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Nicole Austin-Hillery: 2019 Presidents Award For Public Service

Nicole Austin-Hillery: 2019 Presidents Award for Public Service

Nicole Austin-Hillery has long been recognized as a passionate, mission-driven, and committed civil rights leader fighting for the disenfranchised. As the newly created U.S. Program Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, she directs efforts to end systemic injustice within the United States. Nicole is a fervent advocate for progressive public policies addressing a wide range of human rights issues, from immigration to national security, criminal justice, and civil rights. Nicole has been blazing new trails and taking on unique challenges throughout her career. Before embarking on her current role with Human Rights Watch, Nicole served as the first Director and Counsel of The Brennan Center's Washington, D.C. office where she led policy development and represented the organization before Congress. Nicole pressed for substantive results through her testimony before the Executive Branch and various state and local legislative bodies, and lead conversations that prompted action through her widely-read opinion editorials for major news outlets such as Time Magazine, The Hill, and CNN.com. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Howard University School of Law, Nicole has always fought injustice. She spent her early career as a civil rights attorney at the law firm of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC as part of the firm's civil rights employment class action practice. She also worked as the George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Law Fellow at the national office of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. Nicole puts thought into practice through her wide and far-reaching pro bono service to the legal community. While many know her as the 2018-2019 President of the Washington Bar Association, she also has served as an Advisory Committee Member of the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law and as co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section's Defense Function Committee. Additionally, Nicole inspires the next generation of social justice warriors as an adjunct civil rights professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and as a former Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow at Harvard Law School. Despite her busy schedule, Nicole has been an insightful contributor to Washington Council of Lawyers. She served as a past President and currently serves as co-chair of the Honorary Board Committee. Nicole is a long-time Washington Council of Lawyers board member and has been a fixture at our Summer Pro Bono and Public Interest Forum. In addition to serving as a breakout session panelist for several years, Nicole has moderated our keynote discussions for the past three years, leading conversations with Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the  Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in 2019, David Cole, ACLU National Legal Director in 2018, and The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. Nicole is flawless in leading warm and engaging conversations that highlight current legal issues. She has also participated in our Racial Justice Series programs, including an examination of the events in Ferguson and how to address ongoing racism in the justice system. Nicole is a tireless advocate for those living in the margins of society. It is an honor to award the 2019 Presidents Award for Public Service to Nicole Austin-Hillery.

2019 Government Pro Bono Award: Marisa Schnaith

2019 Government Pro Bono Award: Marisa Schnaith

Marisa Schnaith is a pro bono superstar. Not only has she contributed an impressive number of pro bono hours, over 100 in the past year alone, but she has made significant contributions to the Department of Labor's Pro Bono Program. That is why we're thrilled to award her with the 2019 Government Pro Bono Award.
Trisha Monroe: 2019 Legal Services Award

Trisha Monroe: 2019 Legal Services Award

"Superb."  "Exceptional."  "One of the fiercest advocates for domestic violence survivors I have ever met."  These are just a few of the superlatives colleagues use to describe Trisha Monroe, our 2019 Legal Services Award Recipient.
Jen Swedish: 2019 Above & Beyond Award

Jen Swedish: 2019 Above & Beyond Award

They say it's always the quiet ones. In our case, the quiet one is a force. Quietly, and without fanfare, Jen Swedish simply gets things done. Effectively. Excellently. Extraordinarily. As one of her fellow board members aptly stated, "She has a behind-the-scenes role that even most Board members don't fully see. But Jen has provided a critical service to Washington Council of Lawyers." Jen has been a member of Washington Council of Lawyers Board of Directors for 10 years. And for 7 of those years, she has served as our Treasurer. There is nothing glamorous or exciting about the weekend and late-night hours Jen has spent pouring over spreadsheets and reconciling bank accounts. However, it is vitally important work that ensures our financial stability and ability to serve our mission. She has fearlessly tackled the IRS's complex rules and regulations, always ensuring we are doing exactly what needs to be done. She is adept with Excel, creating pivot tables and using shortcuts to make the work easier. These may sound like trivial talents. They are not! Jen's work over the years has saved Washington Council of Lawyers thousands of dollars in accounting and bookkeeping expenses. A long-time board member said it best, "In a small organization, it is vital to have passionate board members who are willing to take on the difficult tasks. Jen has consistently demonstrated her passion for Washington Council of Lawyers through her long-time stewardship of our finances and her dedication to our success. She has been a key component of our leadership team, and through her efforts, has ensured our ability to meet any challenge." Jen contributes this valuable volunteer service while juggling the obligations imposed by judges, discovery schedules, and travel stemming from her active caseload as a full-time litigator at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the competing demands of having and raising three precious children.  (We like to think of them as future public-interest lawyers.) She also has been a key contributor to the work of our committees, especially the Personnel Committee. Her insights and financial acumen have helped the Washington Council of Lawyers make solid decisions so that we have been able to grow our membership, offer more trainings to pro bono and public-interest lawyers, advocate effectively for increased access to justice, and build a stronger public-interest community.  Although Jen's work has been in the background, it is central to advancing our mission. Two of the four pillars of our mission are training public-interest lawyers and developing leaders in the public-interest community. Jen was supporting these pillars even before she joined the board by serving as a co-chair of our Mentoring Program. As an alumnae of the program herself, she has been generous with her time in advising other co-chairs on how to effectively lead the program, and serving as a panelist at Mentoring Program events. Our Above & Beyond Award gives us the opportunity to thank Jen for a thankless job. We are pleased to take public notice of her dependability and dedication. We honor the talents she has shared with us and the hours she has devoted. We are grateful for her contributions and thrilled to recognize Jen Swedish as the 2019 recipient of our Above & Beyond Award.

