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.
I recently had a chance to talk to our board member Paul Lee about the new season of the Best Practices in Pro Bono Program. This year’s four-part series will focus on Client-Centered Collaboration. (By the way, the first session is just around the corner, on November 6, 2013 from 8:30 to 10:00 am at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which is generously hosting the program for the second year.) Paul brought me up to speed on how Best Practices got started and some exciting new developments for next year. The start of a beautiful friendship Paul explained that we launched the Best Practices program last year to bring together local legal services providers and law firms to explore how to develop and strengthen pro bono collaborations. Both groups are deeply committed to providing excellent pro bono services, but they rarely had the chance to sit down together and talk candidly about their shared goals. As a result, the theme of the inaugural Best Practices program was Building Effective Pro Bono Relationships, with four sessions examining the continuum of pro bono services from start to finish. The sessions highlighted how to develop strong pro bono partnerships, training and preparing volunteer attorneys, connecting clients to pro bono representation, providing mentoring and supervision once a matter is placed, setting boundaries with clients, closing out matters, and keeping the collaboration going. The Best Practices program also looked at non-traditional models of pro bono service and focused on collaborating for impact. Participants in last year’s program came from a wide range of local legal services providers and law firms, ranging from very small to quite large, and including organizations with long-established pro bono programs and groups considering new or expanded pro bono programs. New year, new theme In its second year, the Best Practices program has a new theme: Client-Centered Collaboration. Plus, the program will now feature opportunities for informal (and low-key) networking before each sessions begins. The first session—Who is Our Client?—will take a close look at how poverty impacts the legal issues many pro bono clients face. Poverty is an enormous issue in the DC area, and a large percentage of clients served through pro bono efforts are low-income or otherwise struggling financially. This session will examine the interaction of poverty and legal issues and assess how to prepare volunteer attorneys to navigate these issues. The second session—Holistic Support for Our Client— is a counterpart to the first session, with a focus on clients’ non-legal problems. Holistic Support will address questions such as: What do we do to address clients’ non-legal issues? Is that the role of pro bono? How can we take a holistic approach by connecting clients with resources and assistance for non-legal problems? The third session—My Client, the Organization—expands on the client-centered theme to explore pro bono services for organizational clients. Many law firms are particularly well-situated to provide pro bono services to organizations given expertise in corporate structures, tax, and other relevant areas. This session will tackle how law firms can target pro bono work to serve organizational clients—and how legal services providers can take advantage of law firms’ expertise in serving organizational clients. The final session—How Well Are We Serving Our Clients?—will focus on evaluating pro bono efforts from a client-centered perspective. The discussion will examine questions such as: How well are we serving our clients? How should we evaluate our work? When we finish a matter, how do we assess our work and identify areas of success and need for improvement? The most important meal of the day Best Practices is unique for its breakfast hour meeting time. I had to ask Paul about the breakfast offerings, which I’ve heard are quite the draw. Paul noted that donuts are especially popular, but he gives all the credit to our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez, who brings the food, and Fried Frank, which provides excellent coffee.
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?
by Laura Buchs DC Pro Bono Week wrapped up on Saturday with a Forum on Potential Immigration Reform and Stopping Notario Fraud, led by the DC Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). About thirty law students attending the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair joined area immigration attorneys for an informal meeting before the panel presentation. The forum provided law students with a comprehensive overview of how immigration reform could affect the practice area and how to advise clients to prepare for any changes. In particular, speakers discussed the ever-growing harm caused to immigrants by notario fraud – that is, fraudulent immigration consultants (notarios), who “capitalize on immigrants’ vulnerability and ignorance of the U.S. legal system to offer substandard, false, or nonexistent immigration services.” Ayuda, with the help of the DC Bar, has launched Project END (Eradicating Notario Deceit/Eliminando Notarios Deshonestos), a direct legal services project aimed at providing remedy for the harm caused by these fraudulent consultants. Attorneys with clients who have experienced notario fraud, who have any questions, or who would like to refer a case to Project End are encouraged to contact Ayuda attorney Cori Alonso-Yoder law clerk Anne Schaufele.
By Wing Li Equal Justice Works, an organization dedicated to mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice, will host its Annual Awards Dinner this evening at the Renaissance Washington. The Scales of Justice Award recognizes those who have promoted equality, justice, diversity, public and pro bono service and serve as an inspiration to students and the legal profession. This year, Equal Justice Works will be honoring D. Cameron Findlay, who has had an exemplary career in both the private and public sectors. A strong proponent of public service, Findlay has served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff, and as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, and clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. In the private sector, Findlay has continued to serve those in need, and paved a path for others in the private sector to follow his lead by developing, encouraging and supporting pro bono service. Currently, he is Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Archer Daniels Midland Company. He previously served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Medtronic, the world’s largest medical device manufacturer. Findlay launched Medtronic Legal Department’s first pro bono program. As part of the program, Medtronic attorneys have worked on pro bono projects at the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, provided mediation for unrepresented parties, and conducted business advice clinics for startups in remote regions of the state. Under Findlay’s leadership, Medtronic joined forces with other in-house counsel of Minnesota-based corporations in an effort to amend the Minnesota pro bono practice rules to increase the number of lawyers providing pro bon assistance to those in need. Thanks to Findlay’s leadership, Medtronic co-sponsored two 2012 Equal Justice Works Fellows: Nicole Witnauer, co-sponsored with Greenberg Traurig, works at Catholic Charities in Atlanta to provide direct representation to immigrant women seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); and Karla Altmayer, co-sponsored with Kirkland & Ellis, works at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago to provide comprehensive legal representation, outreach, education, and advocacy to female farm workers who are victims of employment-based sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Through both his public service and private sector initiatives, Findlay epitomizes the mission of Equal Justice Works by demonstrating that everyone – whether in public service or the private sector – has a responsibility to help create a just society and mobilize the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice.
