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2013 Awards Keynote Speaker: Paul Smith (Jenner & Block)

by Elise Helgesen Aguilar I was honored to speak with Paul M. Smith, Partner at Jenner & Block LLP, and keynote speaker for our 2013 Awards Ceremony. I asked him to take a look back on his extraordinary career in civil rights and pro bono work. Below are his insights: Lawrence v. Texas Paul has had a remarkable career, from arguing one of the biggest civil rights cases of our time, to receiving numerous professional accolades. He has even served as President of the Washington Council of Lawyers, where he said he was honored to have made so many good friends who continue to “fight the good fight” all across town. When asked to describe his greatest professional accomplishment, Paul said that it was without a doubt arguing and winning the 2003 Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas, because it has had the greatest overall impact. That victory laid the foundation for advancing gay rights and was a necessary predicate for issues like marriage equality. Becoming a lawyer Paul said that his real interest in pursuing a career as a lawyer began in college. That was the era of Watergate, when lawyers became publicly acknowledged for their work in ferreting out corruption and bad dealings. He knew that the law was a profession in which he could make a difference. This eventually led him to the civil rights field as well, where he was inspired by women’s rights, African-American civil rights, and the environmental movement. Career Challenges Paul's greatest challenge has been maintaining a high volume of pro bono work while managing the expectations of working in a law firm. He noted that this requires going above and beyond the expectations of the firm. Judging from Paul's long list of accomplishments, it’s obvious that he has been very successful in overcoming this challenge. Supreme Court  I was most excited to hear more from Paul about his experiences arguing before the Supreme Court. He has done so fourteen times. He stated that the first experience was “pretty harrowing,” especially as a thirty-year old. He also said that while he has learned over time how to better prepare, that arguing before the Supreme Court justices never gets any easier; in fact, the Court has become even more aggressive over time toward lawyers. I tried to press Paul on whether he would reveal any particular rituals, superstitions, or lucky articles of clothing that he dons in preparation for the Supreme Court. He said he had none, and that he prepares by memorizing his opening lines so as to not go completely blank when he faces the justices. But it’s clear that he doesn’t need any lucky rabbit’s foot – his hard work and dedication to civil rights and civil liberties are more than enough.

Photo: Judith Sandalow

2013 Presidents’ Award: Judith Sandalow (Children’s Law Center)

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.

Photo: Jay Owen And Family

2013 Government Pro Bono Award: Jay Owen (DOJ Antitrust)

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.

Photo: Poverty Simulation

2013 Poverty Simulation: A Recap

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.

Photo: Poverty Simulation

Walk A Month In Someone Else’s Shoes

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.

Graphic: Best Practices Client-Centered Collaboration

Best Practices in Pro Bono Returns with a Focus on Client-Centered Collaboration

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.

Pro Bono Week Wrap-Up: Poverty Law Conference

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?

Pro Bono Week Wrap-Up: Lawyers Seek to Protect Immigrants from Notario Fraud

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.

Pro Bono Week Preview: Equal Justice Works Presents the Scales of Justice Award

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!

Pro Bono Week Preview: American University Poverty Conference

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.

Pro Bono Week Preview: Healthy Together – Improving Child Health through Medical-Legal Partnership

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.

Pro Bono Week Preview: Go Formal for Justice

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.

Photo: New Board Members At Meeting

Welcome to our Board!

Six fine folks joined our Board of Directors this fall, so allow us to introduce them: Nancy Drane (@Ndrane) is Pro Bono Director of the Children's Law Center. She first joined Children's Law Center as a staff attorney in 2003 and has also served as its Training Director. Nancy was co-chair of the DC Bar Family Law Section, and is an Adjunct Professor at American University's Washington College of Law. Before attending law school, Nancy taught junior high in Chicago. Anne King (@annewarrenking) is currently at Georgetown Law's Institute for Public Representation, where she works with clinic students on civil rights cases and other public interest litigation. Anne is a DC native, and her professional background includes employment discrimination litigation, policy advocacy, and teaching elementary school. Robin Murphy practiced in non-profit legal advocacy programs throughout the country before settling with her family in the DC area and joining the Legal Aid Society of DC. Three years ago, Robin entered federal government service to work in civil rights. Robin's two children are now in college and she is enjoying having more time to participate in WCL. Amy Senier is a Supervising Attorney/Teaching Fellow in the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, where she supervises test cases and fact-finding missions aimed at redressing discrimination against women in Africa. Amy was previously an associate at Foley Hoag LLP. Amy is an enthusiastic cyclist; she spends her non-working hours exploring DC on two wheels – day or night, in groups big or small. David Steib is Assistant Director for the Office of Public Interest at American University Washington College of Law (the other WCL!). David previously worked as a housing attorney at Legal Aid Society of DC; for the past five years, he has been an active member of the DC Language Access Coalition. During the first year of Capital Bikeshare's existence, David was one of the top five riders (measured by the number of trips taken). Daria Zane is an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a member of the Criminal Justice Act panel for the DC Court of Appeals. Previously, Daria was a Special Master for the Court of Federal Claims, an Assistant US Attorney in DC, and a trial attorney in the DOJ Environment and Natural Resources Division. Not to be outdone by the other athletic members of our board, Daria is an avid soccer player. Please join us in welcoming our new board members. We hope get a chance to meet them soon!  

