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Low Bono, Hi-Tech

At the most recent installment in our Looking Into Low Bono series, we looked at ways that technology can expand access to justice. Our panelists had lots of great information to share, and their presentations are worth checking out: Presentation by Billie-Jo Kaufman (Associate Dean, American University Washington College of Law) Presentation by Briane Cornish Knight (Responsive Law) Presentation by Tanina Rostain (Georgetown Law) You may also be interested in these apps built by Georgetown Law students. Debt & Eviction Navigator: An app that supports social workers serving home bound elderly (built with Jewish Association Serving the Aging) New York City Earned Sick Time Advisor: A self-help app to determine user’s entitlement to paid sick leave under NYC law (built with A Better Balance) Over the summer, we’ll be putting together a compendium of the topics and resources highlighted during our Looking into Low Bono series, and providing opportunities to continue to expand our low bono community. Finally, our Low Bono Google Group continues to grow! If you’d like to join, please email our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez. We’re excited to be looking into low bono, and we look forward to the next steps!

Our 2015 D.C. Bar Officer Endorsements

Our 2015 D.C. Bar Officer Endorsements

Update: The results are in. Congratulations to this year's winners! -------- The leadership of the D.C. Bar focuses the priorities and sets the tone for one of the largest bar associations in the country. can have a huge impact on its focus and priorities. Since Washington Council of Lawyers is devoted to promoting pro bono and public interest law, we think it's essential that D.C. Bar leaders understand firsthand the importance of increasing access to justice in our community. With this in mind, we are pleased to endorse the following candidates for D.C. Bar office. If you are an active member of the D.C. Bar in good standing, you can vote online until May 22. President-Elect Annamaria Steward Secretary Shara M. Chang Treasurer Christopher P. Zubowicz Board of Governors G. Brian Busey Moses A. Cook Ann K. Ford Arian M. June Leah M. Quadrino ABA House of Delegates Paul M. Smith D. Jean Veta ABA House of Delegates – Under 36 Carter T. Coker We base our endorsements on the candidates' resumes and answers to a questionnaire, prepared by our D.C. Bar Affairs Committee. For the office of President, we also hold a question-and-answer session with the candidates. Lists of multiple candidates appear alphabetically, and not in order of preference. If you have questions or would like to review the survey responses, please email one of our DC Bar Affairs Co-Chairs, Susan Hoffman and Barbara Kagan. Oh, and don't forget to vote!

Lawyers For A Day At The Youth Law Fair

Lawyers for a Day at the Youth Law Fair

  • April 4, 2015
  • Blog

Last month, we organized a volunteer group to help out with the Youth Law Fair—a free, full-day, event that brings hundreds of high school students, lawyers, judges, and educators together to explore issues facing students in the DC area. Organized by D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Bar, it offers students the opportunity to participate in mock trials playing the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, judges, and  jurors. The Youth Law Fair also offers speak-out sessions on racial profiling and building positive relationships with law enforcement, courthouse and holding cell tours led by judges and attorneys, and the chance to learn more about law-related careers. This year's Youth Law Fair was titled Profiling: That's Not Me! What's The problem? and tackled the issues of racial profiling and police brutality. Our volunteers worked with a group of students assigned to the courtroom of Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo. We were joined by Officer Leo, a teacher turned policeman; Officer Leo played role of a police officer in the mock trial and afterwards spoke to the students about police work and the relationship between police and the public. For those scoring at home, the jurors rendered a split verdict.

Racial Justice Recap: Ferguson, And The Need For Authentic Discussion About Racism

Racial Justice Recap: Ferguson, and the Need for Authentic Discussion About Racism

  • February 26, 2015
  • Blog

By Robin Murphy The recent killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamar Rice illustrate the continuing need for lawyers to commit time and energy to eradicate discrimination and violence against people of color and build an inclusive society that enables everyone to succeed. In the first installment of our Racial Justice Series, which we are cosponsoring with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, we examined the events in Ferguson and explored how to address ongoing racism in the justice system. The panel was moderated by Camille Holmes, Director of Leadership and Racial Equity at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. Each of the panelists brought has significant experience and expertise in the areas of civil rights and racial justice, and each brought unique perspectives to the discussion. Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby (DC Court of Appeals) described the need for all participants in a democracy to be informed and engaged. She recounted how racism is imbedded in our justice system, dating back to the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Clause and the Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson. Judge Blackburne-Rigsby also shared her recent experience with the DC judiciary, as judges examined their own implicit biases and discovered the need for greater self-examination. Nicole Austin-Hillery (Brennan Center for Justice) likewise explained how many discriminatory policies are rooted in law, pointing to the disproportionate representation of black males in our prisons and the severe collateral consequences of a criminal conviction – such as the loss of the right to vote, to public housing and access to student loans. She added some good news: there is true reform occurring on Capitol Hill, with several bipartisan bills seeking to reform prison and sentencing. Georgetown Law professor Anthony Cook urged participants not only to think about the traditional roles of lawyers, but also to be disruptive. He pointed to the effectiveness of recent demonstrations around the country – including at Georgetown Law – such as die ins, teach ins, and black-lives-matter demonstrations. These and other efforts are essential to what he described as “bias interruption" – stopping bias from harming people of color. Each panelist stressed the need for more authentic and honest conversations about race and racism. The panel ended with an invitation to each attendee to choose an action that could advance that conversation – from understanding our own implicit biases to interrupting that bias to engaging in analysis and multi-layered strategies to address the structural system of racism. You can get more detail about the panel – including tweets, photos, and links to many of the cases, events, and studies discussed – by checking out our Storify of the event. We’ll be scrutinizing the concept of implicit bias at the next installment in our Racial Justices Series. This event – Below the Surface: Exploring Implicit Bias in Ourselves and the Legal System – is a hands-on workshop exploring implicit bias and how it may impact your practice, your workplace, and the legal system. Robin Murphy is a member of our Board of Directors. By day, she is a lawyer at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Government Lawyers, Meet Your Pro Bono Clients