Steptoe & Johnson LLP: 2019 Law Firm Award Recipient

Steptoe & Johnson LLP: 2019 Law Firm Award Recipient

Steptoe & Johnson and their long-time, former Pro Bono Counsel Barbara Kagan, have been staunch supporters of Washington Council of Lawyers since our inception in 1971. That is why we are pleased to highlight their outstanding commitment to public service and partnership with Washington Council of Lawyers and the larger D.C. pro bono community to advance access to justice in our community with our 2019 Law Firm Award.
Pro Bono In Protest: Protecting First Amendment Freedoms In The District

Pro Bono in Protest: Protecting First Amendment Freedoms in the District

D.C. hosts over 2,000 protests a year.  This unique landscape gives local lawyers an amazing chance to protect democracy and uphold the First Amendment. To highlight and promote pro bono opportunities in this exciting area, the Washington Council of Lawyers hosted Pro Bono in Protest: Protecting First Amendment Freedoms in the District on October 22, 2019 at Steptoe & Johnson, with co-sponsorship from the American Constitution Society, the Filipino American Lawyers Association of Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association.
Discussing Black Maternal Health And Domestic Violence

Discussing Black Maternal Health and Domestic Violence

Every year, pregnancy-related complications kill about 700 women. That’s bad enough, but the racial disparity makes it even worse: Compared to white women, black women are three times more likely to die because of pregnancy. Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community wants more people to learn about this gap and, more generally, that too many black women and black babies suffer avoidable deaths. Ujima provides culturally specific services and resources about domestic, sexual, and community violence. Says its Executive Director, Gretta Gardner, "We hope to bring awareness that will spur conversations in the community about how we have to rely on each other to reduce harm and raise awareness instead of relying solely on systems and institutions." So two weeks ago (on Monday, October 14), Ujima held an event at Busboys and Poets in Anacostia to discuss black maternal health and how it relates to domestic violence. The program was one of over thirty District events held in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Moderated by Ujima Senior Policy Attorney Megan Simmons, the panel featured two reproductive-rights leaders: Dr. Jamila Perritt (a local OBGYN and member of the District's Maternal Mortality Review Committee) and Jessica Pinckney (Vice President of Government Affairs at In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda). The panelists were blunt about the relationship between domestic violence and maternal health. "Many folks who will someday become pregnant or potentially become mothers or parents have often experienced some type of abuse or violence in their life," said Pinckney. And "there is no way to separate the trauma or that experience from both the experience of being pregnant and the experience of being a parent." In fighting these problems, the panelists stressed, there's no substitute for knowing about reproductive justice and its history. As Dr. Perritt explained, "If you don’t understand reproductive justice, you will continue to see inequities." And, she added, "you can’t understand the inequalities with medical care unless you understand the history." Because of this history, for instance, some African-Americans distrust medical professionals; that distrust can affect the quality of care delivered and received. As a result, doctors and other medical providers need to ask better questions to learn whether someone is a victim of violence: "You have to ask if something is going on." Unfortunately, quite a bit is going on. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, last year District domestic-violence organizations served an average of 589 victims—each day. Bit by bit, groups like Ujima are working to change that. Learn more about Ujima, Inc. here.

