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Photo: In-House Pro Bono 2020 Speakers

In-House Pro Bono In The Time of Covid-19 Recap and Volunteer Opportunities

Washington Council of Lawyers co-sponsored and co-organized a timely and well attended virtual program, "In-House Pro Bono in the Time of Covid-19" on Wednesday, September 23, 2020. (Access the recording here.) Ninety-eight attendees heard presentations by seven legal service providers on currently unmet critical needs and virtual opportunities for in-house and other attorneys. We were proud to co-sponsor this event with the Association of Corporate Counsel of the National Capital Region, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) program from the Pro Bono Institute, and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center.
Photo: Ava Morgenstern Headshot

Job Searching in 2020

If you're looking for a job right now, I want to offer solidarity and advice.  I just completed a job search this summer and I feel what you're going through.  You will pull through this.  In the meantime, I hope these resources can help. There are already many practical tips out there to help you apply for and interview for jobs remotely.
Photo: Francesca Gibson Headshot

Family Law Assistance Network newest tool for helping D.C. families in crisis.

In a time when there are many challenges and uncertainties facing the nation, it is important to recognize and celebrate the good in the world. Family Law Assistance Network (FLAN), a joint initiative between the DC Affordable Law Firm (DCALF), Legal Aid and the D.C. Pro Bono Center, is emblematic of that sentiment. FLAN, which opened at the end of March, in the midst of the pandemic, has already served over 200 litigants. Through this initiative, the DC Affordable Law Firm has been able to gain an even stronger presence and foothold East of the River as more than 50% of FLAN clients reside East of the River.
Photo: Erik Swanson Headshot

Clinical experiences remain some of the most impactful of law school.

Some experiences are easily forgettable. Others stick with you. But a rare few mold you.  I can still recall walking into the Community Development Law (CDL) Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law for the first time. At UDC Law, the clinical wing of the building is an exclusive area. It’s the cookie jar on top of the kitchen cabinet, out of reach until you’re tall enough to handle the weight. I did not expect to be nervous to start a class in law school.
Intern Happy Hour Graphic

Virtual Summer Program? A Positive Experience!

This year, law firms, government agencies, and legal service organizations had to pivot to all-virtual summer internship programs. Virtual programming in general can be fraught with obstacles, but when you include multiple individuals located across the country, with varying access to technology, and no prior experience with an organization, you have a recipe for disaster. On August 6, we brought together interns and summer associates to celebrate the end of their summer programs and to find out how it went. The short answer was, "Great!"
Picture: Jennifer Keane Valdez Photo

Living and Studying Through the Unprecedented Age of COVID-19

When Dean Renee Hutchins announced that our spring break would be extended due to worries over the COVID-19 global pandemic, to be honest, I was somewhat relieved. I would now be able to use the time that I had previously dedicated to commuting to and from school to catch up on work or sleep. Little did I know that my sense of relief would soon turn into horror when Dean Hutchins announced that we would move to remote learning indefinitely, which meant the second half of my 2L spring semester would be completed entirely at home. Now that I have completed my 2L year, I can confidently say that the biggest challenge I’m experiencing as a law student during COVID-19 is the lack of community. I didn’t realize the vital impact of campus life to my law school experience until I no longer had access to it. Prior to COVID-19, I utilized professor’s office hours frequently and benefited from in-person discussions of course material, client matters, and writing assignments. Before class, it was helpful to discuss a complex case or confusing concept with my colleagues, and after class, review important takeaways from the classroom discussion while studying in groups. Having an opportunity to engage with my colleagues outside of the classroom by participating in student organizations further solidified the strong sense of community at UDC Law.
Graphic: Criminal Law & Death Penalty Panel Event