Government Lawyers, Meet Your Pro Bono Clients

  • January 17, 2015
  • Blog

Government lawyers often hesitate to do pro bono work, since the navigating the ethics questions and potential conflicts can feel like too big an obstacle. But the federal government has made tremendous strides in helping government attorneys take pro bono cases, and DC’s legal services providers now provide many opportunities. On January 13, a lively bunch of government lawyers spent lunchtime at DOJ’s Patrick Henry Building to learn how to provide pro bono legal services to low-income DC residents. We convened this year’s Government Pro Bono Roundtable to encourage government attorneys to take the plunge and do pro bono work. Julie Abbate, a DOJ lawyer and a member of our board, moderated a panel featuring Joey Bowers (DOJ), Nicole Murley (also DOJ), Laura Klein (DOJ’s Pro Bono Program Manager), and Scott Risner (USAID). The panelists, who are pro bono veterans, shared tips for finding pro bono opportunities and explored ways to make the pro bono experience meaningful and productive. Among their suggestions: Seek out training: organizations like the DC Bar and, ahem, Washington Council of Lawyers offer many useful training sessions; Most legal services organizations provide a mentor to government attorneys taking on pro bono cases; Don’t be shy about letting your colleagues know that you are working on a pro bono case, and be sure to let your clients know that you have other cases and may not be able to respond to them immediately; If you don’t have the time to commit to a full case at the moment, consider a discrete opportunity like the DC Bar’s Advice & Referral Clinic. As it turns out, we’ll be leading a volunteer group to this clinic on the morning of Saturday, February 14. Finally, you can learn more at probono.net, which has a dedicated page for Federal Government Pro Bono Attorneys. Doing pro bono work can be invigorating. You get to learn about a new area of law and keep your practice vibrant. It’s work, of course, but it’s rewarding work. And it’s an ethical responsibilty. So if you’re a government attorney, we hope that a rewarding pro bono case is in your future! (We’d like to thank Red Velvet Cupcakery for providing cupcakes for the event. As it turns out, pro bono work is good for both the soul and the stomach.) Lydia C. Watts is our Associate Director. You can follow her on Twitter at @lydiawatts.

2014 Above & Beyond Award: Gregory Lipper (Americans United For Separation Of Church And State)

2014 Above & Beyond Award: Gregory Lipper (Americans United for Separation of Church and State)

  • November 26, 2014
  • Blog

Greg Lipper was introduced to Washington Council of Lawyers in 2011 by Taryn Wilgus Null, our then-President and at the time a colleague of Greg’s at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where Greg is a First Amendment litigator. Taryn invited Greg to attend one of our programs with her, and introduced him to some of our other members. Fast forward: Greg joined our Board of Directors in 2012, instantly became the Chair of our brand-new, but sorely needed, Communications Committee, and revolutionized our outreach, communications, and impact. Greg’s tireless work ethic, quick wit, and razor sharp editor’s pen have transformed the way we reach DC’s public interest community. Some attorneys have even commented that they ENJOY reading our emails! Under Greg’s leadership, we started an active, lively Twitter account; before Greg, we didn’t even know what Twitter was. Greg and his team on the Communications Committee have launched us into photos, graphics, Facebook, Storify, Flickr, Tumblr, and an overall “bettr” way of working towards our mission of promoting pro bono service and the public interest practice of law. We asked our board members what they liked best about Greg, and here is what they had to say: Greg gives 110% to everything he does. Greg is always pushing the envelope and successfully encouraging the Washington Council of Lawyers to reach new heights. His energy and enthusiasm know no bounds. Greg possesses an uncommon blend of humor, sincerity, and intellect. Greg brings new ideas and ways to use technology to advance our core mission with such excitement for our work. Greg has pushed and pulled us into the 21st century in terms of our use of social media. His energy and enthusiasm are boundless. Plus, he makes me laugh—a lot. Greg constantly challenges everyone around him to be more thoughtful, rigorous and excellent. He changes the very nature of any conversation and dialogue with his presence. The council is a far more energetic and current organization because he is on its Board. Greg has tenacity! Greg has played a critical role in the marketing and inter-connectedness of the Council with its members and the public. Kudos to Greg! Greg’s energy, creativity and technical expertise makes him an indispensable member of the Council. I admire his willingness to advocate for a position in light of opposition—his willingness to challenge the board makes us a stronger organization. Greg gets things done as soon as the idea is out of someone’s mouth! I’m grateful for his very helpful combination of dedication, energy and efficiency! There are too many good things about Greg to be able to mention them all here – I will email with a bit more reflection to pare it down! I will Tweet my comments about Greg. We are grateful for all of Greg’s work, and we are delighted to recognize him with our Above and Beyond Award.

