We are seeking a permanent, part-time Administrative Director to help us further our mission of promoting pro bono service and public-interest law. The Administrative Director will provide behind-the-scenes support for our membership outreach, training programs, and access to justice advocacy. Learn more here. Priority will be given to those who apply before November 5.
By Jackie Rogers Jessica Steinberg’s professional life has been marked by a profound commitment to helping the legally underserved. From her early days as the sole legal aid housing attorney in San Mateo County, California, this clinical professor at George Washington University Law School has worked on a range of legal issues to promote economic and social justice. Professor Steinberg’s work in California highlighted for her the many hurdles disadvantaged tenants face when they seek legal remedies from their landlords for housing code violations: fear of landlord retaliation, extended time away from work, and a lack of affordable transportation and child care options all limit opportunities to combat unsafe housing. Moreover, many poor tenants are forced to navigate a confusing and intimidating legal system on their own. Professor Steinberg’s move to D.C. and transition to academia were part of her commitment to studying and mobilizing support behind new and innovative approaches to improving the legal resources and options available to the underserved. Establishment of the D.C. Housing Conditions Court in 2010 represented just such an approach, and became the central focus of Professor Steinberg’s careful study for nearly two years. The Court was set up to address legal issues faced by tenants and to expedite cases for those living in uninhabitable conditions. The Court was born out of widespread agreement that a court with a single focus on housing code violations was needed, as existing city agencies and courts were simply overworked and overburdened. The D.C. Housing Conditions Court implemented two innovative approaches. First, the court employs field inspectors to investigate alleged violations, rather than requiring tenants to produce proof of unsafe conditions themselves. Second, judicial progress hearings are held until repairs are made, thereby holding landlords more accountable for fixing violations. Professor Steinberg’s research indicates that the Housing Conditions Court is more successful than many traditional courts in addressing habitability issues, and tenants who appear without lawyers are less prejudiced by unfair outcomes. Professor Steinberg would like to see this D.C. Housing Conditions Court approach expanded to other cities and counties. But she also wants more done to train and inspire the next generation of public interest attorneys and those willing to provide pro bono services. “The key is to train young law students and lawyers on these issues early in their careers,” she explains. “We need to provide them more direct, hands-on exposure to the many hurdles facing low-income populations.” As a professor at George Washington University, Professor Steinberg will continue conveying an inspiring message to her students. Her goal is to ensure that “all law students and attorneys understand the special privilege we’ve been afforded as members of the profession, and the obligation that comes with it to fight for justice and equality.” Jackie Rogers was an intern for Washington Council of Lawyers in 2017.
D.C. Law Students in Court has developed an exciting new resource to assist respondents in Civil Protection Order matters. The Civil Protection Order Project (CPOP) seeks to provide litigation and mediation services to respondents facing Civil Protection Order cases in DC Superior Court. At times, respondents may feel that Civil Protection Orders are overly burdensome or may perceive the legal process to be unfair. In those cases, Civil Protection Orders may be less likely to be complied with. One of the goals of CPOP is to reduce the number of respondents who may violate Civil Protection Orders. CPOP aims to ensure respondents receive fair treatment and understand court procedures, to inform respondents of the legal or collateral consequences of Civil Protection Orders, to educate respondents about the Civil Protection Order process and options available, and to facilitate peaceful negotiations and resolutions of domestic violence cases. CPOP provides a range of legal services, including providing legal information and advice, brief services, limited representation, and full representation at trial. Connecting with CPOP: CPOP has an office in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The office is located in Room 118A, which is a witness room right outside of Courtroom 118 (and across from the CPO Courtrooms 113 and 114). There are attorneys and volunteers in the CPOP office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 am - 4:45 pm. Any respondent needing assistance can stop in during that time; no appointment is necessary. A respondent may also contact CPOP by dialing: 202.638.4798 ext. 505 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Pro Bono Opportunity: CPOP welcomes the assistance of volunteers. Any attorney interested in providing pro bono assistance to respondents in Civil Protection Order cases may contact Pro Bono Director, Gwen Washington, at email@example.com.
