That’s a wrap on DC Pro Bono Week 2021! But the increased legal need for pro bono lawyers continues beyond Pro Bono Week. As we move into the next phase of the pandemic recovery, the unprecedented legal needs crisis will only increase. Now is the time to volunteer your time to help a neighbor in need. As lawyers, we have a duty and obligation to help bridge the access to justice gap. Whether it’s by taking on a pro bono case, volunteering for an advice and referral clinic, contributing to systemic advocacy, or financially supporting a legal services organization, we can all do something for the public good.
In recent decades, our society has seen a boom in technology advancement, seemingly with one goal in mind: to improve efficiency in every aspect of our lives, from things such as connecting with friends and family or shopping to political engagement around causes we care most about. But should efficiency be the primary goal of technology advancement? Can we trust that tech companies have the best intentions with the data they collect about us? What happens when that data is misused or abused? These are some of the questions raised in the Coding Justice panel held on October 25, 2021, during DC Pro Bono Week 2021.
Brown v. Board of Education, decided by the Supreme Court in 1954, unanimously established that segregation in education is inherently unequal and thus unconstitutional. “Separate but equal” had no place in our society, especially in the classroom. “Education is the foundation of good citizenship.” That ruling was over half a century ago. Yet today, according to Kent Withycombe, Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee Public Education Project, public schools in the District of Columbia and the surrounding region are more segregated, separate, and unequal now than they were in the 1950s. Brown v. Board of Education may have established equal access to education as a constitutional right, but it did not close the gaps in public education. Getting legal professionals involved in the school communities, to help close the gaps in D.C. public schools, was the focus of the panel discussion, Pro Bono Goes to School: Closing the Gaps in Public Education, held on October 29, during D.C. Pro Bono Week 2021.
On Wednesday, October 27 as part of National Pro Bono Week we hosted a discussion about the need for pro bono attorneys to represent tenants on the landlord and tenant docket. Our panelists shared the contours of the issue and provided statistics, facts, and background to enable the audience to fully understand what we mean when we discuss the coming eviction crisis. Our panelists included Judge Todd E. Edelman, Deputy Presiding Judge, Civil Division, Superior Court for the District of Columbia; Gabriella Lewis-White, Associate Director, Housing, DC Bar Pro Bono Center; Beth Mellen, Supervising Attorney, Housing Law Unit, Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia; and John O’Connor, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson, Pro Bono Volunteer. Below is what they shared.
Let’s admit it – for some of us, embarking on our first pro bono project can seem a little daunting. For lawyers working for the District of Columbia government, it can seem even more complicated, as seemingly countless questions can arise: Who in my office grants me permission to do pro bono work? Where can I obtain malpractice insurance? Am I permitted to use my leave when pro bono activities occur during the workday? How can I be sure my pro bono work poses no conflicts of interest? Fortunately, now all D.C. government lawyers working in the Executive Branch have answers to these and many other questions that are addressed in the new pro bono policy promulgated by the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel. The Mayor’s new policy provides much-needed direction to lawyers who want to give back to their community and discharge their professional responsibilities as attorneys by participating in pro bono work.
DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profile: Amazon & DC Pro Bono Center Collaboration – Partnership Aids D.C. Entrepreneurs, Nonprofits
Long before Northern Virginia was announced as home to Amazon’s HQ2, many Amazon employees called a Ballston office building “work” and the D.C. metro area “home.” In 2019, Aisha Gantt, Senior Corporate Counsel at Amazon Web Services (AWS), reached out to the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center to discuss how Amazon’s legal team could use their skills to support the District’s nonprofits and small businesses. After reviewing the Center’s Nonprofit & Small Business Legal Assistance Program needs and the skills of Gantt and her team, the organizations partnered to launch a brand-new service: the Startup Legal Clinic for Nonprofits & Small Businesses.
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law. Under ARPA, for 2021 the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) were significantly expanded and made refundable, greatly increasing the benefits available for low-income families and individuals, expanding the pool of individuals eligible for these benefits, and permitting cash payments regardless of taxable income. Recognizing the need to inform parents, other caregivers, and low-income families in the D.C. community of these expanded benefits, and to apprise them of the steps to obtain them, Melody Webb, Executive Director of Mother’s Outreach Network, teamed with Susie Hoffman, Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring LLP, to identify support for a workshop for parents, ultimately named the “Parents’ Tax Workshop: The EITC and CTC.”
DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profile: Joint Pro Bono Team – Bolstering Due Process for All People in Immigration Proceedings
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition is fortunate to work with many outstanding attorneys in protecting immigrants’ rights. Recently, a group of talented pro bono attorneys at two of our long-term partner firms collaborated in cutting-edge litigation in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Top-notch appellate advocacy by Susan Baker Manning, Patrick Harvey, and Clara Kollm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and by Steven H. Schulman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP led to a landmark decision earlier this year that bolsters due process for all people in immigration proceedings, and especially for those who must proceed without the benefit of counsel.