2014 Government Pro Bono Award: John Bowers (DOJ Civil Division)

2014 Government Pro Bono Award: John Bowers (DOJ Civil Division)

  • November 20, 2014
  • Blog

Our 2014 Government Pro Bono Award goes to John J. (Joey) Bowers, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice Civil Division. Joey has become a role model for the public interest community in a surprisingly short time. Joey joined the Civil Division’s Environmental Tort Litigation section after he finished clerking in 2011. Since then, he has taken on three major pro bono cases. In 2011, Joey took on a case that many other lawyers thought was too challenging; he helped a mother from Massachusetts maintain her custody rights in a trial that involved nine witnesses. In 2012, while still working on the custody case, he represented a client wrongly accused of causing a car accident. And he took on another case that same year, which ended after Joey spent 11 hours negotiating a settlement on the Sunday before trial. Joey has done plenty of other pro bono and volunteer work as well. He has helped clients draft wills and powers of attorney through the DC Bar/Bread for the City will clinic. He has volunteered at the DC Bar Advice and Referral Clinic. He coaches the Woodrow Wilson High School mock trial team and has led them to compete at a citywide program at the DC Superior Court. He is Co-Director of the Federal Bar Association’s Moot Court Program. And he is Co-Chair of the Summer Law Clerk Program for the Federal Bar Association’s Younger Lawyers Division. Joey has helped a huge number of people in a very short time despite an extremely busy schedule. He is a true public servant, and we are pleased to honor him with our 2014 Government Pro Bono Award.

Meet Our New Board Members!

Meet Our New Board Members!

  • September 15, 2014
  • Blog

This fall we're welcoming six new lawyers to our Board of Directors. Learn a little about them below: Allison Holt (@allisonmholt) is a litigation associate at Hogan Lovells, and she currently serves as the firm's full time senior associate for the pro bono practice. Among other cases, Allison represents homeless families seeking access to appropriate emergency shelter during hypothermic conditions, and is currently working with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project on a criminal case in Virginia. Christina Jackson (@CJacksonPSJD) is Director of Public Interest Initiatives & Fellowships at NALP, where she researches and promotes access-to-justice initiatives. From 2009 to 2013, Christina served as the Public Interest Specialist at American University Washington College of Law. Sara Jackson (no relation to Christina, as far as we know) is the Pro Bono Coordinator at Georgetown University Law Center. Sara previously spent five years as a practicing lawyer specializing in civil rights and racial justice. Marcia Maack is Assistant Director of Pro Bono Activities for Mayer Brown LLP. Her pro-bono work focuses on international human rights, asylum, and refugee cases. Marcia also sits on the board of directors of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. Jaya Saxena (@thezenlegalmama) is an Assistant Director at George Washington University Law School's Center for Professional Development and Career Strategy. She previously served as a career counselor at George Mason University School of Law and a lawyer at Maryland Legal Aid. Jaya has also held leadership positions on the Board of Directors of the South Asian Bar Association of Washington, DC. V. David Zvenyach (@vdavez) currently serves as the General Counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia. David is also Chair-Elect of the DC Bar's Sections Council. In his spare time, David designs web apps focused on making legal information more widely available; his team recently took third place at the ABA's "Hackcess to Justice" conference, for an app called Due Processor.

