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Graphic: Pro Bono Awards Nominations Now Open

Nominations now open for our 2022 Legal Services and Government Pro Bono Awards!

We are now accepting nominations for our 2022 Legal Services Award and Government Pro Bono Award. Each year at our Awards Ceremony, we recognize the extraordinary work of some of the District’s most dedicated public-interest and government pro bono lawyers. Our 2022 Awards Ceremony will take place on Thursday, December 1. Our Legal Services Award recognizes a dynamic legal-services lawyer who represents low-income clients, works to improve access to justice, or thinks creatively to solve difficult legal problems. Our Government Pro Bono Award commends a dedicated government lawyer who also volunteers time to organize pro bono efforts or represent low-income clients. Nomination materials are due by 5 pm ET on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. The awards criteria and nomination instructions are here.
Graphic: Panelists Headshot Collage

Supreme Court: View from the Press Gallery Recap

On Thursday, July 7, 2021, lawyers, law students, and legal professionals around the country attended our 34th annual Supreme Court: View from the Press Gallery event. Our panel of journalists who cover the Court talked about the unusual recently concluded term. The discussion started off with everyone agreeing that it was a momentous term for a number of reasons.
Graphic: 2022 Summer Forum Keynote Kristen Clarke

2022 Summer Forum Keynote with Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke

Washington Council of Lawyers' Annual Summer Forum began on June 8 with an engaging and eye-opening discussion by keynote speaker Kristen Clarke. Kristen Clarke is the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice and served as a lifelong civil rights lawyer and advocate in the public service. AAG Clarke was joined in conversation by Nicole Austin-Hillery, President & CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. and Washington Council of Lawyers Board Member. This first session touched on topics of opportunities such as the Attorney’s General Honors Program in the Justice Department, the ability civil rights lawyers have to tackle important issues, the duty to give back to the community, and promoting the importance of pro bono work. Read on to find out more.
Graphic: Law Reform Advocacy To Prohibit Overly Broad Secrecy Orders In Litigated Cases

Law Reform Advocacy To Prohibit Overly Broad Secrecy Orders In Litigated Cases

By Don Resnikoff Public Justice and other Washington, D.C. area public interest organizations are advocating for law reform to prohibit overly broad secrecy orders in litigated cases. One goal is legislation that will limit court entry of orders that permit parties to withhold and keep secret important consumer information without substantial justification.  Several states have enacted “right to know” anti-secrecy laws that address the problem, including Florida, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington State. A California anti-secrecy law is being considered by legislators and may be adopted in the near future. Neither the District of Columbia, Maryland, nor Virginia have such laws.  The DC Consumer Rights Coalition, D.C. Bar Consumer and D.C. Affairs Communities/Sections, and others, plan to present a program this Summer in which attorneys representing Public Justice will advocate for local “right to know” law reform. One model for such local advocacy is the California “Public Right to Know Act” which was recently passed by the California State Senate.  As explained by Public Justice at https://www.publicjustice.net/california-senate-passes-public-right-to-know-act/, California Senate Bill 1149 would protect the public’s right to know the facts about dangerous public hazards that are discovered during litigation. The Public Justice posting explains that the California “Public Right to Know Act”— would do the following: Create a presumption that no court order may conceal information about a defective product or environmental hazard that poses a danger to public health or safety unless the court finds that the public interest in disclosure is clearly outweighed by a specific and substantial need for secrecy. Prohibit settlement agreements that restrict the disclosure of information about a defective product or environmental hazard that poses a danger to public health or safety, and make any provision in an agreement void as against public policy, and thus unenforceable. Narrowly tailor its application to only information about a “danger to public health or safety” that is likely to cause “significant or substantial bodily injury or illness, or death.” Sponsoring California Senator Connie M. Leyva explained that “Information about defects and hazards created by companies should never be hidden behind a veil of courthouse secrecy that can endanger the lives and safety of Californians . . . .The public must have access to this vital information so that they can decide—for themselves—how they can protect themselves and their families from these defective products or toxic hazards.  It is unconscionable that any company would ever seek to keep critical information that can lead to injuries or even deaths from the public—and all because of their desire to keep making profits.  I thank my Senate colleagues that voted for SB 1149 today, as they are standing on the side of the public by helping to prevent future injuries or deaths.” The Public Justice posting explains that for decades, overly broad court protective orders have enabled companies to shield evidence of threats to public safety and other corporate wrongdoing. Consumers Union has for many years supported “right to know” legislation in California. Elisa Odabashian, Senior Policy Analyst with Consumers Union’s West Coast Office, made the following statement in 2000  in support of legislative proposals resembling the current SB 1149 that would limit secret out-of-court settlements in product defect, environmental hazard, unfair insurance claims practice or financial fraud lawsuits. “Many lives could be saved and much suffering could be averted if corporations were not allowed to use secrecy orders in court settlements to hide information about product defects, environmental hazards, or financial fraud.” “The Firestone/Ford tire tragedies highlight how secrecy orders can have very serious consequences on public safety. Over the last decade–long before the recent recall of millions of Firestone tires sold largely on the popular Ford Explorer–there were 50-100 Firestone tire lawsuits. Most of these court cases were settled with secrecy orders in place that effectively kept information about the potential dangers associated with the tires from the public. According to the Detroit Free Press, to date, there have been 119 deaths and 500 serious injuries associated with Firestone tire tread separations. Many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented if secret settlements had been barred.” Further information will be forthcoming about the upcoming DC Consumer Rights Coalition, DC Bar Consumer and D.C. Affairs Communities/Sections program in which attorneys representing Public Justice will advocate for local “right to know” law reform. Don Resnikoff is a member of Washington Council of Lawyers' Advocacy Committee.

