by Sara Safriet Judith Sandalow came to focus on children and the law after being a foster parent of two boys approximately 16 years ago; she later adopted them both. When Judith was approached by Children’s Law Center, this experience allowed her to view the world from the perspective of her future clients. Before joining CLC, Judith graduated from Yale Law School and then returned to Washington, DC as a Juvenile Justice Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. After starting a juvenile clinic at DC Law Students in Court, Judith developed a successful criminal-defense practice specializing in representation of juveniles and adults charged with serious crimes. When she joined CLC in 2000, Judith had no previous experience with fundraising, organizational leadership, or recruiting and managing pro-bono attorneys. But her passion – to help the community that she herself was part of – led her to learn these skills. Indeed, her leadership and dedication have helped CLC expand from three people to a staff of over 80. CLC is now the largest nonprofit legal services provider in the District of Columbia. Approximately one-fifth of CLC’s 2,000 cases each year are managed by pro-bono attorneys. Judith believes that it is not difficult to engage pro-bono attorneys in the District: many local attorneys have exhibited an extraordinary capacity to give their time, resources, and dedication to important causes. For those interested in or thinking about taking on a pro-bono case, Judith believes that there are many benefits to doing so with CLC: (1) helping the lawyers feel connected to their communities, (2) engaging with a part of the city that one does not often interact with, (3) putting the world in perspective and helping to stop sweating the small stuff in our lives, (4) learning more about a new area of law, and (5) breaking down stereotypes and educating one another – pro bono lawyers have an opportunity to see how smart, tenacious, inventive, and passionate the poorest of the District’s residents can be. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that Judith and her colleagues have worked actively with Washington Council of Lawyers. CLC lawyers have served as faculty at our litigation skills trainings, and CLC’s current and former pro bono directors are members of our board. Last but not least, Judith has donated her time to the our mentor/mentee program.
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.
by Cheryl Polydor “I felt beaten down.” “I felt humiliated.” “I felt like my entire life was spent filling out forms and standing on lines.” “I felt powerless.” That’s a sampling of the comments made by this year’s Poverty Simulation participants, after spending a morning enacting the role of a person living in poverty in the United States. The three-hour interactive program, originally developed by the Missouri Community Action Association, gave participants a taste of the day-to-day reality of dealing with landlords, employers, store owners, social workers and legal aid lawyers who held the participants’ fate in their hands. The program was facilitated by attorney and social justice activist Tiela Chalmers. A group of about 50 lawyers and students were on hand to play the roles of low-income working families, undocumented individuals. senior citizens, single parents, and others living in poverty – as well as the representatives of a system that often felt arbitrary, oppressive, and just plain broken. Transportation passes were required to go everywhere – even to the office where the transportation passes were distributed; if you ran out of passes for the month, you were out of luck, even if you needed one to visit the doctor, the legal aid bureau, or the unemployment office. Landlords and bankers gave incorrect or incomplete information to struggling families who might have avoided eviction and remained in their homes if they’d been fairly informed of their options. The police seemed to be unfairly targeting people in the community, while being slow to provide help when it was actually needed. Participants were visibly moved by the program, and some said they were inspired to work on ways to change the way the system works – or doesn’t work – for people and communities living in poverty. Chalmers encouraged us to continue to see beyond the statistics and reports, and to remember both the tangible and the emotional cost to individuals living in poverty, whose numbers may at some time have included some of us sitting in that room. It was a challenging, rewarding event – and we can’t wait to do it again next year.
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!