2014 Summer Public Interest Events for Law Students

  • June 17, 2014
  • Blog

For more information, visit http://www.probono.net/dc/calendar/ _______ Tuesday, June 17 | 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm Caregiver Representation Pro Bono Attorney Training – Children’s Law Center Steptoe & Johnson (1330 Connecticut Avenue, NW; Red Line: Dupont Circle) Register at www.childrenslawcenter.org/pro-bono-home Current and prospective pro bono attorneys are invited to learn about adoption, guardianship, and custody law and practice, and representing caregivers in these cases. A light lunch will be provided. _______ Wednesday, June 18 | 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Public Interest Happy Hour – Washington Council of Lawyers & Children’s Law Center Children’s Law Center (616 H Street, NW; Red Line: Gallery Place) All are welcome! Invite a friend to join you! _______ Thursday, June 19 | 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm Perspectives on Poverty Law from the Bench: DC Superior Court – Washington Council of Lawyers Jones Day (300 New Jersey Avenue, NW; Red Line: Union Station) Three Superior Court judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment. _______ Tuesday, June 24 | 11:00 am – 1:00 pm Legal Advocacy for People With Intellectual Disabilities – DC Department on Disability Services, Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, and Project Action Arent Fox LLP (1717 K Street, NW; Red Line: Farragut North) RSVP to mwhitlatch@dcqualitytrust.org An interactive brown bag discussion of: practice tips, ethical obligations, reasonable accommodations, advocacy support, and more. _______ Wednesday, June 25 | 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Lunch and Law: Bullying – Children’s Law Center Conference Call: Dial 605–562–3000 and use passcode 964021# No RSVP is required; learn more at http://www.childrenslawcenter.org/ A discussion of Children’s Law Center’s efforts to address bullying in DC schools. _______ Tuesday, July 8 | 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm Perspectives on Poverty Law from the Bench: DC Court of Appeals – Washington Council of Lawyers DC Court of Appeals (430 E Street, NW – Multipurpose Room; Red Line: Judiciary Square) Three Court of Appeals judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment. _______ Wednesday, July 9 | 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Fellowships 101: An Introduction to Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowships – Washington Council of Lawyers Georgetown Law (600 New Jersey Avenue, NW – Hart Auditorium; Red Line: Union Station) A panel discussion of the ins and outs of project-based fellowship programs. Expert panelists will offer tips and insights about how to craft the best fellowship proposals while in law school. _______ Thursday, July 10 | 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm An Evening at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Arent Fox LLP Holocaust Memorial Museum (100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW; Orange/Blue Line: Smithsonian) For more information, contact Emily.Dorsey@arentfox.com Gerard Leval, General Counsel of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and a partner at Arent Fox LLP, will discuss legal issues relating to the development of the museum and those affecting the museum’s operations since its opening in 1993. _______ Wednesday, July 16 | 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Public Interest Happy Hour – Washington Council of Lawyers Thomas Foolery (2029 P Street, NW; Red Line: Dupont Circle) Celebrity guest bartenders pour your drink: Jim Sandman (Legal Services Corporation), Paul Smith (Jenner & Block), Virginia Sloan (The Constitution Project), and William Treanor (Georgetown University Law Center). _______ Friday, July 18 | 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm Practicing Public Interest Law East of the Anacostia River: 4th Annual Summer Panel Discussion with the East of the River Casehandlers Deanwood Library (1350 49th Street, NE; Orange Line: Deanwood) To register, contact Heather Hodges at 202.269.5100 or hhodges@nlsp.org A discussion about student internships and pro bono opportunities east of the river, the DC Bar Foundation’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program for public interest lawyers in DC, and the DC legal services providers that serve the low-income residents of the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods east of the river. _______ Thursday, July 24 | 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm Perspectives on Poverty Law from the Bench: Office of Administrative Hearings – Washington Council of Lawyers Arnold & Porter LLP (555 12th Street, NW; Orange/Blue/Red Line: Metro Center) Three DC Office of Administrative Hearings judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment. _______ Wednesday, July 30 | 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm Perspectives on Poverty Law from the Bench: US District Court for the District of Columbia – Washington Council of Lawyers McDermott Will & Emery (500 North Capitol Street, NW; Red Line: Union Station) Three DC District Court judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment. _______ Monday, August 18 – Friday, August 22 13th Annual Human Rights on the Hill – University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law To join the list for more information, including a session schedule, write to JFL@udc.edu The course features presentations from a wide range…

2013 Law Firm Award: Fried Frank

2013 Law Firm Award: Fried Frank

  • December 4, 2013
  • Blog

Fried Frank is a major international law firm, recognized for complex financial transactions, securities enforcement work, and high-stakes litigation across the globe. But its lawyers also focus on serving individuals and organizations at home in their communities. Fried Frank's pro bono practice is broad. Most of Fried Frank's pro bono clients are low income individuals, but some are legal services organizations and other non-profits, as well as small businesses and start-up entrepreneurs. Matters include ADA litigation, landlord/tenant cases, custody and adoption disputes, asylum and deportation cases, and a wide range of other matters. The firm has also prepared amicus briefs on a variety of issues to the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts. More broadly, Fried Frank is a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute's Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. And the firm has established internal policies for advancement and bonus consideration that encourage and reward pro bono service. Earlier this year, more than 32 attorneys in the Washington office were recognized on either the Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll or High Honor Roll for performing 50 or 100 hours of pro bono service in 2012. Fried Frank also received the "40 at 50" award from the Judicial Conference of the DC Circuit because more than 40% of its lawyers performed at least 50 hours of pro bono service during the same year. Fried Frank has worked with a variety of great organizations on pro bono cases, and also has a longstanding relationship with the Washington Council of Lawyers. It has hosted and co-sponsored our events, organized and provided panelists for public-interest career forums and other activities, and has written amicus briefs and published jobs guides on our behalf. Finally, we are greatly for the active participation on our board – over the last two decades – of Fried Frank's Public Service Counsel, Karen Grisez. Don’t miss tonight's 2013 Awards Reception – and if you aren't able to attend, we'll be live-tweeting it at @WashLawyers! Submit Search the Site

2013 Government Pro Bono Award: Jay Owen (DOJ Antitrust)

2013 Government Pro Bono Award: Jay Owen (DOJ Antitrust)

  • November 24, 2013
  • Blog

By Tori Roth Jay Owen has been an attorney in the DOJ Antitrust Division since graduating from George Washington University Law School in 2007. Soon after beginning his practice, he started doing pro bono work for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Each year at the Clinic, Jay conducts four or five intake sessions. Over the years, he has opened about 150 cases. Most of them were open and shut (some even closed the same day), but several have lasted longer. For Jay, the most rewarding part of pro bono work is helping his clients with concrete problems, even if it means removing only one of many stumbling blocks. In other instances, his pro bono work can be tremendously valuable simply because he is there to listen. One of Jay's cases has turned into a standing pro bono client, and Jay is always willing to listen when this client calls with a new issue, as he has about once every six months for the past two years. For anyone interested in pro bono work, the biggest hurdle is the intimidation factor – the fear of doing something wrong. But Jay advises that many pro bono clients have no one else to turn to, and they appreciate any assistance, even if it's not perfect. And as Jay has demonstrated, pro bono work allows lawyers to assist not only an individual, but also an entire community. One final note: Jay became interested in working with the homeless during law school, when he started volunteering with Gifts for the Homeless, a non-profit staffed by volunteers from the Washington, DC legal community, and that serves the local homeless population. Jay now serves on its board  and encourages everyone to participate in their annual clothing drive, which will take place Friday, December 6 through Sunday, December 8.

