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Creating Opportunity for Legal Professionals with Past Convictions

06 March 2023   Blog

By Maya Hambrick Sixteen graduates recently walked across a stage at Georgetown University in cap and gown to collect the certificates in Paralegal Studies they had earned over months of hard work. What made the ceremony unique was that each of the graduates had previously experienced incarceration – and had overcome significant barriers to reentry. At Georgetown University, the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program recognizes the regrettably underutilized talents of returning citizens and prepares participants for successful careers in the field of law. The program combines rigorous, full-time academic coursework, job readiness training, mentorship and employment support to open doors for graduates. Meeting Demand for Qualified Paralegals Approximately 600,000 people return to their communities following incarceration each year, and it is estimated that more than 1 in 4 returning citizens is unemployed. This is indicative of the collateral consequences of incarceration and the many challenges of reentry – but also shows that there is a massive pool of skilled individuals that employers are missing out on. This is especially true in the legal field. Returning citizens have direct experience in the system, and many have also become practiced legal researchers while incarcerated – skills that would be an asset to any law firm. Five years ago, Georgetown University and the DC Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA) came together to create a paralegal program with the goal of helping connect returning citizens to sustainable careers while also meeting a need in the industry for qualified and highly skilled paralegals. The program launched in 2018 and has since graduated 35 students over three cohorts. Some of those graduates have gone on to work at employers including the DC Corrections Information Council, the DC Office of the Attorney General, Kirkland & Ellis, Legal Aid Society, Maryland Office of the Attorney General, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Outten & Golden, Relman Colfax, Rising for Justice, and WilmerHale. Welcoming a New Cohort This April, we will welcome the program’s fourth group of approximately 15 students into the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program. As the program has grown, we’ve continued to hone the curriculum: This year, we’ve extended the program by four weeks and will add greater emphasis on digital literacy. Coursework includes contract law, torts, constitutional law, litigation and procedure, corporate law, family law, civil and criminal evidence, investigations, ethics, legal research and writing, and legal technology. For students, it’s a full-time commitment: Classes meet 40 hours per week, mostly in person, at the Prisons and Justice Initiative office and classroom space. Thanks to our partnership with the Department of Employment Services, we are able to offer each student an hourly stipend while they complete classes. We are also excited to welcome back past graduates as mentors to the new students. Looking Ahead to the Next Graduation In late September, we’ll be cheering on the next group of graduates as they are awarded their certificates. Our goal is that a few weeks later, they will be beginning full-time positions at area law firms, public interest organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies. To get there, program staff will be working over the next several months to build our network of employer partners interested in hiring a graduate this fall. Partners will have a chance to review student materials and interview select candidates for entry-level positions. Whether through the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program or standard hiring practices, we know there is a mutually rewarding role for more returning citizens in the legal field. We have seen many of our graduates thrive in their careers when given a chance to enter a professional environment that may have otherwise been out of reach. And we’ve heard from many past employers that graduates of the program have become key members of their hard-working teams. If you are interested in learning more about the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program, you can do so here. Maya Hambrick is the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program Manager, Georgetown University Prisons and Justice Initiative

Government Pro Bono Roundtable 2023 Recap

02 March 2023   Blog

By Laura Higbee Lawyers who work for any government have a couple of extra considerations to make before doing pro bono work. But as our Government Pro Bono Roundtable moderator and panelists showed, doing pro bono as a government attorney is still accessible and rewarding. Read on to learn (or get a refresher on) some tips from the pros: Laura Klein, the DOJ’s Pro Bono Program Manager, reminded attendees of the two crucial nuances of pro bono work as a government lawyer. First, conflicts of interest rules prohibit any government lawyer from working on a case in which the government has a direct or substantial interest. For example, federal attorneys cannot work on immigration or veterans’ benefits cases. Good news: pro bono coordinators/managers like Laura screen potential pro bono cases for conflicts before sharing opportunities with attorneys. Subscribing to agency/department pro bono emails is the best way to find conflict-free work. These screened opportunities also come with malpractice insurance. Second, all pro bono work must be done in an individual capacity, wholly separate from official job duties. This means government attorneys need to work on pro bono matters on their own time. More good news: over 20 federal agencies and the DC Attorney General’s Office already have guidelines for taking leave to work on pro bono matters. This leave can cover court appearances or other obligations during work hours. If your entity does not yet have a pro bono leave policy, ask your coordinator/manager how best to proceed. What kinds of pro bono work can a government attorney do? The possibilities are nearly endless. Transactional clinics, landlord/tenant cases (FAA labor/employment attorney Christopher Jennison’s first pro bono case was a landlord/tenant matter), preparation of wills, employment law. Federal government attorneys who are not licensed in DC can still take DC pro bono cases. All they need is a DC-licensed attorney to sponsor them. And, as of August 2022, DC government attorneys are allowed to represent clients in court as long as they do so not for compensation and the District is not a party and has no interest in the case. Every panelist had pro bono stories to share, but one that stood out was from Tracy Suhr, who works at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in DC. Her client was seeking a permanent housing voucher so he could live with his children. His last name on his birth certificate did not match the last name he had used most of his life and was on other key documents. Because of the discrepancy, the client had been denied a housing voucher. He needed to change his last name officially to his ‘lived as’ last name so his birth certificate matched. Tracy attended a virtual name change hearing on his behalf. She saw many other applicants be rescheduled because they, representing themselves, had skipped a step or missed some a vital detail. Tracy was able to ‘translate’ for both the judge and the client. His name change was granted the same day. Digesting paperwork and communicating effectively at a hearing both come naturally to an award-winning lawyer like Tracy (she is our 2022 Government Pro Bono Award winner). But for her client, Tracy’s presence was the difference between getting the result he needed the same day and having to wait even longer. Her presence and her skills helped the client get everything he needed. Our key takeaways from the panel: 1. Pro bono work is rewarding and even fun 2. Just showing up can make all the difference for your client 3. When in doubt, talk to your pro bono coordinator/manager Laura Higbee is a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers Communication Committee.

Enrollment for the 2022 Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll is Now Open!

24 February 2023   Blog

Applications are now being accepted for the annual Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll. Click here to find out how to apply.

In-House Pro Bono Program and Fair: Making Pro Bono Work in a Virtual World Recap

22 February 2023   Blog, Featured

We had a great time working with the Association of Corporate Counsel’s National Capital Region to host the In-House Pro Bono Program and Fair: Making Pro Bono Work in a Virtual World. Over the course of an hour, our panelists told us about how their respective organizations adapted their pro bono offerings in response to the pandemic and shared advice for audience members looking to get involved in pro bono work.

2022 Awards Ceremony – Inspiring & Uplifting

14 December 2022   Blog, Featured

We were back! It felt so good to be in the same room again to celebrate the dedication of pro bono volunteers and public-interest lawyers in DC. We came away energized and inspired and ready to face whatever challenges 2023 brings. Read on to share in the celebration.

2022 Government Pro Bono Award: Tracy Suhr

09 November 2022   Blog, Featured

Tracy Suhr is our 2022 Government Pro Bono Award recipient!

2022 Legal Services Award: Kristin Eliason

08 November 2022   Blog, Featured

We are excited to recognize Kristin Eliason as the 2022 Legal Services Award recipient. 

2022 Law Firm Award: Latham & Watkins, LLP

07 November 2022   Blog, Featured

We are thrilled to recognize Latham & Watkins LLP as our 2022 Law Firm Award recipient for their deep commitment to pro bono service.

2022 Presidents Award for Public Service: Karen Newton Cole

07 November 2022   Blog

We are honored to recognize Karen with our 2022 Presidents Award for Public Service.

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