The Washington Post has a handy round-up of the eleven candidates standing for the Special Election for the Ward 8 City Council seat vacated by Marion Barry upon his death. The election is coming up April 28; the Post article has information about each candidate’s positions concerning issues important to East of the River residents.
By Peter Nye Longtime volunteer Andrew Doyle finds the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program Advice & Referral Clinic to be a rewarding way to serve people who lack other access to legal services, as well as a great way to learn about different areas of law. The Clinic brings dozens of attorney volunteers East of the River to the offices of Bread for the City on Good Hope Road SE, where they provide brief legal advice and referrals one Saturday morning each month. Andrew, an attorney at DOJ, first decided to participate in the Advice & Referral Clinic when the pro bono coordinator of DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division sought volunteers on a certain Saturday in 2010. Because he had recently heard a Washington Council of Lawyers presentation about the clinic, he volunteered that very Saturday. He was hooked, and ever since, he has volunteered almost every month the Clinic has had an open spot. Andrew finds Clinic work rewarding because—unlike his day job—volunteering allows him to provide prompt service to clients who are individuals. For one client with an insurance problem, Andrew immediately called the insurance company and resolved the dispute on the spot. For clients with custody issues, he has drafted letters to opposing lawyers about compliance with judges’ decrees. Most clients are immensely grateful for his help solving their problems. Of course, some clients cannot achieve the goals they most want to reach. For example, one client wanted to expunge his criminal record and then apply for a job. Andrew could not help him with that particular request, because the Clinic is limited to assisting with civil legal matters. Undeterred, Andrew helped the client develop a strategy for persuading employers that he was worth hiring despite his criminal record. Andrew says that most of his Clinic clients—including this one—who cannot achieve their initial goals are nonetheless thankful to have a lawyer research and analyze their problems. The clients can move forward, even if not in the direction they had initially hoped. Andrew encourages all DC-area lawyers to volunteer at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program Advice & Referral Clinic. He acknowledges that the work can be intimidating at first, but reassures volunteers that they will quickly adjust. He also points out that in addition to the satisfaction of helping his clients, he always learns about new areas of law by volunteering at the Clinic, especially because most of the legal issues that arise during Clinic hours are ones that he does not handle at the DOJ. Learning about new areas of law and helping people at the same time make the Clinic an ideal pro bono experience. To learn more about volunteering with Washington Council of Lawyers at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program Advice & Referral Clinic, please contact Renee Kostick Reynolds.
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.
By Sara Jackson There is a wealth of literature available on implicit bias, and articles on the subject appear almost daily. The following is a non-exhaustive list of video, web, and print resources, some of which we used or referenced at our March 12 event. Videos Immaculate Perception?—Jerry Kang Ted Talk How to Overcome our Biases? Walk Boldly Towards Them—Verna Myers Ted Talk How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race—J Smooth Ted Talk American Denial—Independent Lens film on Implicit Bias Online Resources Project Implicit ABA Spotlight on Implicit Bias Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: Understanding Implicit Bias Academic Articles Implicit Bias: A Primer for the Courts—Jerry Kang State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review—Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity Trojan Horses of Race—Jerry Kang, 118 Harvard Law Review 1489 (2005) (Professor Kang’s original law review article on implicit bias and the Implicit Association Test) Implicit Bias in the Courtroom—Jerry Kang, et al., 59 UCLA Law Review 1124 (2012) The Id, The Ego and Equal Protection in the 21st Century: Building on Charles Lawrence’s Vision to Mount a Contemporary Challenge to the Intent Doctrine—Eva Paterson, Kimberly Thomas-Rapp & Sara Jackson, 40 Conn. L. Rev. 1175 (2008) (examines where implicit bias plays out in society and in the law, and discussed inroads for updating our jurisprudence to reflect modern social science) Recent News Coverage Is Everyone Just a Little Bit Racist?—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Across America, Whites Are biased and They Don’t Even Know It—Chris Mooney, Washington Post When Talking About Bias Backfires—Adam Grant & Sheryl Sandberg, New York Times Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People —Matthew Hutson, Washington Post Sara Jackson is a member of our Board of Directors. By day, she is Pro Bono Coordinator at Georgetown Law’s Office of Public Interest and Community Service.