2020 Summer Forum Criminal Law & Death Penalty Panel

by Nefertari Elshiekh On July 23rd, we wrapped up this year's Summer Forum, with the sixth panel focusing on Criminal Law & Death Penalty. The panelists included: Brandi Harden, Harden & Pinckney, PLLC Callie Heller, ABA Death Penalty Representation Project Daniel Levin, White & Case Bridgette Stumpf, Network for Victim Recovery of DC Liz Wieser, D.C. Office of the Attorney General’s Public Safety Division D.C. Office of the Attorney General's Public Advocacy Division's Stephon Woods facilitated our conversation. Bridgette began by talking about the wide array of services with which her organization provides victims. In DC, which sits at a unique nexus of federal and local law, survivors face additional barriers with regard to accountability and transparency because of the lack of elected prosecutors that many local jurisdictions have. Brandi then went on to describe how growing up in Texas as the only black child in her elementary school impacted her view of the law. Her firsthand experiences with an unfair justice system and her Texan perspective shaped her decision to become a lawyer as she felt she had a responsibility to ensure poor people had exceptional representation even if they couldn't afford a lawyer. Brandi highlighted one staggering statistic: Harris County, in Texas, has more death sentences than anywhere else in the country, and this resonated with Callie, who practiced in Harris County. Callie pointed out the lack of resources provided to attorneys involved with death penalty cases. She helps connect pro bono counsel, who are crucial in filling those gaps, with where the need is greatest. Callie also alluded to the interplay of racial injustice in the work she does through a policy example in North Carolina, where the Racial Justice Act allowed death row inmates to see a commutation of their sentence to life in prison if race was a factor in imposing the death penalty. However, the Act was later repealed, which caused contention over what happens to the six inmates that had applied for or were granted relief while the law was in effect. In June, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that applying the repeal retroactively violated the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws. This is a prime example of the importance that policy work plays alongside individual representation in addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice system. In continuing this discussion of racial injustice, the panelists addressed alternative methods to prosecution and the role the Black Lives Matter movement plays in each of their respective organizations. Liz elaborated on the D.C. Office of  the Attorney General's restorative justice program, which addresses accountability for some crimes by focusing on the harm done to victims. This approach aims to empower victims while still holding offenders accountable. Bridgette echoed the impact of such a program by noting that when asked, many victims did not want to necessarily engage in a punitive process, but rather wanted to have a conversation that allowed them to elucidate the harm that was done to them. Brandi expressed her hope that the Black Lives Matter movement is exposing the need to redirect resources to better serve and protect the community. From his own experience in working on cases that address gang violence, Daniel described how the people involved in gang violence often had long criminal histories that started with minor crimes committed when they were juveniles. Without another alternative, they were "thrown into the criminal justice system, and it was a spiral that led to more and more criminal behavior." He stressed that as a society we have not done enough to find alternatives to help individuals and give them opportunities to get out of that spiral, but it can be beneficial to everyone to shift resources to these areas. He ended with encouraging the audience to "have discussions, invite people in, and listen to them." Catch up on the conversation and discover pro bono opportunities on social media using #SumFo2020. Nefertari Elshiekh is the 2020 Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Intern.

Graphic: Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Event

2020 Summer Forum Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Panel

This week we hosted the much-anticipated Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Panel on July 21st. As our panel noted, this is a moment of great promise and great peril. We have an opportunity to spur real change, but we must seize the moment. Our experts delivered on concrete ways to do just that.
Graphic: Remote Summer Intern Tips

Virtual Internship Tips

Internships are an irreplaceable opportunity to get real world experience in an area that interests you. This year internships look very different as the pandemic forced the emergence of remote internships. But, do not worry; you can still have a rewarding and memorable summer experience. Keep reading for 8 tips on what you can do to make the most out your virtual internship.
Graphic: Poverty Law Event Panel

2020 Summer Forum Poverty Law Pro Bono Panel

This week, we took a deeper dive into practice areas where individual representation is often the stepping stone to systemic change. The discussion began with an explanation of the specific work each panelist does and how that has changed in light of the pandemic. We discussed pressing issues that D.C. and the rest of the nation are facing: the pandemic and the anticipated avalanche of cases once moratoriums end, and the racial inequalities that have always existed, but have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Some of the panelists also touched on how to find opportunities for pro bono services within the District and nationally.
Graphic: Summer Forum Event