Walk A Month In Someone Else’s Shoes

Walk A Month In Someone Else’s Shoes

  • November 12, 2013
  • Blog

By Cheryl Polydor "You never really understand a person until you look at things from his point of view … Until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it." Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. Activist and attorney Tiela Chalmers wants you to take a walk inside the skin (or the shoes) of a person living in poverty today in the United States. With an impressive background in providing legal services for the poor, Chalmers now travels around the country leading audiences in the Poverty Simulation, a three-hour interactive presentation developed by the Missouri Community Action Network. Chalmers has customized the event for legal and medical professionals. The Poverty Simulation gives participants a deep, visceral understanding of the day-to-day experiences of a person living in poverty. The difficulties and frustrations in their dealings with agency officials, store owners, landlords, the police, and others are vividly and realistically portrayed. As a result, Chalmers says, even experienced professionals who work with the poor find the Poverty Simulation to be a real eye-opener. Many of us may be aware, on an abstract level, that to be poor is typically to endure substandard housing, education and health care, and to lack economic opportunity and access to justice. But how many of us really can imagine what it’s like to try to nourish our family with food stamps, to work two low-paying jobs to try to keep a roof over our family’s head, or to help our children with their homework when we come home thoroughly exhausted at the end of a 16-hour workday? The Poverty Simulation can’t quite bridge the gap. Chalmers promises, however, a moving experience that will forever change the way you view and interact with people living in poverty. We hope you’ll join us on Wednesday.

Pro Bono Week Wrap-Up: Poverty Law Conference

  • October 29, 2013
  • Blog

By Cheryl Polydor According to the latest figures published by the US Census Bureau, approximately 46.2 million Americans live in poverty - that's 15 percent of the population. The numbers are worse for our children: 22 per cent of all American children live in households with incomes below the official poverty line. African American and Latino children are hit the hardest: 42.5 percent of African American children, and 37.1 percent of Latino children are living in poverty. Poverty - and the tools to effectively represent people living in poverty - was the focus of the Poverty Law Conference last weekend at American University's Washington College of Law. Organizers Ezra Rosser, professor at the Washington College of Law, and Marie Fallinger, professor at Hamline School of Law, were joined by a group of scholars and activists who discussed the legal policy strategies to help poor people achieve economic justice. Almost 200 people attended. The conference featured two powerhouse presentations, one by a lawyer and one by a sociologist. The opening speaker was lawyer and activist Peter Edelman, one of the foremost experts on poverty in the United States. Edelman currently teaches at Georgetown Law and serves as faculty director of Georgetown's Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. Early in his career, Edelman served as a legislative aide to Senator Robert Kennedy. Edelman drew on his forty-plus years of activism and public service to present a thoughtful analysis of poverty and its causes. Among them: the prevalence of low-wage jobs, the growth of single-parent households, the shrinking safety net, and persistent structural discrimination based on race and gender. The solution? Jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson was the keynote speaker at Friday's lunchtime plenary session. A former MacArthur Fellow, Wilson is currently one of only twenty University Professors, the highest distinction for Harvard faculty members. Wilson described the historical and structural factors behind the current poverty statistics. He pointed to the historic "clustering" of black and Latino men in disappearing manufacturing jobs and low-paying service jobs. He identified the institutional failures of urban schools and community colleges, which do not effectively prepare minority students for gainful employment in the new economy. And he explained the "neighborhood effect": poor urban neighborhoods increasingly offer few job opportunities and lack basic services and amenities, such as banks, retail establishments, and quality transit. Wilson, like fellow activist and scholar Edelman, believes that the way to win the fight against poverty is a comprehensive and sustained strategy of job creation. Washington, are you listening?

Pro Bono Week Preview: American University Poverty Conference

  • October 22, 2013
  • Blog

By Cheryl Polydor Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29,2005, devastating the city and its residents. Almost 800,000 thousand people were displaced or made homeless overnight, and many were killed. The cost to the people of New Orleans and its economy was incalculable. Ezra Rosser, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law, was teaching in New Orleans at the time of Katrina. He was fortunate to escape the worst effects of the storm – but it did have a unique impact on the trajectory of his career. After the storm hit, Rosser was asked to teach a colleague's classes in Poverty Law – so that his colleague could devote his time to advising and representing the hundreds of people arriving daily to seek assistance from the school's legal clinic. Now a professor at Washington College of Law, Rosser continues to teach Poverty Law, and is co-coordinator of the 2013 Poverty Law Conference: Cases, Teaching and Scholarship taking place this Friday and Saturday. He is organizing the conference with Marie Fallinger, a professor at Hamline School of Law. Both Rosser and Fallinger have made substantial contributions to the expanding scholarship on poverty law. What is poverty law? Rosser explains that it's a multi-disciplinary field, addressing legal issues faced by poor people in their daily lives. It includes, among others, aspects of housing law, health care law, education law, public benefits law, employment law, and immigration law. In addition to providing a forum for the cross-pollination of ideas by poverty law scholars, practitioners, and teachers, the Poverty Conference is intended to produce a book, for publication, showcasing the most significant poverty law cases and developments. There currently is a lack such works, and recent economic developments – both in the US throughout the world – have created a growing need for a comprehensive treatise. A highlight of the Conference is the featured speaker for the lunchtime Plenary Session on Friday: Harvard professor William Julius Wilson, one of the nation's most renowned scholars exploring the intersection of race and poverty.