By Dominique Rouge Rachel Morris, a student in Georgetown University’s Street Law Clinic, stands in the middle of a classroom of high school students and asks them to stand up. She designates one side of the room as “yes” and another as “no” and begins to ask a series of questions such as: “Is it okay for the police to enter Bob’s house if they smell marijuana?” “Can the police arrest Bob if they received an anonymous tip that he is selling marijuana?” “Does reasonable suspicion allow the police to arrest Bob?” Rachel teaches at Anacostia Senior High in Southeast DC, which has an academic program specifically designed for students interested in legal issues. Georgetown Law students participating in the Street Law High School Clinic teach a two-semester elective course in practical law to students in fourteen high schools throughout DC —Rachel’s class is just one element of the students’ curriculum. The Street Law program uses the law and legal scenarios to help high school students develop academic skills such as reading, writing, active listening, oral expression, problem solving, and analytical thinking. The program also dovetails with the high school civics curriculum. Rachel engages the students by teaching practical applications of legal matters that they will find relevant. Although the students understand applications of basic legal terms like “warrant” and “reasonable suspicion,” Rachel comments that she hopes to improve the students’ ability to articulate their ideas. In Rachel’s case, she not only empowers students living in low-income communities by developing their legal vocabulary, but also exposes students to legal concepts and legal training they can apply in their communities and professional lives.
By Greg Lipper At the first installment in our Racial Justice Series, we talked about racism, recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere, and how lawyers can address these issues. This week, lawyers at the DOJ Civil Rights Division issued a lengthy, scathing report on law-enforcement practices in Ferguson. We’ve collected a variety of links to coverage of the report and its implications for the legal system: Release of the Report Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department – DOJ Civil Rights Division Ferguson Police Tainted by Bias, Justice Department Says – N.Y. Times The Gangsters of Ferguson – Ta-Nahisi Coates/The Atlantic Reactions in Ferguson… and Beyond Silence in Ferguson, and Defiance Elsewhere, In Wake of DOJ Report – St. Louis Post-Dispatch Ferguson Mayor Says Scathing DOJ Report ‘Not Proof’ of Widespread Abuses – St. Louis Post-Dispatch The Problem Is Way Bigger Than Ferguson, Justice Department Report Reveals – Huffington Post Ferguson’s Neighbors In St. Louis County Greet Damning DOJ Report With A Shrug – Huffington Post Reforming Ferguson Law Enforcement Policing Task Force Recommends Body Cams, Better Reporting, More Sleep For Officers – Huffington Post Some in Ferguson Who Are Part of Problem Are Asked to Help Solve It – N.Y. Times After the Justice Department Report, What’s Next for Ferguson? – Washington Post The Federal Government Probably Won’t Dismantle the Ferguson Police. That’s a Good Thing – Vox The Ferguson Court System Nixon calls for improving Missouri courts after DOJ report on Ferguson – St. Louis Public Radio Two Police Officers, Court Clerk Out at Ferguson Over Racist Emails – St. Louis Post-Dispatch Ferguson Judge Behind Aggressive Fines Policy Owes $170,000 in Unpaid Taxes – The Guardian Greg Lipper is our Communications Director. By day, he is a litigator at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. You can follow him on Twitter at @theglipper.
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.
By Dominique Rouge A group of lawyers sits around an oval table sipping coffee, tired like the early Saturday sky. Just as a silence has settled, a young woman walks in, arms full of clipboards. She fires out case descriptions, asking “who wants it?” Eviction, will settlement, medical malpractice, custody disputes, domestic abuse: a slew of poverty nightmares calls the lawyers to attention. Each stands up, takes a case, and walks downstairs to meet their client. So goes a typical morning at the DC Bar Pro Bono Program’s Advice and Referral Clinic, at which lawyers from all over the profession volunteer four hours of their time to give advice to drop-in clients living in poverty. The Clinic’s East of the River office, hosted by Bread for the City at their Southeast D.C. center, was packed with clients, both new and returning. The lawyers served 40 clients on the morning I visited. Some worked on viable cases with the volunteer lawyers; others waited in line to be told that their problem had no legal dimension. All bore the burden of a substantial, unexpected dilemma in their lives. The lawyers who work at the Advice and Referral Clinic on the first Saturday of each month do substantial, important work. No one lacked the comradery or assistance they needed, however. As clients cycled through the first floor, lawyers ran back up to the second floor to check in with mentors at the oval table. As they sipped more coffee and munched more bagels, attorneys from various fields counseled other attorneys on how to handle a case. As mentors created a sense of ease for lawyers, so too did lawyers for clients. Though the building was rushed and busy, I heard sounds of reassurance, confidence, and even laughter ring throughout. The cases clients brought to the Southeast clinic ran the gamut of subject and severity, yet the lawyers were alert to meet them with both knowledge and compassion.
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.