Photo: New Officers

Introducing Our New Officers

Please welcome our officers for the 2013–2014 lawyering year. Betsy Howe (President) is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, where she focuses on financial enforcement matters and white collar litigation. Betsy also has an active pro bono practice, including in the areas of immigration, domestic violence, and criminal appeals. Betsy joined the Board in 2011 and last year served as our Treasurer. Jim Rubin (VP) is counsel to the firm Dentons, where he focuses on environmental and natural resource issues. Jim spent 15 years at DOJ's environmental division and a year at the White House, working on climate issues. Jim has also had leadership roles in the ABA and DC Bar, but mainly is bossed around at home by his two teenage boys. Patty Stasco (Treasurer) practiced for five years at Arnold & Porter LLP, especially enjoying her pro bono immigration work. Yearning to get back to full-time public interest work she now works as an attorney for the federal government. On her down time you'll likely find her woodworking, shopping at the farmer's market, or watching school buses go by with her 21-month old son excitedly shouting, "Bus! Bus!" Kelly Voss (Secretary) is pro bono counsel at Covington & Burling LLP. Before joining Covington, Kelly was a staff attorney at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, where she provided direct legal services to clients in a broad spectrum of matters, including landlord-tenant, fair housing, consumer, bankruptcy, and education. If she were not a lawyer, Kelly would love to be a beekeeper. Greg Lipper (Communications Director) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Before that, he did trial and appellate litigation for six years at Covington & Burling. Greg tweets compulsively (at@theglipper) and hopes to one day become a bobblehead doll. As you can see below, our officers are already conspiring to bring you fantastic events and programs. Stay tuned!

Photo: Brown Bag Lunch Advertisement

A Dynamic Duo in the Fight for Affordable Housing

Our next Summer Intern Brown Bag Lunch, coming up on July 17, will focus on fair and affordable housing in Washington, DC. In advance of the event, Elise Helgesen Aguilar got in touch with speakers Julie Becker and Jenny Reed. They were kind enough to discuss their practice areas and passion for what they do—and even shared their secret desires for a particular super power. Beginnings Ms. Becker joined the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia in 2000, after graduating from Yale Law School and clerking for Sonia Sotomayor, at the time a judge on the Second Circuit. Ms. Becker always knew that she wanted to be a public-interest lawyer, but did not know she would specialize in fair housing. Once she became a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid, she learned more about the field of affordable housing and become passionate about the issue. She has worked at Legal Aid ever since, and she’s now a supervising attorney. Ms. Reed grew up in Maine. Her mother directed the Maine Human Rights Commission; her father was, and still is, a state representative. Issues of fairness, equality, and local government were always discussed in her house. Those discussions prompted her interest in state and local issues and how local policy could help—or, alas, sometimes hinder—opportunities for low-income residents. Later, while in graduate school, she became interested in statistics and tax policy. When she discovered DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) she knew it would be a great fit; the organization allows her to use data and research to drive policy solutions to the problems facing low- and moderate-income residents in DC. A Day in the Life Both women admit that each day is diverse and challenging. For Ms. Becker, this can mean going to court in the morning and serving as attorney for the day, or supervising other attorneys, and then meeting with new clients, conducting intake, writing motions and pleadings, attending coalition meetings, and coordinating with members from the housing authority. Ms. Reed says that she spends about half her time researching and crunching numbers, about one-fourth of her time talking with policymakers and DC government staff, and the remaining fourth of her time out in the community, giving presentations or attending meetings. It’s All Worth It Ms. Becker finds it most rewarding to work with her clients, and to help individual people solve individual problems. She also enjoys the mix of working directly with clients and reforming the law in ways to help improve housing policy throughout the city. Ms. Reed enjoys working on state and local issues because there she can really see the results of her work, and the impact she can have on local policy. DCFPI gives her the opportunity to work closely with the DC government and to be involved from start to finish in the process of identifying solutions to problems faced by DC’s low-income residents. Words of Wisdom For law students interested in pursuing this field of law, Ms. Becker advises that they should make the most of their summer internships, to really figure out what they like and dislike, and to make as many contacts with lawyers in the housing area as possible. Ms. Reed advises interested students to practice their ability to communicate complex problems in a manner that policymakers can understand. She believes that it’s critical to explain housing issues clearly and concisely. Superwomen Though each woman has the power to create real and lasting change in DC housing policy, both admit that their lives would be made easier if they had one superpower: to teleport or apparate from one place to the next. Despite their busy schedules, there would be no stopping them—if only they could avoid the metro.