Pro Bono Week 2019: Paul Thompson – Appellate Pro Bono

Pro Bono Week 2019: Paul Thompson – Appellate Pro Bono

Paul Thompson, a partner with McDermott Will & Emery LLP, is a very successful, well-known appellate lawyer. Despite his busy practice, he regularly uses his skills and experience to advocate on behalf of pro bono clients. He handles a wide-range of appeals on behalf of pro bono clients and is a frequent author of amicus briefs.  Two of his most noteworthy efforts this year highlight Paul's commitment to pro bono.
Pro Bono Week Profiles 2019: Jane Garrido – Making Housing Vouchers Work

Pro Bono Week Profiles 2019: Jane Garrido – Making Housing Vouchers Work

Voucher discrimination is rampant in DC.  Every day, new apartment ads are posted online that say no vouchers, and every day people are illegally rejected from housing because a landlord does not want to accept vouchers.  This problem is so widespread and so harmful that it demanded the attention of Neighborhood Legal Services Program.  Once we started working on it, we quickly realized the significant impact pro bono attorneys could have. In 2017, NLSP piloted the idea of collaborating with government pro bono volunteers to file Office of Human Rights (OHR) complaints against landlords who turned people away from housing because they had vouchers. Jane Garrido was one of the first pro bono attorneys to file an OHR complaint on behalf of someone experiencing voucher discrimination.  She and one of her colleagues at the Department of Labor helped a man who was experiencing homelessness to navigate the OHR process and to demand justice from the landlord who had rejected him illegally. After that first experience, Jane came back for more. And kept coming back!
Pro Bono Week 2019: Tammy Hui – Inspired By The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Pro Bono Week 2019: Tammy Hui – Inspired by the Entrepreneurial Spirit

For Tammy Hui, a volunteer with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Small Business Legal Assistance Program, entrepreneurship is in her blood.  Tammy is a native of Edmonton, the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta, where she grew up as the daughter of a general contractor father and the niece of automotive shop owners and restauranteurs.  "That's what attracted me to business owners, that entrepreneurial spirit,” she says.  “Folks who are willing to make huge leaps without any protection.  I'm drawn to helping those people as best I can."
Pro Bono Week 2019: Karen Zacharia – Prioritizing Pro Bono

Pro Bono Week 2019: Karen Zacharia – Prioritizing Pro Bono

"Busy." It seems this one word has become an increasingly acceptable answer any time a friend or colleague asks "How are you?" As Chief Privacy Officer of Verizon, Karen Zacharia would be justified in doing this. But she won't. Not unless you ask her outright. And she is never too busy for pro bono. In a city full of capable, ambitious attorneys eager to prove how busy they are by commiserating about outlandish deadlines and skipped meals, Karen, sets an example by finding time to do pro bono work and encouraging others to do the same. "I recently heard someone use the phrase 'ruthless prioritization.'" She says. "That phrase very aptly describes how I manage my time.  I determine what is most important for me professionally and personally and try to focus on those items as much as possible.  I appreciate how fortunate I am, and it has always been important to me to try to 'give back' to others."
Pro Bono Week 2019 Profile: Bez Stern – Representing Unaccompanied Children

Pro Bono Week 2019 Profile: Bez Stern – Representing Unaccompanied Children

In recent years, the complexities of immigration advocacy have dominated headlines and galvanized the legal field.  Representing unaccompanied children is a uniquely difficult task due to fear within the immigrant community, mistrust of legal and immigration systems, and challenges like family separation and increased barriers to relief.  Children come to the United States fleeing horrific violence, severe abuse, deep poverty, gangs and other unimaginable harm. As the number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States rises, so does the need for quality representation of these children in their immigration cases. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) recruits child-friendly pro bono attorneys to take on this important casework and KIND’s Washington, D.C. office was fortunate to find Bezalel Stern, Special Counsel at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP.
Pro Bono Week 2019 Profile: Maryam Casbarro – Empowering Domestic Violence Survivors

Pro Bono Week 2019 Profile: Maryam Casbarro – Empowering Domestic Violence Survivors

Maryam Casbarro immigrated to the United States from Ghana with her parents when she was a young girl.  She recalls how after her family settled in the Bronx, NY, her parents "regularly engaged in community service and were active in their local African immigrant community."  In particular, Maryam recounts how her parents invited several newly immigrated women who were facing domestic violence in their own homes to stay with her family. "Overhearing the discussions between my mother and these women, I was moved by their experiences," Maryam said.  "Immigrant survivors can feel even more vulnerable being in a new country and often are unaware of the resources available to them.  It didn’t matter how well educated or highly regarded these women may have been in their home countries.  When experiencing domestic violence, they needed help." Maryam's early exposure to the impact of domestic violence has had a profound impact on her and has guided her pro bono practice as she has forged her professional career.
Washington Council Of Lawyers & D.C. Bar Pro Bono Task Force  Announce Launch Of Family Law Career Development Program