2020 Summer Forum Keynote with Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby

July 7th kicked off our annual Summer Forum event with a keynote address from the Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest appellate court for the District. In conversation with Jim Sandman, President Emeritus of the Legal Services Corporation and a distinguished lecturer and senior consultant to the Future of the Profession Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the Honorable Blackburne-Rigsby began by talking about how her early experiences of being born in Washington D.C. during the height of the Civil Rights Movement ignited her interest in the law. Many of her heroes included judges and civil rights icons, who shaped her perspective of the power of law to ensure equality, and she knew this was something of which she wanted to be a part.
Graphic: Criminal Law & Death Penalty Panel Event

2020 Summer Forum Preview: Criminal Justice Representation Imperative

In his 2014 memoir Just Mercy, attorney Bryan Stevenson tells the world how he found his professional purpose: overhauling the United States' prison system. Stevenson spent his 1L summer at the Southern Center for Human Rights assisting prisoners on Alabama's death row. Today, Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative takes on not only the death penalty but also wrongful convictions, inhumane prison conditions, and the placement of children in adult correctional facilities. You do not need to be Bryan Stevenson to work on criminal justice issues. Join us for our final virtual panel, Criminal Law & the Death Penalty, on Thursday, July 23 at noon to learn how you can get involved.
Graphic: Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Event

2020 Summer Forum Preview: Protecting Civil Rights is Vital Work

At our 2020 Summer Forum, the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties panel will discuss how lawyers can be involved in the fight to protect civil rights & civil liberties.  The panel will explore the critical role lawyers play in protecting individuals exercising First Amendment speech rights at protests, providing post-arrest assistance, and making sure that issues like voters' rights are guaranteed during a time when in-person voting may not be possible. All of these issues and more will be discussed at the Civil Rights & Civil Liberties panel on Tuesday, July 21 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm ET.
Graphic: Human Rights & Immigration Panel Event

2020 Summer Forum Preview: Opportunities for Individual Representation and Systemic Advocacy Abound in Human Rights & Immigration Law

At our 2020 Summer Forum, the popular Human Rights & Immigration panel will discuss how advocates are fighting to protect immigrants' basic human rights under extraordinarily difficult circumstances in the COVID-19 pandemic.  This panel continues to be a superb opportunity for law students, recent graduates, and new lawyers to learn how to advocate for immigrants across diverse practice areas.
Graphic: Poverty Law Event Panel

2020 Summer Forum Preview: Varied and Wide-Ranging Pro Bono Opportunities in Poverty Law

Individuals living in poverty face numerous issues both legal and non-legal every day. In these uncertain and rapidly-changing times, those at or below the federal poverty level are being disproportionally displaced, harassed, and abused. Lawyers who practice in this area have to employ both traditional techniques and creative problem-solving methods to ensure the best outcomes for their clients. The areas of law the legal issues touch upon - landlord tenant, consumer, family - have the highest rate of pro se litigants and can produce some of the most life-changing outcomes. Representation is vital in these areas, and the need is overwhelming. Pro bono lawyers who take on these cases can be life-savers. Join us on Tuesday, July 14 at noon for the second in our series of five breakout panels exploring the means to incorporate pro bono into your professional life and avenues to support under-represented individuals.
Graphic: Transactional & Non-Litigation Event Panel

2020 Summer Forum Preview: Pro Bono Opportunities Outside the Courtroom

Not all battles are won in the courtroom. As many know, litigation is lengthy, costly, and in many instances, not needed. One study found upwards of 92 percent of cases settle out of court, and in fact, for many litigants, trying to reach an out of court settlement is better for both parties.  Pro bono attorneys play a crucial role not only in helping pre-trial settlement agreements reach fruition, and in making sure that both parties are adequately represented, but also in a host of other transactional law matters from ensuring that clients are complying with statutes and regulations, to advocating for policies that will bring about needed change and reform to our legal system.
Mentoring Program Hands Graphic