Summer Forum 2013: Modern Family (Law)

By Aleta Sprague Today we’ll be holding our 2013 Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. At the Summer Forum, law students and young lawyers will hear from attorneys in a range of public interest fields, with panels ranging from criminal law to family law to international human rights. We've already taken a look at what attendees can hope to learn in the criminal law, civil rights, and transactional pro bono breakout sessions. Last but not least, today we'll offer a quick preview of the family law panel. The field of family law is a growing and evolving rapidly. Since the 1970s, laws governing divorce, child support and child custody have changed significantly, in step with developing social norms. Often, family law attorneys are dealing with issues that are both time-sensitive and highly stressful for all parties involved. Furthermore, the strong need for free or low-cost family law services often greatly outstrips supply, and many family law litigants have no choice but to enter the courtroom without a lawyer. ProBono.Net offers an interactive service that helps unrepresented parties fill out essential court forms; in 2010, family law was the service’s most popular topic, and accounted for two-thirds of documents that visitors completed. Meanwhile, many states’ family law courts have come under increased strain due to the recession and inadequate funding. Clearly, working as a family lawyer, particularly in the public interest, is highly demanding--but it’s also incredibly important work, with a tradeoff of rewards and challenges like any other legal career. To get a better sense of the day-to-day work of a family law attorney, I reached out to Evelyn Becker, who will be moderating the Family Law breakout session. Ms. Becker recently served as the first pro bono director of the Children’s Law Center, and previously worked on a range of pro bono matters as a partner at O’Melveny & Myers. She offers her advice below. Are there any particular courses, law school activities, or summer experiences you would recommend for law students interested in a career in family law? Family lawyers are generally litigators, so trial-oriented courses such as evidence and trial advocacy are important. It's also extremely helpful to spend some time at the Courthouse observing proceedings. An externship or clerkship with a Judge can provide valuable experience. Many law schools offer family law clinics--take advantage of these opportunities. What type of skillset do you think new attorneys need to successfully pursue a family law career? Family law lawyers need to be strong trial lawyers and negotiators. They need to have the patience, drive and flexibility for sometimes extended or unpredictable investigations. They need to work well with and relate to people with a wide variety of backgrounds and personalities. What is your favorite thing about working in this practice area? What are the key challenges? I love that you can make a real difference for people during a critical time in their lives and I enjoy meeting a variety of people. Family law is rarely boring. At the same time, the stakes are high and the emotions can be extremely intense. You will likely find yourself deeply moved by your clients' stories and it can be a challenge to maintain a healthy objectivity. What can Forum attendees hope to learn during your breakout session? They will hear about the different types of family law practice from people who handle family law matters every day. The forum is helpful for people wanting to pursue a legal services career, or who want to have a pro bono practice involving family law. Want to learn more? Follow along on Twitter at #SF2013.

Summer Forum 2013: Pro Bono Work Is Not Just For Litigators!