Washington Council of Lawyers & D.C. Bar Pro Bono Task Force Announce Launch of Family Law Career Development Program

Washington Council of Lawyers and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Task Force are collaborating to bring a new initiative to family law practitioners in D.C. this September. The Family Law Career Development Program is a 12-month intensive mentoring program for newer family law practitioners. It's also a way for family law attorneys to give back to their community by providing critical pro bono representation to D.C. families unable to afford a lawyer.
Our Theme For 2019-2020: #WCLawyers4Justice

Our Theme for 2019-2020: #WCLawyers4Justice

At the core of our mission is our work striving to ensure our legal system treats everyone fairly, regardless of money, position or power. This year, we wanted to find ways to highlight just what access to justice means to our staff, members, and community partners. A common theme emerged: #WCLawyers4Justice.
An Enduring Legacy: The Partnership Between Covington & Burling LLP And The Neighborhood Legal Services Program

An Enduring Legacy: The Partnership between Covington & Burling LLP and the Neighborhood Legal Services Program

The Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) serves disadvantaged communities in Washington D.C. by connecting those in need of legal assistance with free legal services. Thanks to its dedication and its partnering organizations, NLSP has successfully helped hundreds of families obtain justice. But how did NLSP get its start, and who are the key players that have helped it to thrive?
#BookClubFriday Reading List

#BookClubFriday Reading List

We had a busy summer here at the Washington Council of Lawyers. In addition to some amazing events, we launched our very first virtual #BookClubFriday series. Members sent in suggestions for books they were reading or wanted to read this summer, and in some cases, fun facts about themselves. If you missed these posts, do not fret, we have recapped all of them here, and suggested some other great book lists from which to select your next literary adventure. Thank you to all who participated, and we’ll pick this list back up next summer.
Joining Forces To Bring Legal Services East Of The River

Joining Forces to Bring Legal Services East of the River

The unique clinic partnership between the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia (“Legal Aid”) has had an unparalleled impact on the community East of the Anacostia River. After originally joining forces in Southwest D.C. in 2013, Legal Aid and Kirkland decided in 2015 to move the intake clinic to Legal Aid’s Southeast office at the Anacostia Professional Building, widely known in the community as “the Big Chair.” The decision to move was motivated by a desire to increase resources to address the ever-growing legal needs observed east of the Anacostia River, where one in three residents lives in poverty, and half in “deep poverty” (i.e., incomes at or below 50% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines). The clinic helps residents with legal issues related to housing, family law, domestic violence, public benefits, and consumer law.
TZEDEK DC: Legal Help For People In Debt

TZEDEK DC: Legal Help for People in Debt

Tzedek DC is a relatively new organization, but its mission draws on a very old Jewish teaching: “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” meaning “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” While Tzedek DC only opened its doors in February 2017, volunteers had already spent two years interviewing DC residents about the barriers to economic and social stability. They found that debt collection issues, including lawsuits and impaired credit, were major hurdles for an overwhelming number of residents, especially in Wards 7 & 8.  Founder Ariel Levinson-Waldman explains that debt-related crises -- and the fact that income debt collection lawsuits are filed disproportionately against African-American and Latinx households -- contribute to the deep stratification of wealth along racial lines in DC. He notes that, according to the Urban Institute, white households in DC have a net worth 81 times greater than Black households. Tzedek DC seeks to help change these trends by addressing debt issues through a civil rights lens and by engaging in three strategies to increase access to assistance navigating financial problems.
Thank You And Good Luck To Our Summer Intern Lydia Kotowski

Thank you and good luck to our summer intern Lydia Kotowski

While the summer isn't technically over, we do say good-bye to our summer intern Lydia Kotowski this week. She has been a wonderful addition to our team and has brought a new perspective to our work. We are exceedingly grateful for all the ways Lydia has helped move our mission forward this summer. Thank you, Lydia!
A Conversation With Justice Elena Kagan And Dean William Treanor (July 18, 2019)

A Conversation with Justice Elena Kagan and Dean William Treanor (July 18, 2019)

Washington Council of Lawyers was honored to host A Conversation with Justice Elena Kagan and Dean William Treanor of Georgetown University Law Center on Thursday, July 18, 2019.  The conversation began with a discussion about the career of the late Justice John Paul Stevens, whose seat Justice Kagan filled after Justice Stevens retired. Justice Kagan praised Justice Stevens both in his role as a Supreme Court Justice and as an extraordinarily kind man and mentor.  Speaking to an audience largely comprised of law school students, public-interest lawyers, and pro bono advocates, Justice Kagan commented on Justice Steven’s commitment to continued learning on the job and his fierce independence.