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Graphic: 2022 Summer Forum Keynote Kristen Clarke

2022 Summer Forum Keynote with Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke

By Kelly Panlaqui 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. Nicole asked a series of questions regarding Kristen Clarke’s journey, educational background, the spark to pursue public interest work, and her “Kristenisms”/ words of advice for new lawyers. Kristen Clarke grew up in Brooklyn, New York where her parents immigrated where she saw the struggles and inequalities minority communities have and are currently enduring. It is these experiences that she carried with her through her education and informed the work that she has pursued throughout her career. AAG Clarke built a career of service through her work with organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office where she advocated for voting and election rights, racial inequality, police reform, unjustified loss of life, LGBTQ+ rights, and hate crimes. Overcoming challenges and having a strong support network, especially through mentor relationships are key factors in any legal career. Learning to be proactive in government and pursuing outreach to your community are ways to give back to the community. Although many topics were discussed, the key messages that AAG Clarke shared stemmed from her own experiences. Her key takeaways included always bringing your “A” game, being overprepared, holding onto the connections you make, trusting your instincts, and remembering to always be nice to people. Kelly Panlaqui is the 2022 Summer Intern.

Graphic: Join Our Team Classified Ad

Join Our Team! Be Our New Program Director.

We are looking for a Program Director who will help us to provide high-quality programs. The Program Director will be responsible for programmatic and logistical support for trainings and events; communications strategy and implementation; and website operations support. Along with the Administrative Director, the Program Director will provide general operational support for the Executive Director and will be an integral member of our team.
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.
Photo: Coding Justice Panel Collage

DC Pro Bono Week 2021: Coding Justice

In recent decades, our society has seen a boom in technology advancement, seemingly with one goal in mind: to improve efficiency in every aspect of our lives, from things such as connecting with friends and family or shopping to political engagement around causes we care most about. But should efficiency be the primary goal of technology advancement? Can we trust that tech companies have the best intentions with the data they collect about us? What happens when that data is misused or abused? These are some of the questions raised in the Coding Justice panel held on October 25, 2021, during DC Pro Bono Week 2021. 
Photo Pro Bono Goes To School Panel Collage

DC Pro Bono Week 2021: Closing the Gaps in Public Education

Brown v. Board of Education, decided by the Supreme Court in 1954, unanimously established that segregation in education is inherently unequal and thus unconstitutional. “Separate but equal” had no place in our society, especially in the classroom. “Education is the foundation of good citizenship.” That ruling was over half a century ago. Yet today, according to Kent Withycombe, Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee Public Education Project, public schools in the District of Columbia and the surrounding region are more segregated, separate, and unequal now than they were in the 1950s. Brown v. Board of Education may have established equal access to education as a constitutional right, but it did not close the gaps in public education. Getting legal professionals involved in the school communities, to help close the gaps in D.C. public schools, was the focus of the panel discussion, Pro Bono Goes to School: Closing the Gaps in Public Education, held on October 29, during D.C. Pro Bono Week 2021.
Photo Coming Eviction Crisis Panel Photo Collage

DC Pro Bono Week 2021: How You Can Help With The Coming Eviction Crisis

On Wednesday, October 27 as part of National Pro Bono Week we hosted a discussion about the need for pro bono attorneys to represent tenants on the landlord and tenant docket. Our panelists shared the contours of the issue and provided statistics, facts, and background to enable the audience to fully understand what we mean when we discuss the coming eviction crisis. Our panelists included Judge Todd E. Edelman, Deputy Presiding Judge, Civil Division, Superior Court for the District of Columbia; Gabriella Lewis-White, Associate Director, Housing, DC Bar Pro Bono Center; Beth Mellen, Supervising Attorney, Housing Law Unit, Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia; and John O’Connor, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson, Pro Bono Volunteer. Below is what they shared.
Graphic: D.C. Government Pro Bono Policy

Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel Promulgates Pro Bono Policy for D.C. Government Lawyers

Let’s admit it – for some of us, embarking on our first pro bono project can seem a little daunting. For lawyers working for the District of Columbia government, it can seem even more complicated, as seemingly countless questions can arise:  Who in my office grants me permission to do pro bono work? Where can I obtain malpractice insurance? Am I permitted to use my leave when pro bono activities occur during the workday? How can I be sure my pro bono work poses no conflicts of interest? Fortunately, now all D.C. government lawyers working in the Executive Branch have answers to these and many other questions that are addressed in the new pro bono policy promulgated by the Mayor's Office of Legal Counsel. The Mayor's new policy provides much-needed direction to lawyers who want to give back to their community and discharge their professional responsibilities as attorneys by participating in pro bono work.
Photo: Amazon Pro Bono Team Group Photo

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profile: Amazon & DC Pro Bono Center Collaboration – Partnership Aids D.C. Entrepreneurs, Nonprofits

Long before Northern Virginia was announced as home to Amazon's HQ2, many Amazon employees called a Ballston office building "work" and the D.C. metro area "home." In 2019, Aisha Gantt, Senior Corporate Counsel at Amazon Web Services (AWS), reached out to the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center to discuss how Amazon's legal team could use their skills to support the District’s nonprofits and small businesses. After reviewing the Center’s Nonprofit & Small Business Legal Assistance Program needs and the skills of Gantt and her team, the organizations partnered to launch a brand-new service: the Startup Legal Clinic for Nonprofits & Small Businesses.
Photo: David Fischer Elana Fowlkes

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: New Tax Credits Project – A Bridge to Economic Security

On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law. Under ARPA, for 2021 the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) were significantly expanded and made refundable, greatly increasing the benefits available for low-income families and individuals, expanding the pool of individuals eligible for these benefits, and permitting cash payments regardless of taxable income. Recognizing the need to inform parents, other caregivers, and low-income families in the D.C. community of these expanded benefits, and to apprise them of the steps to obtain them, Melody Webb, Executive Director of Mother’s Outreach Network, teamed with Susie Hoffman, Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring LLP, to identify support for a workshop for parents, ultimately named the “Parents’ Tax Workshop: The EITC and CTC.”
Photo: Harvey, Kollm, Manning, Schulman Headshot Photo Collage

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profile: Joint Pro Bono Team – Bolstering Due Process for All People in Immigration Proceedings

Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition is fortunate to work with many outstanding attorneys in protecting immigrants’ rights. Recently, a group of talented pro bono attorneys at two of our long-term partner firms collaborated in cutting-edge litigation in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Top-notch appellate advocacy by Susan Baker Manning, Patrick Harvey, and Clara Kollm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and by Steven H. Schulman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP led to a landmark decision earlier this year that bolsters due process for all people in immigration proceedings, and especially for those who must proceed without the benefit of counsel.
Graphic: Harvey And Howard Headshots

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: Stephenson F. Harvey and Keith L. Howard – A Dynamic Duo Fighting for DC Kids

Across DC, more than 13,000 students have special education needs. But getting the right education to meet those needs is a far reach for many. More often than not, students and their families call on lawyers to ensure they get the right evaluation, plans and services to put their child on track. And the urgency to ensure children’s special education needs are met has skyrocketed over the past 18 months as many students are waiting for delayed evaluations or haven’t received the services they deserve due to virtual learning barriers. Attorneys Steve Harvey and Keith Howard have known each other since 2004. They shared the same passion from the start of their legal careers – pursuing justice for low-income families by representing children in special education cases. Since 2017, they have partnered together to represent students with special education needs in over a dozen pro bono cases for Children’s Law Center.
Photo: Nadira Clarke And Dog

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profile: Nadira Clarke – Making Virtual Custody Representation Better for Clients