By Aleta Sprague On Thursday we’ll be holding our 2013 Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. At the Summer Forum, law students and young lawyers will hear from attorneys in a range of public interest fields, with panels ranging from criminal law to family law to international human rights. We're previewing each of the panels. Our third installment looks at pro bono opportunities for those who aren't litigators. (Read our first installment on civil rights/civil liberties practice, and our second installment on criminal defense.) For new attorneys, taking on pro bono cases can be a great way to develop litigation skills while simultaneously filling a serious need for legal services within their community. Yet there are also extensive opportunities for transactional lawyers and other non-litigators to do pro bono work. A 2005 survey by the American Bar Association found that the top three areas of practice for pro bono hours are family law, business law, and consumer law. For example, attorneys can help non-profit organizations draft contracts, secure tax-exempt status, and handle real estate transactions. And skills common to business lawyers such as careful listening, problem solving, and negotiating complex bureaucracies have clear applicability to pro bono work. Yet the ABA survey also found that younger lawyers are far less likely than their older counterparts to engage in pro bono activities. This year’s Transactional and Non-Litigation Pro Bono session is designed to inspire new attorneys to take on this type of work and provide some guidance about the wide range of opportunities available to suit a variety of interests and skills. Susan Hoffman, the Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring, will serve as moderator, and graciously took the time to answer some of my questions in advance. Below is our Q&A: Are there any particular courses, law school activities, or summer experiences you would recommend for law students interested in a non-litigation public interest career? There are clinics at some law schools that involve non-litigation projects that I would recommend. For example, at one law school, there is a consumer clinic that enlists students to assist in negotiating resolutions for clients. How does a new associate become involved with their firm’s pro bono practice? Are there leadership opportunities for junior attorneys? The best way for a new associate to get involved with the firm’s pro bono practice is to seek out and arrange a meeting with the firm’s pro bono coordinator. If the firm does not have a full-time coordinator, find out which attorney chairs the firm’s pro bono committee and express your interest. Taking the initiative will leave a favorable impression on that coordinator/attorney and get results. What skills and qualities enable you to be successful in your position? I think that creativity, patience as well as a willingness to listen closely to clients about their goals and needs has helped me to be successful in my position. What is your favorite thing about your job? What are the key challenges? I find it rewarding and professionally and personally satisfying to think that the work that I do makes a difference--in some cases for an individual and in others for our community as a whole. The biggest challenge that I face is saying “No”--in turning down projects or individuals seeking help--either because they do not qualify for pro bono services or because I don’t have attorneys with time and expertise to help. What can Forum attendees expect to learn during your breakout session? Attendees will learn about ways in which nonlitigation pro bono work can make a significant difference for others and for the community and how it can be just as personally rewarding as litigation pro bono work. Any other tips for law students interested in this practice area? I would recommend being open to trying new types of cases/projects. You never know when you will hit upon a case or project that inspires you! Want to learn more? Follow along on Twitter at #SF2013.

Summer Forum 2013: “How Can You Represent Those People?”–The Life of a Criminal Defense Lawyer

by Aleta Sprague On Thursday (June 13) we’ll be holding our 2013 Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. At the Summer Forum, law students and young lawyers will hear from attorneys in a range of public interest fields, with panels ranging from criminal law to family law to international human rights. We're previewing each of the panels. Our second installment looks at the practice of criminal defense. (Read our first installment on civil rights/civil liberties practice.) Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the right to counsel for indigent criminal defendants has never been more important—or more imperiled. Yet in the media, pop culture, and even within the legal profession, criminal defense is often a poorly understood or misrepresented area of practice.To get a sense of what it’s really like to do this critical work, I spoke to Gwendolyn Washington, an attorney with the DC Public Defender Serviceand the facilitator of the Criminal Law and Death Penalty session at our upcoming Summer Forum. Challenges and Rewards One of Ms. Washington’s favorite parts of her job as a public defender is getting results every day – and knowing that she is helping people who might not otherwise get help. Many clients come from very difficult backgrounds and have struggled with substance abuse or mental health problems. As a result, public defenders have to “count victories in different ways”--a successful outcome may not always mean an acquittal, but perhaps a lighter sentence or getting a client into drug treatment. Criminal defense work can also require fixing errors made by other attorneys. This is a frequent issue for colleagues of Ms. Washington who work on death penalty cases; often, they find that a client’s previous lawyer missed something crucial that could have made a tremendous difference in their case. Finally, funding for public defenders’ offices is a persistent challenge. While the D.C. Public Defender’s office has more resources than most, public defenders often receive a modest salary to manage a massive caseload. And sequestration is making these problems worse. Essential Skills According to Ms. Washington, public defenders must have compassion and empathy. A lawyer can learn trial skills, but it’s also critical to have an innate ability to put yourself in your client’s shoes--and understand how he or she will be perceived by a judge or jury. And because D.C. courts do not require open-file discovery in criminal cases, your client will generally be your most important investigative tool. Defense attorneys can shut down their own case if they approach their clients with preconceived notions. As a result, listening and an open mind are key. Tips for Law Students Law students interested in careers in criminal law should take advantage of opportunities to get hands-on experience while still in school. Criminal justice clinics and externships can provide the chance to put classroom skills into practice under the supervision of a seasoned attorney. Ms. Washington pointed to her own experiences with DC Law Students in Court and as an extern with the Public Defender Service as formative moments in her career. A Preview of the Criminal Law/Death Penalty Session Criminal defense is one of the hardest jobs you can have as an attorney--but it can also be extremely rewarding. As a public defender, Ms. Washington noted, you quickly become used to questions about how you can “defend those people”--even from other attorneys. Yet working as a public defender entails protecting some of the most basic principles in the Bill of Rights. As a public defender, you may be all that stands between your client and a jail cell, or even death row. Participants in Ms. Washington’s session will hear from private criminal defense attorneys, public defense attorneys who work on both the trial and appellate level, and attorneys who focus on death penalty cases. The panel promises to be an engaging and inspiring look at an incredibly important but often misunderstood field of law--don’t miss it! Want to learn more? Follow along on Twitter at #SF2013.

