Looking to launch a new pro bono program or gain tips for improving your existing program? Learn best practices for creating new programs and collaborating with other in-house, law firm, government, and legal services lawyers to build community and serve pro bono clients. There is more to it than advertising pro bono opportunities! Join the Association for Corporate Counsel for the National Captial Region and the Washington Council of Lawyers for this program to hear from panelists with experience leading programs in their in-house legal departments. Presenters will provide practical advice on the decisions to be made and steps to take to build a strong foundation that will both encourage and support volunteers using their legal skills to help those unable to afford legal services. The panel presentation will take place from 12-1 pm ET and be followed by an online pro bono fair from 1-2 pm ET, during which attendees will be able to select up to four break-out sessions featuring legal services organizations discussing volunteer opportunities. Registrants may attend either or both the program and fair. Although the focus of this event is on in-house pro bono programs, all are welcome to attend! There is plenty to learn about how to effectively develop a strong pro bono program no matter what sector of the legal community you are in!
Are you returning to work after a year and a half of teleworking? Are you planning on working a hybrid telework and in-office schedule? Are you teleworking while others are in the office full-time? We know change like this can make all of us somewhat uneasy. Join us for a Members-Only Discussion on Post-Pandemic Workplaces. Our esteemed panelists are: Rhonda Cunningham Holmes, Executive Director, Legal Counsel for the Elderly Hanan Idilbi, Federal Government Attorney Greg Lipper, Partner, Clinton & Peed Our moderator is Deborah Birnbaum, Assistant General Counsel at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Our panel will give you tips and advice so that, regardless of your work situation, you can feel equipped to navigate the changing working environment with ease. This free members-only program will take place on Thursday, July 22, from 3-4 pm ET via Zoom. If you are not already a member, join Washington Council of Lawyers here. Come prepared to ask questions, and meet and connect with other Washington Council of Lawyers members at this interactive coffee break. We can’t wait to hang out with you virtually!
We know there is a huge justice gap in the United States. We also know an enormous race equity gap persists. The murder of George Floyd and ensuing events over the past year have sparked the passions of attorneys toward combating systemic racism through pro bono representation. How can we effectively eradicate the remnants of bias that are entrenched within our legal system? How can we create systemic change without sacrificing the individual representation necessary to protect the rights of those living in poverty? Is it possible that our existing pro bono infrastructure actually perpetuates aspects of inequity? And how can we tackle all of these issues when our current volunteer resources remain so limited? Our panel of experts will guide us through some of these difficult conversations on racial justice, particularly as they relate to pro bono practice. Our panelists are: Sabrina-Yvette d'Almeida, Chief Talent & Equity Officer, Children's Law Center Rachel Rintelmann, Supervising Attorney, Housing Law Unit, The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia Jaya Saxena, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategist Kathleen Wach, Pro Bono Counsel, Miller & Chevalier Our panel will be moderated by Paul Lee, Pro Bono Counsel, Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Best Practices in Pro Bono brings together pro bono directors at law firms, legal services organizations, corporations, government agencies, and law schools to share tips for improving their pro bono programs. There is no cost to attend, but donations are encouraged and support our ongoing work to train, advocate for, mentor, and support pro bono and public-interest lawyers in the District of Columbia. Sign up today!