Starting In-House: Mentorship to Support Black Lawyers During Unprecedented Circumstances

The recent killings of Black men and women coupled with the disproportionate number of deaths in the Black community due to COVID-19 have rocked our nation.  Across the country, lawyers are brainstorming and banding together to develop creative and impactful methods to assist the Black community.  I challenge the legal profession to start in-house at our own firms and organizations by becoming mentors and sponsors to Black lawyers.
Graphic: Lawyers Well-Being Week Recap

ABA Lawyer Well-Being Week Round-Up

2020 has been a doozy of a year. Pro bono and public-interest lawyers normally are stretched thin due to the challenging nature of the work they do and the limited resources they have to support their work. Many in the public-interest community experience secondary trauma when they are indirectly exposed to the traumas that their clients experience. This can be a complicated situation to navigate even under normal circumstances. This year, the challenges of pro bono and public-interest work are amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help, we have signed on to to the ABA Lawyer Well-Being Pledge and are offering opportunities for our members to connect and de-stress, as well as resources, tips, and informative articles for people who want to learn more about how to stay well while navigating a stressful profession.
Graphic: COVID-19 Crisis: The Public Interest Community Responds

COVID- 19 Response Resources

The following is a list of resources for lawyers serving clients and DC residents in need of support. We will continue to update as more resources become available.
Side View Of Door With Key In Deadbolt Lock

Rapid Rehousing Program: Implementation Doesn’t Meet Expectations

The RRH Program was designed to help homeless families (with children) become self-sufficient by giving them rental assistance and case management for a period of one year. However, for my client, and many others, the reality is something very different. My experience only touched the tip of the ice berg when it comes to these issues, but it was enough to open my eyes and get me to commit to doing more pro bono work and advocacy work on behalf of the homeless, and families in need. Everyone deserves the right to an adequate place to live, and no young child should have to fear not having a place to sleep at night.
Photo Of Panelists And Cosponsors

Becoming a Judge

This month we co-hosted Becoming a Judge. Held at the D.C. Court of Appeals, the event gave attendees the opportunity to network with current judges, as well as hear from a panel of judges about their pathways to the bench and tips for applying. Some of the points raised by the judges aligned perfectly with the Council's mission of promoting pro bono and public interest law in the District.
Jen Tschirch, Brooke Meckler, Imoni Washington

Managing Student Loan Debt

Taking control of your student debt can be a daunting process.  That's why we hosted a panel discussion on Managing Student Debt on February 19, 2020. Jen Tschirch, Assistant Director, Office of Public Interest and Community Service at Georgetown University Law Center and Washington Council of Lawyers Board Member guided the conversation with our panelists Brooke Meckler, Law School Engagement and Advocacy Program Manager at Equal Justice Works; Imoni Washington, Director of Programs at the D.C. Bar Foundation; and Courtney Weiner, Managing Partner of the Law Office of Courtney Weiner PLLC.
Group Of Four Plus A Mediator Sitting At A Table Simulating A Mediation