Summer Forum 2013: The Creative Civil Rights Lawyer

By Aleta Sprague On Thursday we’ll be holding our 2013 Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. At the Summer Forum, law students and young lawyers will hear from attorneys in a range of public interest fields, with panels ranging from criminal law to family law to international human rights. We are previewing each of the panels. Our first installment looks at the field of civil rights and civil liberties.  Joy Moses will be facilitating our panel on civil rights and civil liberties practice. Currently a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, Ms. Moses was previously a children and youth staff attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. I spoke with her about her career and any advice she had to offer for new attorneys seeking to break into the field of civil rights. Challenges and Rewards For Ms. Moses, one of the most rewarding aspects of working as a civil rights lawyer is being part of the development of the progressive movement and a long tradition of advocacy. Today’s civil rights attorneys have the chance to continue the legacy of the civil rights movement--and even engage with more senior attorneys who were instrumental to the movement itself--while charting a path forward as the next generation seeks to tackle a new set of civil rights challenges. As far as the difficulties, Ms. Moses noted that civil rights attorneys have to become increasingly creative with their legal theories and choices of remedies due to a legal climate that has become less conducive to civil rights litigation. In Alexander v. Sandoval, for example, the Supreme Court held that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not create a private cause of action to enforce claims of discrimination based on a disparate impact standard. The Sandoval decision has had widespread consequences, and Ms. Moses pointed to recent school-to-prison pipeline cases as a prime example of the failings of a legal standard limited to discriminatory intent. Tips for Law Students Internships and fellowships, to the extent those opportunities are available, can be a great way to get started in the field of civil rights and civil liberties. Ms. Moses began her legal career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the NAACP. (Later this summer, on July 11, we’ll be hosting another event specifically targeted at students and new attorneys interested in public interest fellowships, which should be an exciting opportunity to learn about the range possibilities out there.) Ms. Moses also encourages law students and new lawyers to stay connected with the community and take advantage of opportunities to build their professional networks. In DC, organizations like WCL and the American Constitution Society hold frequent events and discussions, and can be a key way to meet other civil rights/civil liberties attorneys. Essential Skills The ability to think creatively and devise alternative ways to achieve the goals you’ve established for yourself are important skills for a civil rights attorney, according to Ms. Moses. Also essential: serious dedication to your cause, open-mindedness, and preparation for the inevitable ups and downs that accompany this area of practice. The civil rights/civil liberties panel will feature attorneys with civil rights experience in the non-profit, government, and private sector. Check it out for a chance to ask questions and hear directly from practicing lawyers about their daily work. Want to learn more? Follow along on Twitter at #SF2013.