On Thursday, April 9, 2021, Noah A. Messing, Yale Law School's Lecturer in the Practice of Law and Legal Writing, led a legal writing workshop, the latest installation in the Washington Council of Lawyers’ Litigation Skills Series. With great skill and wit, Noah took the audience through the three main areas where lawyers can improve their writing skills: organization, prose, and drafting. Four Key Organizational Strategies Noah urged attendees to orient readers fast. Even if the memo or brief is inherently lengthy, try to frontload the important information; this allows the reader to quickly become familiar with the purpose of the document and determine its urgency. While telling a narrative, it can be tempting to simply state the facts in straightforward chronological order but introducing facts using flashbacks can help better organize your writing. Doing so can allow the reader to understand why the facts the writer has presented in the past are important and relevant to their message. Another pitfall that lawyers can easily fall into is focusing too much on rebutting their opponents’ arguments. Noah urges lawyers to focus on winning, THEN rebutting. This means not only showing the flaws in your opponents’ arguments; it means clearly demonstrating why your arguments are more persuasive and the correct way for the Court to decide. But how does one go about creating a structure to organize all of this information? Noah introduced attendees to the idea of CRAC, which stands for Conclusion, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. This method is a simple way to ensure that your arguments and messages stay neatly organized. Five Strategies for Better Prose When dealing with complex issues, it can be easy for lawyers to fall into the trap of writing long and complicated sentences and paragraphs as they try to address every part of their argument. However, this can cause the reader to feel as if they were in a confusing labyrinth, quickly losing track of where the writer was trying to lead them. To combat that, Noah encourages writers to write short sentences and paragraphs. This does not mean writing curt or robotic-sounding prose; it rather means to vary the length of your sentences to ensure that your message is clear and easy to follow. He also encourages writers to use active and short verbs. Try keeping your writing in the active voice and watch out for passive verbs. On that note, pay attention to the length of the words you choose - notice the number of syllables in the words you choose. This does not mean you have to count out the syllables in each word but rather encourages the writer to keep their language clear and concise. Noah also encourages writers to place familiar information before new information. Start by setting a foundation for the reader, including providing who the parties are and defining unknown terms, such as names of projects. To keep the reader on track for where you want to go, use “signposts” to let the reader know where you are trying to lead them. And be sure to get to the subject of the sentence and the principal verb quickly; nothing loses a reader more than having to wade through lengthy clauses to find the point of the sentence. Five Tips for Drafting Anticipate issues. As the old saying goes, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Being a good lawyer requires one to be prepared for any and all possible outcomes, so be sure to consider additional options when listing who your messages apply to. Be sure to have all of your bases covered. Watch for Ambiguity. Ambiguous language can be the downfall of even the best attorney. Be sure to make sure that your language is specific. Watch for Vagueness. Notice wiggle room in the terms you write? Your opponents can use that to their advantage. Ensure that your language is not vague to allow your message to be as impactful as you mean it to be. Watch for Inconsistencies. Even the tiniest details matter! Ensure that you are consistent throughout your writing, whether it be through how you refer to the parties or whether you capitalize certain words. Find Good Precedent. Good writing is nothing without the precedent and the research to back it up! Noah captivated attendees not only through these useful lessons but also with his sense of humor and his ability to present these lessons in a fun and interesting way. Using great metaphors and visual examples, attendees were able to easily grasp the skills that will help them become better writers and better lawyers. Want to learn how to become a better litigator? Sign up for our next events in our Litigation Skills Series here. Caitlyn Burnitis is a Staff Attorney at the Amara Legal Center and a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers Communications Committee.
Washington Council of Lawyers was founded in 1971, which makes this our 50th Anniversary year! To celebrate the occasion, we are holding a 50 Days for 50 Years Membership Drive, now through May 20. It's the perfect time to join DC’s only public-interest bar association! Our membership is comprised of hundreds of attorneys and supporters from law firms, federal and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and law schools; we have one main thing in common — we care deeply about access to justice for our DC neighbors. If you do, too, we would appreciate your membership and welcome you officially into this wonderful community. As a member, you will enjoy: Member-only events Free or reduced rates at programs Networking opportunities Our Public Interest Jobs Clearinghouse emailed to you on the 1st and 15th of each month As an added bonus, when you join now, you will receive a two-year membership for the cost of one, effectively a 50% reduced rate! Act quickly! The 2-year offer for new members ends on May 19. Join today, and then plan to meet other members at Lawyers with a Fine Palate, a virtual wine-tasting event to welcome all of our members. It's the perfect way to celebrate your official membership! Join us today!
