorney volunteers need not have any specific background in order to participate. The DC Bar Pro Bono Program offers trainings two times a year and also provides a manual to support attorney volunteers. If you are a local entrepreneur interested in attending a Small Business Brief Advice Clinic, or an attorney interested in volunteering, you can find out more about the Community Economic Development Project at the DC Bar Pro Bono Program’s website!

Pro Bono Week Preview: Go Formal for Justice

  • October 16, 2013
  • Blog

By Jessica Stringer When brainstorming for Pro Bono Week festivities, Courtney Weiner envisioned kicking off the week with a formal event targeted at young attorneys with a reasonable ticket price. Inspiration for the name of the event came from theGo Casual for Justice, a successful fundraiser in its fifth year. Katia Garrett, the DC Bar Foundation’s Executive Director and one of our Honorary board members, encouraged Courtney to follow up on her idea and take the lead in executing the event. This will be the first major fundraising event spearheaded by the DC Bar Foundation Young Lawyers Network since its inception, guided by Courtney as the event chair. The DCBF Young Lawyers Network provides a venue for young lawyers to support access to justice in the District. In addition to hosting events to raise money and awareness for the Foundation’s work, the Young Lawyers Network Leadership Council provides opportunities responsive to the needs of the newest members of the District’s legal community. The proceeds of this event will support the DC Bar Foundation’s mission to fund, support, and improve legal representation of the poor, vulnerable, and otherwise disadvantaged in the District of Columbia. The Foundation provides grants to non-profit civil legal services providers, provides public interest training and technical assistance, and assists poverty attorneys with student loan repayment. One of the programs benefiting from the proceeds raised through the Gala is the DC Poverty Lawyer Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). This program covers up to $1,000 of student loan payments each month for attorneys in careers that assist underserved communities in the District. The typical attorney that receives assistance from the program is four years out of law school, makes $49,000 a year, and pays 20% of their pretax salary on $130,000 student loan debt. By improving the ability of young, motivated attorneys to stay in careers that they find fulfilling, the DC Poverty Lawyer LRAP has a major impact on the quality and consistency of local legal services for the poor. For those now inspired to spend a little more than the reasonably priced ticket, the live and silent auction offer fantastic finds. Enjoy lunch with Judy Smith, the crisis management expert that inspired the hit drama series Scandal. Courtney is a huge Springsteen fan, so she is excited to see his platinum record “Born in the USA” go up for bid. Katia and Courtney also emphasized the crucial role of the Public Welfare Foundation in making the Gala a success, through their generous contribution supporting the upfront costs of the event. Thank you, Public Welfare Foundation, and all of the sponsors and contributors to the event! A final note on fashion: Courtney will be wearing Badgley Mischka or Nicole Miller, and I have already settled on my classic black Nicole Miller, knee length with ruching along the sides. Black tie dress is optional, so don’t let the lack of a tuxedo or designer dress deter you. You won’t want to miss this inaugural formal event kicking off DC Pro Bono week! Tickets are, alas, sold out for the Go Formal for Justice Gala, which will take place at 8 PM on Saturday October 19th, at Mayer Brown, 1999 K Street NW.

Introducing Our New Officers

Introducing Our New Officers

  • September 10, 2013
  • Blog

Please welcome our officers for the 2013–2014 lawyering year. Betsy Howe (President) is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, where she focuses on financial enforcement matters and white collar litigation. Betsy also has an active pro bono practice, including in the areas of immigration, domestic violence, and criminal appeals. Betsy joined the Board in 2011 and last year served as our Treasurer. Jim Rubin (VP) is counsel to the firm Dentons, where he focuses on environmental and natural resource issues. Jim spent 15 years at DOJ's environmental division and a year at the White House, working on climate issues. Jim has also had leadership roles in the ABA and DC Bar, but mainly is bossed around at home by his two teenage boys. Patty Stasco (Treasurer) practiced for five years at Arnold & Porter LLP, especially enjoying her pro bono immigration work. Yearning to get back to full-time public interest work she now works as an attorney for the federal government. On her down time you'll likely find her woodworking, shopping at the farmer's market, or watching school buses go by with her 21-month old son excitedly shouting, "Bus! Bus!" Kelly Voss (Secretary) is pro bono counsel at Covington & Burling LLP. Before joining Covington, Kelly was a staff attorney at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, where she provided direct legal services to clients in a broad spectrum of matters, including landlord-tenant, fair housing, consumer, bankruptcy, and education. If she were not a lawyer, Kelly would love to be a beekeeper. Greg Lipper (Communications Director) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Before that, he did trial and appellate litigation for six years at Covington & Burling. Greg tweets compulsively (at@theglipper) and hopes to one day become a bobblehead doll. As you can see below, our officers are already conspiring to bring you fantastic events and programs. Stay tuned!

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