Legal Aid Lifelines

Last week, we explored the scope of the justice gap and the often devastating practical consequences of the shortage in legal representation for low-income families across the country. As promised, we’ll now shift to a more hopeful discussion--how do we fix this problem? What are some of solutions and how do we implement them? Over the past decade, a range of innovations has emerged to cope with dwindling legal-aid budgets and rising need for legal aid. From self-help resources for litigants to a pro bono requirement for new attorneys, the legal services landscape is evolving to address the fact that far too many clients aren’t accessing the help they need. Through pilot projects, some cities have even begun to ensure representation for all litigants in certain civil matters, such as foreclosures. Still, while these local and independent responses are tremendously valuable, larger structural changes likely are needed reduce the long-term gap. Without a national “civil Gideon” approach--guaranteeing counsel to all unrepresented parties--how do we increase access to justice? For more insight into this issue, I checked in with someone who has clearly thought about it at length: Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation and a panelist at Tuesday’s event. Jim, the winner of our 2012 Presidents' Award, was gracious enough to answer my questions by email, and below I’ve summarized some of his suggestions for how policymakers and the legal community can reduce the justice gap: 1.    Increase funding Funding for LSC grantees has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, making it difficult for even the most efficient organizations to serve every client who walks in their doors. To enable these organizations to fulfill their missions, Jim wrote, we need an “increase funding from all sources for legal aid programs.” 2.    Simplify and streamline the legal system for unrepresented parties Navigating the legal system can be notoriously frustrating for unrepresented litigants who are unfamiliar with court practices and complicated rules of procedure. To make the system more user-friendly, Jim proposed that we “expand the use of simplified and standardized forms written in plain language, increase online do-it-yourself resources, and permit non-lawyers to handle routine matters that do not require a legal education.” Reducing red tape and administrative barriers would both increase access to justice and reduce courts’ dockets, yielding a more equitable and efficient judicial system. 3.    Increase pro bono participation among private attorneys Third, Jim noted that the private bar has a significant role in reducing the justice gap by pitching in and contributing pro bono hours; however, we need to do a “better job of educating the profession about the nature and extent of the need.” This is also a priority of the Washington Council of Lawyers, which volunteers regularly at the DC Bar’s advice and referral clinic and seeks to publicize other pro bono opportunities in the DC area. 4.    Provide legal aid organizations with better tools As they cope with reduced funding and smaller staffs, legal services organizations must evaluate how to operate most efficiently. As Jim described, we should “equip legal aid organizations with the business tools to manage their resources to maximum effect--to use solid data to determine what legal services yield the best outcomes for clients and to apply the same rigorous analyses to their own performance that corporations use to assess the performance of their law firms.” In effect, these tools would allow legal services organizations to do more with less, and establish best practices for securing results for the individuals and families they serve. Achieving the above goals would greatly increase access to justice and reduce disparities in our legal system. Nevertheless, Jim emphasized that there is no “single solution” to widespread underrepresentation, and that addressing the problem effectively will require a wide range of interventions and collaborations.

Graphic: The Next Four Years For Legal Aid

The Vanishing Legal Aid Lawyer

By Aleta Sprague Our event next week at the Center for American Progress will explore a crucial issue facing the legal community: with legal services in crisis, how can lawyers, advocates, and policymakers ensure access to justice for low-income families? A key driver of the crisis, of course, is inadequate funding. This will come as no surprise to any legal services attorneys reading this post, but the magnitude of the problem is staggering. Over the past three decades, Congress has cut the Legal Service Corporation's budget by about seventy percent. Because LSC provides funding to about 134 legal aid programs--that employ approximately 58% of the attorneys working to provide legal aid–these organizations are scaling back. Indeed, a recent survey revealed that LSC-funded organizations anticipated laying off 13.3% of their attorneys between 2010 and 2012, along with 15.4% of their paralegals and 12.7% of their support staff. For every attorney who is let go, between two and three hundred fewer clients will be served. And with the proportion of eligible legal aid clients accessing services already below 20%, any further cuts would be devastating. At the same time, due to the recession, the need for legal services has never been greater—particularly for those facing debt and foreclosure. In 2008, LSC organizations handled 31,653 bankruptcy and debt relief cases; this number rose to 39,346 cases in 2010. Foreclosures reflect a similar trend; in New York, foreclosure cases rose by 683% between 2007 and 2011, and the cases “sit in the system” for an average of two and a half years. Legal aid lawyers assist clients in foreclosure through loan modifications, mediation, and providing representation in foreclosure proceedings. These attorneys also were among the first to identify the “robo-signing” scandal in 2010. Still, a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice revealed that the vast majority of families facing foreclosure in most states are not represented by counsel. In New Jersey, for example, 92.9% of the defendants in foreclosure cases in 2010 had no attorneys on record. The practical impacts of these trends can be devastating. As the report documented, unrepresented parties in foreclosure proceedings often fail to present key pieces of evidence that could make a difference between staying in their homes or being out on the street. According to testimony from Martin Mack, the Executive Deputy Attorney General of New York, “[T]he lack of individual representation in foreclosure actions is one reason we have seen systemic abuses of the legal system by lenders and debt collectors.” These types of hurdles extend beyond foreclosure cases. Litigants trying to access or reinstate their public benefits, secure a protection order, or file a discrimination claim will also encounter a range of unfamiliar processes, rules, and language that put them at a distinct disadvantage in court. So that’s the bad news. Now what do we do about it? What’s the role of the pro bono community? Barring universal representation, how can we best serve the needs of unrepresented litigants? We’ll start answering these questions in our post on Monday, and be sure to attend the event on Tuesday as we explore some ideas, strategies, and solutions.