Washington Council of Lawyers is fielding a team for the Walk & 5K to End HIV! This virtual event is an "on your own" walk or run to support the work of Whitman-Walker Health. Held for the past 34 years, the Walk & 5K to End HIV is Whitman-Walker Health’s signature fundraiser that calls on thousands to strap up their shoes and walk or run to support WWH’s mission of providing dependable, high-quality, comprehensive and accessible health care to those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. In a city where three percent of adults are known to have HIV and an additional three percent are infected but don’t know their status, the Walk & 5K to End HIV plays a vital role in honoring our lost ones and raising funds and awareness to fight the epidemic. Register to join our team here. Then complete the walk or run at a time of your choosing. We will have a virtual team meetup on Friday, November 20 from 3:00-3:30 pm. Register below to receive the Zoom link to share your stories and gather together!
Washington Council of Lawyers hosted a Litigation Skills Series training on Mediation on Friday, February 7, 2020. The training gave participants a strong foundation of negotiation theory followed by the opportunity to put what they learned into practice. Melissa Reinberg, mediator and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and Executive Director of Negotiation Works, led the group through a discussion on effective client preparation, how to use leverage in negotiations, and how to manage the mediation process to a successful outcome for clients. Then the sixteen participants participated in two mediation sessions, one as an attorney and one as a client. Through a landlord-tenant fact pattern rife with (intentional) inconsistencies and vital facts known only to the landlord and the tenant, participants were tasked with coming up with a mediation strategy and then putting that strategy into use with an experienced mediator. After the mediations, the Honorable John M. Mott, Senior Judge at The Superior Court of the District of Columbia and current neutral with JAMS Mediation, Arbitration and ADR Services addressed the participants. He spoke about the importance of mediation as a tool for advancing justice and advocating for our clients. The program concluded with a debrief led by Melissa Reinberg, in which participants put together best practices for preparing clients and guidance on the best roles lawyers can play during the mediation. The observations and universal takeaways included those listed here. Best Practices for Attorneys in Preparing Clients: Discuss mediation process Empower client Make sure client understands process is voluntary Discuss what is likely to happen at mediation Find out what client wants and why (i.e., client’s interests) Explore what the client thinks the other party wants and why (ie, the other party’s interests) Help client identify best/worst outcomes Help client identify walk-away alternative/likely outcome if there’s no agreement (ie, BATNA) Consider monetary and time costs to client if case is not settled in mediation Discuss whether client’s goals are realistic in light of the facts and the law Figure out what evidence to bring/present in the mediation Clarify what client is comfortable sharing; distinguish between sharing with all parties vs just the mediator Discuss overall mediation strategy Clarify roles of lawyer and client during mediation (ie, who will speak when) Set up how client will communicate with lawyer during the mediation Decide who will respond to offers (client or lawyer) before going into the mediation Best Roles for Attorneys in the Mediation Process: Guide client but don’t take over Simplify and clarify the process/facts/evidence for client; translate legalese Manage details (eg, do the math calculations) Help client stay focused on current issues being discussed Help prevent client from being sidetracked by collateral disputes Help the client control his or her emotions Manage relations between parties Expand and clarify your client’s perspective Flesh out and reinforce the client’s “good story” Keep an eye on the legal issues, and put client’s facts in legal context (if it’s helpful) Be prepared to jump in and address harder issues so client doesn’t have to Help the client take a step back to evaluate offers and options before accepting or rejecting them Know when to take a break in order to speak to your client about assessing or reassessing options Spin out the contingencies and consequences of the proposals being discussed Engage in reality testing; make sure options under consideration are workable for all Guide your client’s negotiation strategy Mediator comments: Counsel clients by reality testing and let them know what could happen if mediation fails In joint sessions, remember the other side may be hostile or view your client as the enemy Go in with a problem-solving mindset Use mediator as the neutral party he/she is We are grateful to our four mediators Steve Altman, Nancy Cohen, Tiara Jackson, and Carolyn Lerner for their expertise and guidance during the simulations. Their critiques in real time were vital to the rich learning experience and future success of our participants.