Litigation Skills Series: Mediation Training 2020

Washington Council of Lawyers hosted a Litigation Skills Series training on Mediation on Friday, February 7, 2020. The training gave participants a strong foundation of negotiation theory followed by the opportunity to put what they learned into practice. Melissa Reinberg, mediator and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and Executive Director of Negotiation Works, led the group through a discussion on effective client preparation, how to use leverage in negotiations, and how to manage the mediation process to a successful outcome for clients. Then the sixteen participants participated in two mediation sessions, one as an attorney and one as a client. Through a landlord-tenant fact pattern rife with (intentional) inconsistencies and vital facts known only to the landlord and the tenant, participants were tasked with coming up with a mediation strategy and then putting that strategy into use with an experienced mediator. After the mediations, the Honorable John M. Mott, Senior Judge at The Superior Court of the District of Columbia and current neutral with JAMS Mediation, Arbitration and ADR Services addressed the participants. He spoke about the importance of mediation as a tool for advancing justice and advocating for our clients. The program concluded with a debrief led by Melissa Reinberg, in which participants put together best practices for preparing clients and guidance on the best roles lawyers can play during the mediation. The observations and universal takeaways included those listed here. Best Practices for Attorneys in Preparing Clients: Discuss mediation process Empower client Make sure client understands process is voluntary Discuss what is likely to happen at mediation Find out what client wants and why (i.e., client’s interests) Explore what the client thinks the other party wants and why (ie, the other party’s interests) Help client identify best/worst outcomes Help client identify walk-away alternative/likely outcome if there’s no agreement (ie, BATNA) Consider monetary and time costs to client if case is not settled in mediation Discuss whether client’s goals are realistic in light of the facts and the law Figure out what evidence to bring/present in the mediation Clarify what client is comfortable sharing; distinguish between sharing with all parties vs just the mediator Discuss overall mediation strategy Clarify roles of lawyer and client during mediation (ie, who will speak when) Set up how client will communicate with lawyer during the mediation Decide who will respond to offers (client or lawyer) before going into the mediation Best Roles for Attorneys in the Mediation Process: Guide client but don’t take over Simplify and clarify the process/facts/evidence for client; translate legalese Manage details (eg, do the math calculations) Help client stay focused on current issues being discussed Help prevent client from being sidetracked by collateral disputes Help the client control his or her emotions Manage relations between parties Expand and clarify your client’s perspective Flesh out and reinforce the client’s “good story” Keep an eye on the legal issues, and put client’s facts in legal context (if it’s helpful) Be prepared to jump in and address harder issues so client doesn’t have to Help the client take a step back to evaluate offers and options before accepting or rejecting them Know when to take a break in order to speak to your client about assessing or reassessing options Spin out the contingencies and consequences of the proposals being discussed Engage in reality testing; make sure options under consideration are workable for all Guide your client’s negotiation strategy Mediator comments: Counsel clients by reality testing and let them know what could happen if mediation fails In joint sessions, remember the other side may be hostile or view your client as the enemy Go in with a problem-solving mindset Use mediator as the neutral party he/she is We are grateful to our four mediators Steve Altman, Nancy Cohen, Tiara Jackson, and Carolyn Lerner for their expertise and guidance during the simulations. Their critiques in real time were vital to the rich learning experience and future success of our participants.

Best Practices Panelists From Left To Right Dr. Larry Richard, Andrea Mangones, Kitty Wach, And Paul Lee