Photo: SNR Dentons Attorneys

2012 Law Firm Award: SNR Denton

SNR Denton is a “client-focused international legal practice” with more than 60 locations worldwide. Within the United States and the many countries in which it has offices, SNR Denton is engaged in service “on behalf of individuals, communities, and organizations serving the interests of low-income and disadvantaged people.” The firm strives to provide pro bono service to all the communities in which its employees live and work and has been active in efforts ranging from law reform litigation on behalf of people with disabilities to complex transactions on behalf of social entrepreneurs and global NGOs. In 2011, more than 35 staff members of the D.C. office performed at least 50 hours of pro bono work and were named to the Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll and High Honor Roll. This year the staff at SNR Denton has handled cases from such organizations as the Pro Bono Advocacy and Justice Clinic, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project Screening Committee, and the Septima Clark Public Charter School. The firm is also a proud original signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Pro Bono Challenge and has been recognized for its pro bono achievements by Public Counsel in Los Angeles, Lawyers Alliance for New York, and Chicago Bar Foundation. SNR Denton has long supported the Washington Council of Lawyers.  The firm has hosted our events, supported the participation of attorney James Rubin as an active WCL Board Member, co-chair of the Special Events and Fundraising Committee, and Vice President for the past two years. SNR Denton’s support has helped us expand our programs and better promote pro bono and public interest work.  

2012 Government Pro Bono Award: Ed Eliasberg (DOJ, Antitrust Division)

Ed Eliasberg is a career government lawyer who has served as a staff attorney with the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department for over 35 years. When the Department of Justice launched its Pro Bono Program in 1996, Ed was one of the first attorneys to become involved. After obtaining a successful outcome in his first pro bono case -- in which he represented a blind client against a furniture company -- Ed became a leading model of a government attorney committed to pro bono work. Attorneys familiar with Eliasberg’s pro bono efforts describe him as a “true believer” in public service and as a person who “leads by example.” Ed participated the first time the Antitrust Division staffed the D.C. Bar Advice and Referral Clinic in 1998 and has both attended and recruited volunteers for nearly every clinic since then. In 2005, he became the Antitrust Division’s Pro Bono Coordinator and an active member of DOJ's Pro Bono Committee. Ed's colleagues have recognized his “uncommon commitment to pro bono work,” demonstrated by the numerous pro bono fairs, committee events, and brown bag lunches he has organized over the years. Another colleagues notes that he is constantly searching for “new, innovative ways to the get the word out” about pro bono opportunities. Ed has also been instrumental in expanding federal government pro bono programs outside of Washington, D.C. He helped launch the now-thriving Pro Bono Program in Chicago, Illinois, and was active in securing the full support of the Division’s leadership for the project. The success of the Chicago program has led to the creation of similar pro bono programs in New York City, San Francisco, and Denver. Asked about his recognition by the Washington Council of Lawyers, Ed said that he hopes this award will help “encourage more government lawyers to do more pro bono work.” Want to learn more? Attend next month’s Awards Ceremony – featuring a keynote speech by State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh.

Photo: Jim Sandman

2012 Presidents’ Award: Jim Sandman (Legal Services Corporation)

Jim Sandman began serving as President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in 2011 after practicing with Arnold & Porter for thirty years. Attorneys who have worked on pro bono projects alongside Sandman have described his “tireless efforts to bring together the resources of the public interest, private bar, pro bono, and government legal communities” to “improve the quality and availability of free legal services for low-income and marginalized clients.” During Jim's ten-year tenure as Arnold & Porter's Managing Partner, Arnold & Porter was recognized numerous times for its commitment to pro bono. The firm received the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico award and was honored a record number of times by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association for its commitment to diversity. One attorney at Arnold & Porter recalled that when “hours-based bonuses were suddenly adopted at law firms across America,” Sandman insisted that the firm count pro bono hours towards bonuses and campaigned publicly for other firms to adopt the same policy. In 2007, Jim was named General Counsel of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and he served in that position for three years. When the search began for a new President of Legal Services Corporation, attorneys familiar with Sandman knew he would be the “perfect candidate” for the job and would strive to “increase legal service resources on a national level for low-income clients throughout the country.” One of Jim's colleagues at LSC notes that her “sense of the place has been shaped by him and the imprint he has put on LSC’s work.” Another colleague observes, “[Jim] often talks about supporting those in the legal services community and the importance of increasing the visibility of the heroes of our bar. It is high time someone told him he is the hero!” Among his many other public service contributions, Sandman was a member of the D.C. Bar’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and the Legal Workplace, a Chair of the Pro Bono Initiative Working Group, and a past President of the D.C. bar. Jim currently chairs the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Committee and serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of the Washington Performing Arts Society.  Just this year, Jim helped us publish our 2012 Report of Legal Services Funding, which highlights the impact that cuts in funding for legal services have on the ability of programs to serve the poor. Jim has received the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Howard Lesnick Pro Bono Award and the Tahirih Justice Center’s Wings of Justice Award.  In 2008, Legal Times named him one of the “90 Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Last Thirty Years.” Want to learn more? Attend next month's Awards Ceremony – featuring a keynote speech by State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh.