Graphic: NACDL Return To Freedom Project

Pro Bono Opportunities in Clemency & Compassionate Release

NACDL’s Return to Freedom Project (R2F) helps those languishing in prison by partnering with different organizations to recruit, train, and support pro bono volunteers on clemency, compassionate release, and expungement. Find out how to volunteer!
Graphic: SF Immigration Panel

2022 Summer Forum Preview: Immigration & Human Rights Panel

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Lawyers who practice Immigration & Human Rights law help clients navigate safety, security, and entry into a new land. Their work can be life-saving and is almost always life-altering. Join our panel on Immigration & Human Rights practice on Thursday, June 23, from 1:15-2:30 pm ET. Register here to get the link for this insightful discussion of the litigation, policy, and advocacy work in these important fields.
Graphic: SF Civil Rights Panel

2022 Summer Forum Preview: Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Panel

At our 2021 Summer Forum, the Civil Rights & Civil Liberties panel will explore the critical role lawyers play in protecting individuals’ fundamental rights. The law prohibits discrimination in housing, lending, education, and employment, but too often, those rights are not protected without the expert guidance of a pro bono or public-interest lawyer. Civil Rights issues such as racial justice, voters’ rights, fair employment and housing, reproductive rights, and racial disparities in education are frequently in the news. Lawyers can use their skills to move toward justice and fairness. How? Our Civil Rights & Civil Liberties panel will discuss exciting pro bono opportunities and public-interest career options on Thursday, June 23, from 12:00-1:15 pm ET.
Graphic: SF Criminal Law & Death Penalty Panel

2022 Summer Forum Preview: Criminal Law & Death Penalty Panel

Our Constitution protects our most fundamental rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Criminal and death penalty lawyers fight every day to ensure that those fundamental principles are protected in our courts. Their cases can be gut-wrenching and involve some of the most impactful issues that lawyers handle. Whether a criminal or death penalty case is a part of your full-time public-interest gig or a pro bono interest, there is no doubt that your work matters. Learn more about this important area of law at our 2022 Summer Forum panel on Criminal Law & Death Penalty practice on Thursday, June 16, at 1:15 pm ET.  Register here to join the virtual conversation. 
Photo: Poverty Law Panel Headshots

2022 Summer Forum Preview: Poverty Law Panel

The legal hurdles faced by individuals living in poverty are vast. They often face uphill battles with issues impacting the most fundamental human needs: family stability, safe housing, food security, fair employment, and freedom from fear and violence. Representation is vital in these areas, and the need is overwhelming. These areas of law often have the highest rate of pro se litigants; when pro bono or public-interest lawyers get involved, these cases also produce some of the most life-changing outcomes for the parties involved. Pro bono lawyers who take on these cases literally can be life-savers.
Graphic: SF Non-Litigation Panel

2022 Summer Forum Preview: Non-Litigation Pro Bono Panel

Most lawyers on TV spend nearly all of their time in courtrooms. In real life, however, lawyers do a host of transactional advocacy, and other non-litigation work. They engage in legislative advocacy, contract drafting, and lease negotiations. They also provide strategic advice on non-profit governance, copyright law, trademark infringement issues, and tax law. There are numerous pro bono opportunities that do not involve litigation, and our first 2022 Summer Forum panel will highlight some of that important and impactful work.
Graphic: Black Women Judges Collage

Black Women in the Judiciary

On Friday, February 25, 2022, President Joseph R. Biden fulfilled a promise to nominate the first Black woman as a justice to the U.S. Supreme Court if given the opportunity.  Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic nomination is momentous, not just because history s being made, but also in recognition of the barriers Black women must overcome in entering and succeeding in the legal profession and, more specifically, on the bench. In honor of Black History Month and Women's History month, we take a look at some amazing D.C. Black women trailblazers.
Photo: Collage Henry Floyd Yaida Ford Stephon Woods Gwen Washington

Black History Month: Perspectives

In closing out Black History Month 2022, we'd like to share thoughts from some of our dedicated board members. They are mentors and leaders in our community. We are inspired by them every day. I'm sure you will be as well.
Graphic: New Year New Direction Blog Post

New Year, New Direction!