Best Practices in Pro Bono: The Social Science of Doing Good

Our Best Practices in Pro Bono session on January 15 focused on the Social Science of Doing Good. Our conversation was led by an all-star lineup of panelists: Andrea Mangones from Kids In Need of Defense, Dr. Larry Richard from LawyerBrain, and Kitty Wach from Miller & Chevalier. The Best Practices Session was expertly moderated by  Paul Lee from Steptoe & Johnson LLP. More than 40 pro bono coordinators from law firms, legal services organizations, government agencies, and law schools attended the program. The panel discussed the reasons that lawyers do pro bono, and what methods are effective (or ineffective) for encouraging lawyers to do more pro bono. Dr. Larry Richard highlighted his research on personality traits that set lawyers apart from the general public. He cited his personality study research that demonstrates lawyers tend to be highly skeptical, but lack resilience and sociability. He noted that we are quick to try to use sticks and carrots to motivate pro bono lawyers, but they are often blunt tools that can have unintended consequences. Using the personal touch to build relationships with lawyers to encourage them to do pro bono can be more effective. Kitty Wach highlighted the variety of ways that law firms can encourage and support pro bono work, including making pro bono a mandatory requirement, asking about lawyers' pro bono practice during performance reviews, and including news of pro bono victories alongside news of commercial case victories in firm-wide emails from law firm leaders. Andrea Mangones shared her experience that having colleagues talk about pro bono clients they have helped, or hearing from clients themselves about the impact having a pro bono lawyer had on their lives can be the best ways to encourage lawyers to take on new pro bono cases. To learn more about lawyer personality traits, how to encourage volunteerism, and the benefits for the volunteer of doing pro bono work, check out these resources. We Volunteer To Help Others, But Research Shows How Much It Helps Us, Too, a January 13, 2020 Washington Post article by Jamil Zaki Supporting Justice: The Work of Pro Bono Lawyers, a 2018 report from the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Accountability 101, a 4-part blog post series by Dr. Larry Richard on the psychology of how to hold law partners accountable Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed, an article describing the personality traits that set lawyers apart from the general public, also by Dr. Larry Richard Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini Influence: The Science of Persuasion, also by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini Our final two Best Practices in Pro Bono Sessions for this year will take place on Tuesday, March 10, from 8:45-10:15 am, and on Wednesday, April 29, from 12:30-2:00 pm. Look for an email with registration information to circulate soon; if you are not currently a member of Washington Council of Lawyers, join today so you won't miss out! We are grateful to Fried Frank for hosting our entire Best Practices in Pro Bono series! Thank you!

5 Award Plaques On A Table

2019 Awards Ceremony

Oh, what a night! Thank you to everyone who joined us at our 2019 Awards Ceremony, and an extra-special thank you to our award recipients for the work that they do to serve our community. We could not have been more excited to honor one of our own, Jen Swedish, with the Above and Beyond Award. While her role as treasurer of the Board of Washington Council of Lawyers is largely unseen, the positive impact she has made on the Council is unmatched. Jen is a key component of our leadership team, and her stewardship of our finances for the last seven years has meant that we have been able to grow and adapt to meet any challenge. It was an honor to have Board Member and past president Paul Lee accept our Law Firm Award on behalf of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Through the efforts of Barbara Kagan, immediate past Pro Bono Counsel for more than 25 years, and with Paul's continuing guidance, Steptoe is a strong leader in the pro bono community. We were proud to recognize the firm's commitment to pro bono service and the myriad ways Steptoe has supported Washington Council of Lawyers in furthering our mission. Marisa Schnaith with the U.S. Department of Labor exemplifies exactly what one person can do with hard work and a drive to help. We were excited to present her with our Government Pro Bono Award. Not only did she dedicate 100 hours of individual pro bono service last year, but she is instrumental in the continuous innovation and expansion of her department's pro bono activities. She is an outstanding example for all government lawyers. Our Legal Service Award recipient Trisha Monroe from Legal Aid is one of those amazing individuals who is both warm and fierce at the same time. She makes her clients feel secure, perhaps for the first time in a very long time, and is dedicated to walking with them as they seek safety, security and healthy relationships.  Over her career, she has been a tireless advocate for more than 6,000 victims of domestic violence and a kind and caring mentor for her family law/domestic violence colleagues across the public interest community. Lastly, were thrilled to award Nicole Austin-Hillery, Executive Director of U.S. Programs at Human Rights Watch with the Presidents Award for Public Service for her legacy of powerful civil rights advocacy on behalf of individuals and for systemic change throughout her career. Nicole's vision, dedication, and leadership have been a true inspiration to the many law students, lawyers and lawmakers who have had the privilege of working with her. She is a true hero. Now, more than ever, our community needs opportunities to come together, celebrate our accomplishments, reflect on the positive influences we have on the lives of our neighbors, and recharge our collective professional batteries. We were thrilled to share this evening with so many wonderful advocates and friends! Keep up the good work and know that the Washington Council of Lawyers stands ready to assist, support and encourage you.             

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