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!
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.”
“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.”
Jody Cummings, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, has been an ardent pro bono volunteer for the Expungement Clinic for Rising for Justice (formerly Law Students In Court) for more than two years. His service to the people of the District of Columbia through his volunteerism is exemplary. Jody is the model of sustained excellence in pro bono service.
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.
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.
DC Pro Bono Week 2019 takes place from October 20–26, and will offer lots of opportunities to do pro bono work, learn new pro bono skills, meet other pro bono lawyers, and expand your pro bono horizons. Check out the full schedule of events here.
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.