Public-interest and pro bono lawyers often interact with clients and witnesses who have experienced trauma. Better understanding the science of trauma can help you be a more effective advocate. Understanding what your client may be feeling makes you a more compassionate lawyer. Learning skills for interviewing people who have experienced trauma in an appropriate way can help you get the information you need to build a strong case while also minimizing the risk of re-traumatizing your client. Join us on Thursday, March 5, from 12:00-2:00 pm at Mayer Brown (1999 K Street) to learn more about trauma-informed interviewing. Our panelists will be: Tara Graham (Senior Program Manager, Just Detention International) Priya Konings (Deputy Director of Legal Services, Kids in Need of Defense) Bridgette Stumpf (Executive Director, Network for Victim Recovery of DC) The panel will be moderated by Jennifer Grishkin (Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney, CAIR Coalition). This training is free for Washington Council of Lawyers members (join) and $15 for others. Bring your lunch. We will provide drinks and desserts! Thank you to Mayer Brown for hosting this important topic!
Our Best Practices in Pro Bono session on January 15 focused on the Social Science of Doing Good. Our conversation was led by an all-star lineup of panelists: Andrea Mangones from Kids In Need of Defense, Dr. Larry Richard from LawyerBrain, and Kitty Wach from Miller & Chevalier. The Best Practices Session was expertly moderated by Paul Lee from Steptoe & Johnson LLP. More than 40 pro bono coordinators from law firms, legal services organizations, government agencies, and law schools attended the program. The panel discussed the reasons that lawyers do pro bono, and what methods are effective (or ineffective) for encouraging lawyers to do more pro bono. Dr. Larry Richard highlighted his research on personality traits that set lawyers apart from the general public. He cited his personality study research that demonstrates lawyers tend to be highly skeptical, but lack resilience and sociability. He noted that we are quick to try to use sticks and carrots to motivate pro bono lawyers, but they are often blunt tools that can have unintended consequences. Using the personal touch to build relationships with lawyers to encourage them to do pro bono can be more effective. Kitty Wach highlighted the variety of ways that law firms can encourage and support pro bono work, including making pro bono a mandatory requirement, asking about lawyers' pro bono practice during performance reviews, and including news of pro bono victories alongside news of commercial case victories in firm-wide emails from law firm leaders. Andrea Mangones shared her experience that having colleagues talk about pro bono clients they have helped, or hearing from clients themselves about the impact having a pro bono lawyer had on their lives can be the best ways to encourage lawyers to take on new pro bono cases. To learn more about lawyer personality traits, how to encourage volunteerism, and the benefits for the volunteer of doing pro bono work, check out these resources. We Volunteer To Help Others, But Research Shows How Much It Helps Us, Too, a January 13, 2020 Washington Post article by Jamil Zaki Supporting Justice: The Work of Pro Bono Lawyers, a 2018 report from the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Accountability 101, a 4-part blog post series by Dr. Larry Richard on the psychology of how to hold law partners accountable Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed, an article describing the personality traits that set lawyers apart from the general public, also by Dr. Larry Richard Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini Influence: The Science of Persuasion, also by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini Our final two Best Practices in Pro Bono Sessions for this year will take place on Tuesday, March 10, from 8:45-10:15 am, and on Wednesday, April 29, from 12:30-2:00 pm. Look for an email with registration information to circulate soon; if you are not currently a member of Washington Council of Lawyers, join today so you won't miss out! We are grateful to Fried Frank for hosting our entire Best Practices in Pro Bono series! Thank you!
We often roll up our sleeves to help our neighbors in need around the holidays. This year, we will volunteer to sort and bag clothing donations with Gifts for the Homeless on Saturday, December 7, from 11 am until 4 pm. The clothing sorting takes place at 2300 N Street, NW, conveniently located north of Washington Circle and within walking distance of the Foggy Bottom/GW and Dupont Circle Metro stops. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes and bring a water bottle. We will be volunteering with many other groups and individuals to help bring warm clothes to people in need. Learn more here. Last year, Gifts for the Homeless was able to receive, sort, bag and deliver nearly 3,200 bags of clothing and other items to more than 55 homeless service organizations. Join us for a hands-on, worthwhile, and fun volunteer activity that is appropriate for individuals and families. All are welcome!