Happy New Year! Like many of you, I am reflecting on what has come before and what I’m looking forward to in the new year. Usually, that means making personal New Year’s resolutions that I may or may not keep through February and setting professional goals for the next 12 months. But this year is different. This year marks nearly two years since the start of the global pandemic that changed everything, which has prompted us as a society to think about how those who are low-income are most impacted. How we provide services, what effective client representation means, how the courts operate, client and lawyer well-being, and more all became topics of intense discussion and unprecedented cultural shifts.
Graphic: Gifts Blog Post

Give the gift of pro bono inspiration this year!

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are here. Our shopping list now includes gifts for loved ones we hold dear. We want to suggest these six pro bono and racial justice-focused must-reads carefully curated for you or the legal bookworm in your life. We hope these stories inspire you or your gift recipient to spread that holiday feeling of warmth and cheer to others in need by taking on a pro bono commitment in the new year. “A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom” by Brittany Barnett is a riveting memoir about how Barnett’s life was forever changed when she began taking clemency cases pro bono while she worked as a corporate tax lawyer. Her many successes included winning release for many individuals who had been sentenced to life for minor drug infractions. The book is guaranteed to inspire those who read it, as it is a story about hope and justice. “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan delves into research from behavioral science and economics to draw surprising connections between busy attorneys and clients living in poverty, in a way that hopefully encourages attorneys to understand how scarcity affects everyone’s daily lives. They also introduce the idea of fault-tolerant systems, which is so important in thinking about how to serve our clients best. “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley, which is based on the author’s experience growing up as a biracial woman in the Ojibwe community of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a true-crime adventure and an insightful journey into what it means to be a part of two cultures. "Law Man: Memoir of a Jailhouse Lawyer" by Shon Hopwood is about an incarcerated person who, with pro bono counsel, brought some successful prisoners' rights challenges to the Supreme Court of the United States. "Unbillable Hours: A True Story" by Ian Graham is another easy read: first year, big-law associate takes on pro bono case and discovers the "injustice system." “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith takes you on an eye-opening tour of various present-day landmarks and explains their connection to the country’s era of slavery.

Graphic 2021 Awardees Collage

2021 50th Anniversary Awards Ceremony and Celebration

Even though our 2021 Awards Ceremony was virtual again this year, we had a lot to celebrate and the atmosphere created by our community made it feel like we were all in the same room. Our public interest community is warm, welcoming, insightful, and inspiring, and we brought all those elements and more to honoring our 2021 Awards Recipients. The Law Firm Award recipient Arnold & Porter has been a long-time and committed partner of Washington Council of Lawyers and the public-interest community since the beginning. Pro bono is a fundamental part of the firm’s culture, values, and history. In 2020 alone, firm lawyers provided more than 121,000 hours of pro bono service. And the firm is consistently recognized as a leader in pro bono service. Lastly, we are grateful for the firm's encouragement of their attorney's participation in outside organizations such as ours. Retired partners Larry Schneider and Phil Horton, Counsel Mary Kennedy, Lead Attorney & Managing Director of the eData Group Melissa Weberman, and Director of Pro Bono Marsha Tucker have been active and engaged members of our Board of Directors. Their contributions are immeasurable. We are proud to call Arnold & Porter an ally and pleased to honor them for their contributions to our organization and our community. Nichelle Johnson Billips of USAID is a leader among her colleagues and the government in service to the community. She not only engages in pro bono work herself but also promotes pro bono work throughout USAID, helping ensure it remains a priority in the office. As her colleagues note, "Nichelle’s work and leadership serves as an inspiration to us all for how to live our values as lawyers and members of the community." We were honored to present her with our Government Pro Bono Award. Our Legal Services Award went to Leah Myers from Legal Counsel for the Elderly for her almost 20 years of service to tenants and older adults. Through her management of LCE's Hotline alone, she has positively impacted nearly 10,000 older adults annually. Her colleagues share that her greatest contribution might be the large number of attorneys and judges that she has trained, mentored, and educated. She is a force to be reckoned with, and a shining example of dedication and commitment. Lastly, it is fitting that in our 50th year, we honored Susie Hoffman, Pro Bono Counsel at Crowell & Moring, with the Presidents Award for Public Service. Susie is a trailblazer, mentor, and leader in the public-interest community. She has dedicated her career to pro bono and has personally made a difference for many families in the District. And she has undertaken numerous leadership roles in our community. But beyond her professional accomplishments, Susie is a true hero to her clients and colleagues. She is simply a legend. 50 Years seems like both a long time and just yesterday. We were thrilled to share this evening with friends old and new, honor truly outstanding pro bono advocates, and celebrate 50 years of service. For more inspiration, rewatch our 50th Anniversary video and Attorney General Karl Racine's remarks.