Pro Bono Week Preview: Healthy Together – Improving Child Health through Medical-Legal Partnership

  • October 17, 2013
  • Blog

Founded in 1996, Children’s Law Center is the largest legal services organization in Washington, DC and the only to focus on children. Its 80-person staff, together with hundreds of pro bono partners, helps more than 2,000 children and caregivers every year. This experience allows CLC to advocate for system-wide changes that improve the lives of all the District's children. CLC focuses on the whole family, not just the legal problem presented. They do this by creating a cross-disciplinary team of professionals made up of lawyers, doctors, educators, and social workers. During Pro Bono Week, CLC will showcase their nationally recognized medical-legal partnership program (known as Healthy Together) with a visit to their offices at one of the Children’s National Medical Center’s Children’s Health Centers. Since 2002, CLC has maintained law offices just steps from the exam rooms at various Children’s Health Centers throughout the District. The partnership between CLC and the Children’s National Medical Center is one of the oldest medical-legal partnerships in the country. A medical-legal partnership is a healthcare delivery model that expands the concept of medical care for low-income families to include legal representation. The program is based on prevention, removing non-medical barriers to children’s and families’ health and wellbeing, and addressing adverse social conditions that negatively impact the health of DC’s low-income families. Under this model, doctors who suspect that a medical condition may have underlying legal issues can immediately connect a family with a CLC attorney. Together, they find legal remedies to health problems that can get in the way of a child’s success. CLC attorneys have forced insurance companies to pay for equipment such as wheelchairs for children who need them to go to school; filed suit against landlords to clean up apartments that were infested with rodents and mold that aggravated medical conditions such as asthma and allergies; and offered training to doctors to help them to ask the right questions so that they can identify obstacles that a legal action could overcome. Tracy Goodman, the Director of Healthy Together and the first CLC attorney to participate in the medical-legal partnership, said the medical-legal partnership program has had great support from the start: “We had incredible support and buy-in at the clinic level from day one as the pediatricians and other health care staff welcomed our presence once they learned about the model.” The program has since expanded to a variety of Children’s National Medical Center clinics and programs, including Generations, four Children Health Center Locations, as well as Mary’s Center. CLC’s Healthy Together has eight lawyers and two investigators. Over 100 pro bono attorneys volunteer their time and talent each year to help CLC help as many children as possible. CLC’s current goal is to double the number of children served by the Healthy Together program over the next five years. One in three children in the District of Columbia lives in poverty, leaving them vulnerable to overwhelming health problems. For every child seen in this program, there are dozens more in need. There are clinic waiting rooms full of children who need the legal expertise that CLC and pro bono attorneys provide. Pro bono attorneys will play an important role in expanding this important program. Healthy Together refers pro bono cases in special education and housing conditions to over a hundred pro bono attorneys throughout the District, but there are always more cases in need of placement for pro bono attorneys to get involved. The Pro Bono Week visit will take place on Thursday, October 24th from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Children’s National Medical Center’s Children’s Health Center in Adams Morgan. For more information on becoming a CLC Pro Bono Attorney, check out their website.

Welcome To Our Board!

Welcome to our Board!

  • October 1, 2013
  • Blog

Six fine folks joined our Board of Directors this fall, so allow us to introduce them: Nancy Drane (@Ndrane) is Pro Bono Director of the Children's Law Center. She first joined Children's Law Center as a staff attorney in 2003 and has also served as its Training Director. Nancy was co-chair of the DC Bar Family Law Section, and is an Adjunct Professor at American University's Washington College of Law. Before attending law school, Nancy taught junior high in Chicago. Anne King (@annewarrenking) is currently at Georgetown Law's Institute for Public Representation, where she works with clinic students on civil rights cases and other public interest litigation. Anne is a DC native, and her professional background includes employment discrimination litigation, policy advocacy, and teaching elementary school. Robin Murphy practiced in non-profit legal advocacy programs throughout the country before settling with her family in the DC area and joining the Legal Aid Society of DC. Three years ago, Robin entered federal government service to work in civil rights. Robin's two children are now in college and she is enjoying having more time to participate in WCL. Amy Senier is a Supervising Attorney/Teaching Fellow in the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, where she supervises test cases and fact-finding missions aimed at redressing discrimination against women in Africa. Amy was previously an associate at Foley Hoag LLP. Amy is an enthusiastic cyclist; she spends her non-working hours exploring DC on two wheels – day or night, in groups big or small. David Steib is Assistant Director for the Office of Public Interest at American University Washington College of Law (the other WCL!). David previously worked as a housing attorney at Legal Aid Society of DC; for the past five years, he has been an active member of the DC Language Access Coalition. During the first year of Capital Bikeshare's existence, David was one of the top five riders (measured by the number of trips taken). Daria Zane is an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a member of the Criminal Justice Act panel for the DC Court of Appeals. Previously, Daria was a Special Master for the Court of Federal Claims, an Assistant US Attorney in DC, and a trial attorney in the DOJ Environment and Natural Resources Division. Not to be outdone by the other athletic members of our board, Daria is an avid soccer player. Please join us in welcoming our new board members. We hope get a chance to meet them soon!  