On October 26th, D.C. Law Students in Court (LSIC) will host a Sealing & Expungement workshop where members of the community will be able to connect with legal professionals and seal or expunge a criminal arrest, charge, or conviction, given they qualify. The workshop will be combined with a “Know Your Rights” session on how to approach the housing and job application process with a criminal record. The event will be held at the Dept. of Employment Services, located at 4058 Minnesota Ave NE (near the Minnesota Ave Metro Station) from 9:00am to 2pm. LSIC staff and their volunteer attorneys are especially seeking to aid those with arrests, charges, or convictions related to crimes that have since been decriminalized or legalized (e.g., simple possession of marijuana). For those that have arrests, charges, or convictions for misdemeanors or felonies, capacity is limited for these types of cases. However, there may be an opportunity to connect attendees with pro bono attorneys in the months that follow, and LSIC will still be providing advice on how you can proceed with the housing and job market in the meantime. LSIC will make efforts to provide smaller-scale clinics on a monthly basis. Please use this link to register and allow for LSIC to determine eligibility. Registration will close at the end of September. This event is open to the public, though pre-screening will assist in being matched with attorney services. Attorneys who would like to assist with expungement efforts, regardless of prior experience, use this link to register and for more information. Questions? Contact: LSIC Expungement Hotline: (202) 607-2721 firstname.lastname@example.org
By Christelle Tshibengabo Reading Partners connects students in under-resourced schools with volunteer tutors and mentors across the United States. In Washington, D.C., Reading Partners has reading centers in 19 elementary schools, 10 of which are East of the Anacostia River. A significant percentage of the volunteers and tutors in the District's Reading Partners programs are attorneys and other legal professionals. Attorneys from Hogan Lovells LLP, for example, have volunteered for Reading Partners for several years, and Hogan Lovells partner Stuart Stein is on the board of directors. Hogan Lovells has a number of programs that service communities east of the Anacostia River, including a partnership with Kimball Elementary School. Stein became involved with Reading Partners after attending a citizenship program held by Hogan Lovells at Kimball four years ago and has remained committed to volunteering since. Speaking with WCL intern, Christelle Tshibengabo, Stein explained that when he started volunteering at Kimball, he ran the corporate practice at Hogan Lovells. While his professional life kept him busy, he still made time to spend an hour every week with the students at Reading Partners. Currently, he works regularly with at least four students. When asked how volunteering with Reading Partners has impacted his life, he explained that it is an "unequal partnership" because you get more from the students than you give to them. To learn more about Reading Partners, Tshibengabo also interviewed Reading Partners Community Engagement Director, Naomi Shachter, at Maude Aiton Elementary School in Lincoln Heights. When Tshibengabo arrived, three students from kindergarten through third grade were already in the reading center starting their day. Participating students are usually pulled from classes during independent reading times based on their reading ability and needs. When they arrive at the reading center, they meet with their tutors and begin a lesson, which consists of reading a book of the student’s choice aloud, targeting difficult vowels and consonants, and assessing content comprehension. Lawyers can have an outsized impact on the students they tutor. As an example, Naomi shared the story of Ana, a DC law student and Reading Partners volunteer, and her student Israel, who worked together at Aiton’s reading center. At the beginning of their first year working together, Ana had said she wanted to become a lawyer, while Israel said he wanted to make pizza. But by the end of their second year together, both Ana and Israel wanted to become lawyers. After their time at the reading center, the students are encouraged to take books home both as homework and for recreational reading. Because books for the program are donated to Reading Partners, donors are also important to the long-term impact on the students. Reading Partners is always seeking new volunteers for its programs. To volunteer for Reading Partners, register online here. After registering online, attend an orientation, complete a background check, and then schedule a session time. The students’ lessons run for 45 minutes, so volunteering involves hour-long shifts during school hours. If finding time during the school day is a challenge, you can also donate books to Reading Partners for the students to take home. Christelle Tshibengabo interned with Washington Council of Lawyers in 2018.
DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP) has opened a satellite office in The Commons at Stanton Square to serve victims of domestic violence and at-risk children and their families. The new location will be a collaborative effort with Martha’s Table and Community of Hope to serve clients in Ward 8. DCVLP Co-founder and Executive Director, Karen Barker Marcou, said that she is excited the new location will provide more legal and social services to families and children in Ward 8. “At least 30 percent of our clients reside in Ward 8. We were excited about Stanton Common’s focus on families and children, because our legal practice focuses on families and children.” The new location will provide space for attorneys to meet with clients and will provide support services in areas such as housing assistance, counseling, parenting classes and emergency assistance with food and clothing needs. DCVLP recently celebrated its tenth anniversary in May. The organization was started in 2008 to provide pro bono legal services to domestic violence victims and Guardian Ad Litem services to at-risk children. DCVLP attorneys staff the Domestic Violence Intake Center at DC Superior Courthouse every Monday and provide walk-in clinic services every Wednesday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest DC. Marcou stated that the Wednesday clinic sees over 400 people annually and that she never dreamed that DCVLP would grow to be so big. “I am very excited that we have been able to engage thousands of attorneys in pro bono work to help District residents in desperate need.” If you are interested in getting involved, sign up to attend DCVLP's volunteer recruitment lunch on Thursday, September 13. Register here.
On Friday we held our annual Supreme Court Term in Review: View from the Press Gallery. The panel of leading Supreme Court reporters covered the major decisions from the just-concluded term and predicted what lies ahead post-Justice Kennedy. If you weren't able to attend, check out C-SPAN's coverage.