Graphic: Poverty Simulation Walk In Someone Else's Shoes

Aiding the Poor, One Client at a Time

With our Poverty Simulation fast approaching, we had some questions about the issues faced by low-income clients in the legal system. So we turned to Vytas Vergeer – WCL board member, Lord High Legal Director of Bread for the City, and long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan. Here's what Vytas had to say: How do the legal challenges of low-income clients differ from those faced by other clients? In a number of ways. First, many legal challenges facing low-income clients deal with life essentials – housing, income, having custody of kids, etc. Even cases about "only" money are more dire than for most clients. The smallest money judgment can lead to the client having to make choices about whether to pay for utilities or food or rent. Low-income clients generally are also less educated than other litigants, making it even more difficult for them to understand how to properly respond to pleadings or talk to the judge. Of course, their odds of hiring an attorney are much smaller than for other litigants. And even the very act of appearing in court can be more burdensome. While many higher-income clients can take days off from work and/or have regular childcare, many impoverished clients lose crucial income for every hour they are in court, and must arrange for special childcare. Even something as simple as cashing a settlement check can be a challenge for low-income clients, as many do not have bank accounts and must go to check cashing places where they pay a significant percentage of the check to get the cash. Basic assumptions that people often make are not necessarily true for low-income clients. They might not be able to read; they might not have a photo ID. Oh, I could go on .... Are there any steps attorneys can take to make the legal process run more smoothly when working with clients living in poverty? What potential pitfalls should attorneys be aware of? Attorneys should make extra effort to be aware of the extra hurdles faced by low-income clients. They must explain things carefully and in language that their clients can understand. They must spell out the consequences of decisions in detail. They need to be extra sensitive to clients saying they can or will do things that they might not be able to do – move, make certain payments, etc. Some clients are overly optimistic about how things might happen – how easily they'll be able to find a new place, for example. Others don't want to admit that they don't have the money to make a payment. They should be coached carefully about how to behave in front of a judge, mediator, with the other side. Attorneys need to be aware that low-income clients might not be as tuned to the idea of a schedule, might not appear on time for appointments, might run out of cell phone minutes. These clients might flat out not be able to afford to come to an appointment or multiple court appearances. Attorneys should also be aware of other issues - legal and otherwise - that might affect the case or how the client sees it. Even if a lawyer is not going to represent someone in another matter, that matter could have a direct bearing on the case the lawyer is working on. Not receiving SSI benefits can influence a landlord/tenant settlement, for example. In short, lawyers in these cases need to try to anticipate all sorts of little and big problems that could come up that might not come up with other clients. What barriers often stand in the way of low-income people qualifying for and obtaining government services to make ends meet? The biggest is probably just that many clients lack the wherewithal to present their situations to the government agencies in a the way the government agency wants them to. They might not put the right words on the paperwork, not understand that the ball is in their court to get more information, might not realize that they're only given one appointment before a matter is sent to the bottom of the pile, not know how to request medical records, etc. All of the other hurdles noted above also have an impact on clients' ability to access government benefits. Additionally, they might be more likely to take a government worker's word as valid. If a government worker says that someone isn't qualified or that they can't do something, the client might well believe it and give up, whereas an attorney or someone more used to advocating for him or herself might challenges such assertions. Do you think most low-income people are aware of their legal rights and entitlements?  If not, how can attorneys can better communicate this information? Not at all.  Once an attorney is involved, communicating the information is easy, well easier. But how to get information to people before they get into legal trouble is much harder. Projects that focus on the place where people most need the information - court-based or agency-based resource centers, for example - can be excellent in this regard, getting clients timely information on the spot. Encouraging people to attend easily accessible information sessions held where and when people might already be - after church, at their social club or community gathering - can also be effective. What is the most pressing legal need for most low-income families right now? Having a lawyer…

Thoughts from Our President

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. From "Natural Resources" by Adrienne Rich, as recited by our President, Golda Philip, at our first board meeting of the 2012–2013 year.

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