A Dynamic Duo In The Fight For Affordable Housing

A Dynamic Duo in the Fight for Affordable Housing

  • July 14, 2013
  • Blog

Our next Summer Intern Brown Bag Lunch, coming up on July 17, will focus on fair and affordable housing in Washington, DC. In advance of the event, Elise Helgesen Aguilar got in touch with speakers Julie Becker and Jenny Reed. They were kind enough to discuss their practice areas and passion for what they do—and even shared their secret desires for a particular super power. Beginnings Ms. Becker joined the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia in 2000, after graduating from Yale Law School and clerking for Sonia Sotomayor, at the time a judge on the Second Circuit. Ms. Becker always knew that she wanted to be a public-interest lawyer, but did not know she would specialize in fair housing. Once she became a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid, she learned more about the field of affordable housing and become passionate about the issue. She has worked at Legal Aid ever since, and she’s now a supervising attorney. Ms. Reed grew up in Maine. Her mother directed the Maine Human Rights Commission; her father was, and still is, a state representative. Issues of fairness, equality, and local government were always discussed in her house. Those discussions prompted her interest in state and local issues and how local policy could help—or, alas, sometimes hinder—opportunities for low-income residents. Later, while in graduate school, she became interested in statistics and tax policy. When she discovered DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) she knew it would be a great fit; the organization allows her to use data and research to drive policy solutions to the problems facing low- and moderate-income residents in DC. A Day in the Life Both women admit that each day is diverse and challenging. For Ms. Becker, this can mean going to court in the morning and serving as attorney for the day, or supervising other attorneys, and then meeting with new clients, conducting intake, writing motions and pleadings, attending coalition meetings, and coordinating with members from the housing authority. Ms. Reed says that she spends about half her time researching and crunching numbers, about one-fourth of her time talking with policymakers and DC government staff, and the remaining fourth of her time out in the community, giving presentations or attending meetings. It’s All Worth It Ms. Becker finds it most rewarding to work with her clients, and to help individual people solve individual problems. She also enjoys the mix of working directly with clients and reforming the law in ways to help improve housing policy throughout the city. Ms. Reed enjoys working on state and local issues because there she can really see the results of her work, and the impact she can have on local policy. DCFPI gives her the opportunity to work closely with the DC government and to be involved from start to finish in the process of identifying solutions to problems faced by DC’s low-income residents. Words of Wisdom For law students interested in pursuing this field of law, Ms. Becker advises that they should make the most of their summer internships, to really figure out what they like and dislike, and to make as many contacts with lawyers in the housing area as possible. Ms. Reed advises interested students to practice their ability to communicate complex problems in a manner that policymakers can understand. She believes that it’s critical to explain housing issues clearly and concisely. Superwomen Though each woman has the power to create real and lasting change in DC housing policy, both admit that their lives would be made easier if they had one superpower: to teleport or apparate from one place to the next. Despite their busy schedules, there would be no stopping them—if only they could avoid the metro.

Summer Forum 2013: The Creative Civil Rights Lawyer

By Aleta Sprague On Thursday we’ll be holding our 2013 Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. At the Summer Forum, law students and young lawyers will hear from attorneys in a range of public interest fields, with panels ranging from criminal law to family law to international human rights. We are previewing each of the panels. Our first installment looks at the field of civil rights and civil liberties.  Joy Moses will be facilitating our panel on civil rights and civil liberties practice. Currently a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, Ms. Moses was previously a children and youth staff attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. I spoke with her about her career and any advice she had to offer for new attorneys seeking to break into the field of civil rights. Challenges and Rewards For Ms. Moses, one of the most rewarding aspects of working as a civil rights lawyer is being part of the development of the progressive movement and a long tradition of advocacy. Today’s civil rights attorneys have the chance to continue the legacy of the civil rights movement--and even engage with more senior attorneys who were instrumental to the movement itself--while charting a path forward as the next generation seeks to tackle a new set of civil rights challenges. As far as the difficulties, Ms. Moses noted that civil rights attorneys have to become increasingly creative with their legal theories and choices of remedies due to a legal climate that has become less conducive to civil rights litigation. In Alexander v. Sandoval, for example, the Supreme Court held that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not create a private cause of action to enforce claims of discrimination based on a disparate impact standard. The Sandoval decision has had widespread consequences, and Ms. Moses pointed to recent school-to-prison pipeline cases as a prime example of the failings of a legal standard limited to discriminatory intent. Tips for Law Students Internships and fellowships, to the extent those opportunities are available, can be a great way to get started in the field of civil rights and civil liberties. Ms. Moses began her legal career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the NAACP. (Later this summer, on July 11, we’ll be hosting another event specifically targeted at students and new attorneys interested in public interest fellowships, which should be an exciting opportunity to learn about the range possibilities out there.) Ms. Moses also encourages law students and new lawyers to stay connected with the community and take advantage of opportunities to build their professional networks. In DC, organizations like WCL and the American Constitution Society hold frequent events and discussions, and can be a key way to meet other civil rights/civil liberties attorneys. Essential Skills The ability to think creatively and devise alternative ways to achieve the goals you’ve established for yourself are important skills for a civil rights attorney, according to Ms. Moses. Also essential: serious dedication to your cause, open-mindedness, and preparation for the inevitable ups and downs that accompany this area of practice. The civil rights/civil liberties panel will feature attorneys with civil rights experience in the non-profit, government, and private sector. Check it out for a chance to ask questions and hear directly from practicing lawyers about their daily work. Want to learn more? Follow along on Twitter at #SF2013.