Pro Bono Week Preview: The Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic—Guiding Local Entrepreneurs During Pro Bono Week (and All Year Long)
By Anne King This evening, October 22, 2013, the DC Bar Pro Bono Program’s Community Economic Development Project will host aSmall Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic as part of Pro Bono Week. The Small Business Clinic is held regularly throughout the year (in every month except August). But it’s a particularly good fit with Pro Bono week because it offers a unique volunteer opportunity for local attorneys: advising community entrepreneurs on legal questions that come up when starting or running a small business. Tuesday’s clinic will take place at the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Small Business Resource Center. To reach entrepreneurs across the city, the clinic rotates to different locations each month, holds Saturday sessions a few times a year, and also offers occasional Spanish-language clinics. A valuable service for community-based entrepreneurs Running a small business—or launching one—can be complicated. The clinic offers an invaluable resource for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs: free legal advice. As Darryl Maxwell of the DC Bar Pro Bono Programexplains, entrepreneurs come to the clinic with a wide range of questions, including queries about business formation or transitioning from a sole proprietorship, requests for help with real estate contracts and leases, licensing and patent issues, requests for advice on classifying employees and independent contractors, and many more. But the most common question is: “I want to start a business. What should I do next?” Clinic volunteers provide an important service in discussing the pros and cons of various entity formations, dispelling myths about launching a business, and pointing entrepreneurs in the direction of useful resources. The clinic encourages entrepreneurs to visit any time they need assistance—and there are many repeat visitors. For example, a clinic visitor might receive assistance with an operating agreement one month, and then the following month she might need help drafting a lease after finding the perfect space. A rewarding experience for attorney volunteers Clinic volunteers have an opportunity to make a real impact on local economic development by assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs. Volunteer attorneys act as advisors, counselors, and sounding boards, and they enjoy having the chance to discuss exciting new business ideas with local community members. The clinic draws a diverse group of attorney volunteers, ranging from first-year law firm associates to retired attorneys, from government lawyers to solo practitioners, and many more. Several volunteers make the clinic a regular part of their pro bono work, and some attend almost every month. The clinic’s limited scope—volunteers provide brief advice, and aren’t required to commit to ongoing representation—means participating is manageable for attorneys with busy schedules. Although many volunteers have expertise in relevant areas of the law, such as intellectual property, real estate, and employment law, attorney volunteers need not have any specific background in order to participate. The DC Bar Pro Bono Program offers trainings two times a year and also provides a manual to support attorney volunteers. If you are a local entrepreneur interested in attending a Small Business Brief Advice Clinic, or an attorney interested in volunteering, you can find out more about the Community Economic Development Project at the DC Bar Pro Bono Program’s website!
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.
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.
By Jessica Stringer When brainstorming for Pro Bono Week festivities, Courtney Weiner envisioned kicking off the week with a formal event targeted at young attorneys with a reasonable ticket price. Inspiration for the name of the event came from theGo Casual for Justice, a successful fundraiser in its fifth year. Katia Garrett, the DC Bar Foundation’s Executive Director and one of our Honorary board members, encouraged Courtney to follow up on her idea and take the lead in executing the event. This will be the first major fundraising event spearheaded by the DC Bar Foundation Young Lawyers Network since its inception, guided by Courtney as the event chair. The DCBF Young Lawyers Network provides a venue for young lawyers to support access to justice in the District. In addition to hosting events to raise money and awareness for the Foundation’s work, the Young Lawyers Network Leadership Council provides opportunities responsive to the needs of the newest members of the District’s legal community. The proceeds of this event will support the DC Bar Foundation’s mission to fund, support, and improve legal representation of the poor, vulnerable, and otherwise disadvantaged in the District of Columbia. The Foundation provides grants to non-profit civil legal services providers, provides public interest training and technical assistance, and assists poverty attorneys with student loan repayment. One of the programs benefiting from the proceeds raised through the Gala is the DC Poverty Lawyer Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). This program covers up to $1,000 of student loan payments each month for attorneys in careers that assist underserved communities in the District. The typical attorney that receives assistance from the program is four years out of law school, makes $49,000 a year, and pays 20% of their pretax salary on $130,000 student loan debt. By improving the ability of young, motivated attorneys to stay in careers that they find fulfilling, the DC Poverty Lawyer LRAP has a major impact on the quality and consistency of local legal services for the poor. For those now inspired to spend a little more than the reasonably priced ticket, the live and silent auction offer fantastic finds. Enjoy lunch with Judy Smith, the crisis management expert that inspired the hit drama series Scandal. Courtney is a huge Springsteen fan, so she is excited to see his platinum record “Born in the USA” go up for bid. Katia and Courtney also emphasized the crucial role of the Public Welfare Foundation in making the Gala a success, through their generous contribution supporting the upfront costs of the event. Thank you, Public Welfare Foundation, and all of the sponsors and contributors to the event! A final note on fashion: Courtney will be wearing Badgley Mischka or Nicole Miller, and I have already settled on my classic black Nicole Miller, knee length with ruching along the sides. Black tie dress is optional, so don’t let the lack of a tuxedo or designer dress deter you. You won’t want to miss this inaugural formal event kicking off DC Pro Bono week! Tickets are, alas, sold out for the Go Formal for Justice Gala, which will take place at 8 PM on Saturday October 19th, at Mayer Brown, 1999 K Street NW.