They say it's always the quiet ones. In our case, the quiet one is a force. Quietly, and without fanfare, Jen Swedish simply gets things done. Effectively. Excellently. Extraordinarily. As one of her fellow board members aptly stated, "She has a behind-the-scenes role that even most Board members don't fully see. But Jen has provided a critical service to Washington Council of Lawyers." Jen has been a member of Washington Council of Lawyers Board of Directors for 10 years. And for 7 of those years, she has served as our Treasurer. There is nothing glamorous or exciting about the weekend and late-night hours Jen has spent pouring over spreadsheets and reconciling bank accounts. However, it is vitally important work that ensures our financial stability and ability to serve our mission. She has fearlessly tackled the IRS's complex rules and regulations, always ensuring we are doing exactly what needs to be done. She is adept with Excel, creating pivot tables and using shortcuts to make the work easier. These may sound like trivial talents. They are not! Jen's work over the years has saved Washington Council of Lawyers thousands of dollars in accounting and bookkeeping expenses. A long-time board member said it best, "In a small organization, it is vital to have passionate board members who are willing to take on the difficult tasks. Jen has consistently demonstrated her passion for Washington Council of Lawyers through her long-time stewardship of our finances and her dedication to our success. She has been a key component of our leadership team, and through her efforts, has ensured our ability to meet any challenge." Jen contributes this valuable volunteer service while juggling the obligations imposed by judges, discovery schedules, and travel stemming from her active caseload as a full-time litigator at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the competing demands of having and raising three precious children. (We like to think of them as future public-interest lawyers.) She also has been a key contributor to the work of our committees, especially the Personnel Committee. Her insights and financial acumen have helped the Washington Council of Lawyers make solid decisions so that we have been able to grow our membership, offer more trainings to pro bono and public-interest lawyers, advocate effectively for increased access to justice, and build a stronger public-interest community. Although Jen's work has been in the background, it is central to advancing our mission. Two of the four pillars of our mission are training public-interest lawyers and developing leaders in the public-interest community. Jen was supporting these pillars even before she joined the board by serving as a co-chair of our Mentoring Program. As an alumnae of the program herself, she has been generous with her time in advising other co-chairs on how to effectively lead the program, and serving as a panelist at Mentoring Program events. Our Above & Beyond Award gives us the opportunity to thank Jen for a thankless job. We are pleased to take public notice of her dependability and dedication. We honor the talents she has shared with us and the hours she has devoted. We are grateful for her contributions and thrilled to recognize Jen Swedish as the 2019 recipient of our Above & Beyond Award.
Every year, pregnancy-related complications kill about 700 women. That’s bad enough, but the racial disparity makes it even worse: Compared to white women, black women are three times more likely to die because of pregnancy. Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community wants more people to learn about this gap and, more generally, that too many black women and black babies suffer avoidable deaths. Ujima provides culturally specific services and resources about domestic, sexual, and community violence. Says its Executive Director, Gretta Gardner, "We hope to bring awareness that will spur conversations in the community about how we have to rely on each other to reduce harm and raise awareness instead of relying solely on systems and institutions." So two weeks ago (on Monday, October 14), Ujima held an event at Busboys and Poets in Anacostia to discuss black maternal health and how it relates to domestic violence. The program was one of over thirty District events held in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Moderated by Ujima Senior Policy Attorney Megan Simmons, the panel featured two reproductive-rights leaders: Dr. Jamila Perritt (a local OBGYN and member of the District's Maternal Mortality Review Committee) and Jessica Pinckney (Vice President of Government Affairs at In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda). The panelists were blunt about the relationship between domestic violence and maternal health. "Many folks who will someday become pregnant or potentially become mothers or parents have often experienced some type of abuse or violence in their life," said Pinckney. And "there is no way to separate the trauma or that experience from both the experience of being pregnant and the experience of being a parent." In fighting these problems, the panelists stressed, there's no substitute for knowing about reproductive justice and its history. As Dr. Perritt explained, "If you don’t understand reproductive justice, you will continue to see inequities." And, she added, "you can’t understand the inequalities with medical care unless you understand the history." Because of this history, for instance, some African-Americans distrust medical professionals; that distrust can affect the quality of care delivered and received. As a result, doctors and other medical providers need to ask better questions to learn whether someone is a victim of violence: "You have to ask if something is going on." Unfortunately, quite a bit is going on. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, last year District domestic-violence organizations served an average of 589 victims—each day. Bit by bit, groups like Ujima are working to change that. Learn more about Ujima, Inc. here.