Legal Aid Lifelines

  • February 25, 2013
  • Blog

Last week, we explored the scope of the justice gap and the often devastating practical consequences of the shortage in legal representation for low-income families across the country. As promised, we’ll now shift to a more hopeful discussion--how do we fix this problem? What are some of solutions and how do we implement them? Over the past decade, a range of innovations has emerged to cope with dwindling legal-aid budgets and rising need for legal aid. From self-help resources for litigants to a pro bono requirement for new attorneys, the legal services landscape is evolving to address the fact that far too many clients aren’t accessing the help they need. Through pilot projects, some cities have even begun to ensure representation for all litigants in certain civil matters, such as foreclosures. Still, while these local and independent responses are tremendously valuable, larger structural changes likely are needed reduce the long-term gap. Without a national “civil Gideon” approach--guaranteeing counsel to all unrepresented parties--how do we increase access to justice? For more insight into this issue, I checked in with someone who has clearly thought about it at length: Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation and a panelist at Tuesday’s event. Jim, the winner of our 2012 Presidents' Award, was gracious enough to answer my questions by email, and below I’ve summarized some of his suggestions for how policymakers and the legal community can reduce the justice gap: 1.    Increase funding Funding for LSC grantees has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, making it difficult for even the most efficient organizations to serve every client who walks in their doors. To enable these organizations to fulfill their missions, Jim wrote, we need an “increase funding from all sources for legal aid programs.” 2.    Simplify and streamline the legal system for unrepresented parties Navigating the legal system can be notoriously frustrating for unrepresented litigants who are unfamiliar with court practices and complicated rules of procedure. To make the system more user-friendly, Jim proposed that we “expand the use of simplified and standardized forms written in plain language, increase online do-it-yourself resources, and permit non-lawyers to handle routine matters that do not require a legal education.” Reducing red tape and administrative barriers would both increase access to justice and reduce courts’ dockets, yielding a more equitable and efficient judicial system. 3.    Increase pro bono participation among private attorneys Third, Jim noted that the private bar has a significant role in reducing the justice gap by pitching in and contributing pro bono hours; however, we need to do a “better job of educating the profession about the nature and extent of the need.” This is also a priority of the Washington Council of Lawyers, which volunteers regularly at the DC Bar’s advice and referral clinic and seeks to publicize other pro bono opportunities in the DC area. 4.    Provide legal aid organizations with better tools As they cope with reduced funding and smaller staffs, legal services organizations must evaluate how to operate most efficiently. As Jim described, we should “equip legal aid organizations with the business tools to manage their resources to maximum effect--to use solid data to determine what legal services yield the best outcomes for clients and to apply the same rigorous analyses to their own performance that corporations use to assess the performance of their law firms.” In effect, these tools would allow legal services organizations to do more with less, and establish best practices for securing results for the individuals and families they serve. Achieving the above goals would greatly increase access to justice and reduce disparities in our legal system. Nevertheless, Jim emphasized that there is no “single solution” to widespread underrepresentation, and that addressing the problem effectively will require a wide range of interventions and collaborations.

2012 Law Firm Award: SNR Denton

2012 Law Firm Award: SNR Denton

  • November 8, 2012
  • Blog

SNR Denton is a “client-focused international legal practice” with more than 60 locations worldwide. Within the United States and the many countries in which it has offices, SNR Denton is engaged in service “on behalf of individuals, communities, and organizations serving the interests of low-income and disadvantaged people.” The firm strives to provide pro bono service to all the communities in which its employees live and work and has been active in efforts ranging from law reform litigation on behalf of people with disabilities to complex transactions on behalf of social entrepreneurs and global NGOs. In 2011, more than 35 staff members of the D.C. office performed at least 50 hours of pro bono work and were named to the Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll and High Honor Roll. This year the staff at SNR Denton has handled cases from such organizations as the Pro Bono Advocacy and Justice Clinic, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project Screening Committee, and the Septima Clark Public Charter School. The firm is also a proud original signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Pro Bono Challenge and has been recognized for its pro bono achievements by Public Counsel in Los Angeles, Lawyers Alliance for New York, and Chicago Bar Foundation. SNR Denton has long supported the Washington Council of Lawyers.  The firm has hosted our events, supported the participation of attorney James Rubin as an active WCL Board Member, co-chair of the Special Events and Fundraising Committee, and Vice President for the past two years. SNR Denton’s support has helped us expand our programs and better promote pro bono and public interest work.  

Thoughts from Our President

  • October 11, 2012
  • Blog

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. From "Natural Resources" by Adrienne Rich, as recited by our President, Golda Philip, at our first board meeting of the 2012–2013 year.