2021 Government Pro Bono Award: Nichelle Johnson Billips

Washington Council of Lawyers delighted to announce Nichelle Johnson Billips as the recipient of our 2021 Government Pro Bono Award.  Nichelle is an attorney-advisor in the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and a leader among her colleagues and the government in service to the community.  
Graphic: Arnold & Porter Law Firm Award Recipient

Arnold & Porter: 2021 Law Firm Award Recipient

Arnold & Porter's website says that "Arnold & Porter believes that pro bono is, and must be, a core value and a defining characteristic of a great law firm." Those are not just words on a screen, but a vision that the leaders and lawyers at Arnold & Porter live out every day.  Pro bono is a fundamental part of the firm's culture, values, and history. From the work of Abe Fortas on Gideon v. Wainwright, to the Buffalo Creek Disaster, to handling death penalty cases, voting rights cases, and assisting people with unemployment claims during COVID-19, the firm's broad scope and deep commitment to pro bono are breathtaking.
Photo: Leah Myers Headshot

Leah Myers: 2021 Legal Services Award

Leah Myers is the 2021 recipient of the Washington Council of Lawyers Legal Services Award.  Through her work at the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court, at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, and her current work at Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Leah has aimed to improve access to our legal system for low-income D.C. residents, and has been incredibly successful in this pursuit over the past seventeen years.   
Photo: Susie Hoffman Headshot

2021 Presidents Award Recipient: Susie Hoffman

Susie Hoffman is the quintessential recipient of the Presidents Award, which makes it especially appropriate that this honor is awarded to her during our 50th anniversary year. She is wicked smart, phenomenally kind, passionate, dedicated, and always willing to lend a hand. She is a trailblazer, mentor, and leader in the public-interest community. She soars among legal luminaries. But she is also down-to-earth, practical, and willing to roll up her sleeves, represent individual clients, and do the work of building a strong public-interest community in DC. For all of these reasons, we are pleased to recognize Susie as our 2021 Presidents Award recipient.
Photo: Christina Jackson Headshot

Welcome Our New Executive Director Christina Jackson

Today we welcome Christina Jackson as our new Executive Director. Christina has spent her career helping lawyers and law students do public-interest work, and we’re thrilled to appoint her to this new role. “I am honored to be selected by our board of directors as our next Executive Director,” said Christina. “I look forward to continuing to support the dedicated pro bono and public-interest advocates who make a difference in the lives of our neighbors and ensuring that our legal system treats everyone fairly, regardless of money, position, or power.” Christina began her career working and doing pro bono at large and small law firms, providing career advice to law students in the Office of Career and Professional Development at American University, Washington College of Law, and brings legal association experience from her time at NALP. She is a graduate of Penn State and the University of Richmond School of Law. Christina also has a long history with Washington Council of Lawyers. She previously was a member of our board of directors where she served as Vice President and co-chaired our Advocacy Committee. She left the board to become our Deputy Director four years ago. In that role, she has coordinated the growth of DC Pro Bono Week into a nationally-recognized initiative, led our groundbreaking Eviction Defense cohort program, supported our stellar communications team, and reinvigorated our longstanding mentoring program.  In welcoming Christina, we say goodbye to our outgoing Executive Director,  Nancy Lopez. Nancy has been a stalwart leader of Washington Council of Lawyers with a passion for our mission and an unwavering commitment to access to justice work. We have been fortunate to have her hand at the helm through unprecedented growth and once-in-a-lifetime challenges.  "Serving as Executive Director of Washington Council of Lawyers has been the privilege of a lifetime," said Nancy. "I carry with me deep gratitude for the many kind and brilliant people with whom I have worked and profound pride in what we have accomplished during the last 11 years." Thank you Nancy for your service. We look forward to great things ahead with Christina's leadership.

Graphic: DC Pro Bono Week 2021

DC Pro Bono Week 2021: Eventful & Inspiring

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.
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