Nadira Clarke, Baker Botts partner, and Washington, D.C. Section Chair of the firm’s Environmental Safety & Incident Response Group, has leaned into leadership roles, mentorship opportunities, pro bono work, and more since joining Legal Aid’s Board of Trustees in 2018.  Indeed, when it came to encouraging pro bono engagement with Legal Aid, Nadira resolved to model the behavior she wanted to see in her colleagues.  Having previously handled sex-based discrimination litigation and immigration matters, Nadira is no stranger to pro bono work.  Yet, she was willing to dive into a new area of law and has been accepting child custody case referrals from Legal Aid in recent years. Nadira is making an indelible impact on Legal Aid as an organization, the professional development of the colleagues she supervises and mentors, and, most importantly, the lives of the clients she represents.
Photo: Blair Decker Headshot

DC Pro Bono Week Profiles 2021: Blair Decker – Advancing Crime Victims’ Rights

Without pro bono support, only crime victims with the financial resources to hire skilled attorneys would benefit from the formidable array of victims’ rights laws and benefits applicable in the District of Columbia. The natural inertia of the criminal legal system and the highly adversarial interests of those involved creates an environment where victims’ rights are susceptible to encroachment. Since the incredible majority of crime victims cannot afford their own attorneys, crime victims are often left without even knowing they had rights that could have been enforced. Blair Decker has stepped into this gap to accept a wide range of pro bono opportunities at NVRDC and has positively affected our work with crime victims and surviving family members of homicide victims, and has facilitated a broader systemic transformation in a variety of ways.
Photo: Phillip Dehoux Headshot

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: Phillip Dehoux – Helping Clients With Few Legal Resources Find Solutions

Understanding all too well the struggles of people with few resources and language barriers, Phillip Dehoux jumped at the chance to help out in any way he could with Christian Legal Aid of the District of Columbia. “I’ve worked on a few estate planning and probate cases, helped out on an SSDI case, and worked on guardianship matters. It’s been very rewarding work in that I not only feel fulfilled, but I also get to help people who had nowhere else to turn because they couldn’t afford a private attorney.”
Photo: Ehran Bedestani Headshot

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: Erhan Bedestani – Law Student Leading By Example

Erhan Bedestani, a law student at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, loves pro bono work because he is motivated to help others and he also learns by doing.  Pro bono provides an opportunity to take the academic material learned in law school and apply it to real legal issues members of our local community are dealing with. Erhan feels strongly about pro bono work and said  “I love that I can help others and at the same time further reinforce my legal education. “
Photo Lauren Taylor Headshot

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: Lauren Taylor – Hope and Opportunity Through Expungement

The Rising for Justice Expungement Program is proud to work with many pro bono attorneys who make it possible to expunge hundreds of D.C. records every year. Our Pro Bono Partners, as we refer to them, each become an important figure in our clients’ lives. Pro Bono Partners support and represent clients throughout the expungement process. Lauren Taylor stands out in her commitment and positivity to this work.
Graphic: Failed Stress Test Blog Post

A Failed Stress Test: The Pandemic Exposes the D.C. Government’s Failure to Distribute Unemployment Benefits to People in Need

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many District of Columbia residents to lose their jobs and erased years of employment progress. In February 2020, just before the pandemic began, the District’s unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 4.9 percent. Two months later, unemployment had more than doubled to 11.1 percent. Some of the people who lost their jobs have since found new jobs, but not nearly enough: As of May 2021, the unemployment rate was still 7.2 percent. Even worse, the District’s government has failed to ensure that people who lose their jobs receive the unemployment benefits to which they are entitled; those failures became especially conspicuous when the federal government expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic. For many eligible people, the resulting loss of unemployment benefits has been devastating. Claimants have relied on unemployment aid to pay for food, rent, and other essentials; without the aid they may be forced to move elsewhere and they may lack secure access to food. The effects were especially severe for racial minorities. Even after the expanded unemployment benefits have expired, the District’s unemployment system remains dire.
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