Our November Best Practices in Pro Bono features a conversation with Nancy Drane, Executive Director of the DC Access to Justice Commission, previewing some highlights of the Commission’s forthcoming report, Delivering Justice: Addressing Civil Legal Needs in the District of Columbia. Nancy will focus on some of what the Commission learned about civil legal needs in our community, the progress we've made, and what the future may hold. How has the civil legal services community innovated, adapted, and changed since the last Legal Needs Report was issued in 2008? What new areas of need have emerged? What are some of the barriers that low- and moderate-income District residents still face? What is the role of pro bono in moving the needle on our local legal needs? What might be some of the next frontiers in access to justice in the District? Breakfast and networking take place from 8:45-9:00 am. The conversation, facilitated by Lise Adams of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, takes place from 9:00-10:15 am. Thank you to Fried Frank for hosting! Best Practices in Pro Bono is open to pro bono coordinators at law firms, legal services organizations, government agencies, and in-house legal departments. We hope you will join us on Thursday, November 7 – first, to get your morning caffeine buzz, and then, to hear all the buzz about the Commission’s report.
By Jessalyn Schwartz Starting on January 1, 2019, the Lyft Grocery Access Program will offer affordable rides to three East of the River grocery stores for 500 eligible families in an effort to combat common barriers of transportation and access to healthy foods. Lyft has partnered with Martha’s Table, a local nonprofit, that has been working to strengthen families and communities through educational programming, healthy food projects and family support services, to implement the six-month pilot program. For $2.50 per ride, up to two members of participating families will be able to share rides to one of three local grocery stores (Giant at 1535 Alabama Avenue SE, Safeway at 322 40th Street NE, and Safeway at 2845 Alabama Avenue SE) or the Martha’s Table food markets (locations here). Eligible families must have at least one child enrolled in one of the six participating elementary schools or engaged in Martha’s Table’s educational programs and must attend an in-person orientation with Martha’s Table and Lyft prior to using their rides. Families will receive up to 50 rides through June 30, 2019. According to Lindsay Morton, Director of Healthy Markets at Martha’s Table, families have long reported that transportation is one of the top three barriers to accessing grocery stores. The program seeks to lessen the financial and logistical burdens associated with getting to grocery stores. Lyft has been a supporter of Martha’s Table for over a year and came to the nonprofit to find a way to stand with the DC community and leverage each entity’s powers to combat issues with food access and the prevalence of food deserts. Martha’s Table has been an essential player in working to resolve this problem in the city and is known to be a convener of both residents utilizing their programs and influencers who may impact the scalability of effective efforts. Collaborating through a series of meetings, Lyft and Martha’s Table were able to come up with a number of ideas, test their efficacy, and quickly bring the pilot program to fruition. Martha’s Table has reached out to local partner schools, families engaged in their programming, and community members to spread the word. If the program proves successful, they will seek to generate funding strategies to take the program to a larger scale. The goal is to first expand the program to more families in Wards 7 and 8 and then to grow the program to reach the rest of the District, and the greater DC Metro area. The program will utilize a survey model to assess its efficacy, with participants sharing information on their grocery shopping habits before, during, and at the conclusion of the pilot period. Morton shared that the enthusiasm from last week’s announcement has made the idea of implementing the program on a larger scale seem possible and that the organizations were excited to begin the new year with an innovative approach to reducing transportation and food access barriers in DC. For more information about the program, please visit the Lyft Grocery Access Program website. Families interested in joining the program can apply here. Registration is on a first come, first served basis. Registration will remain open until 500 families are enrolled. Jessalyn Schwartz is an editor of East of the River Profiles.