The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

July 2011

July 28, 2011

Colbert Report Investigates Voting Rights

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As the country gears up for the 2012 presidential election, an episode on last week’s Colbert Report took aim at state efforts to safeguard against alleged “voter fraud.”  Many states, including Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin have passed or are considering legislation that would require voters to produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls.  These bills create new hurdles to the ballot box that are especially high for low-income, minority, college-age, and elderly voters, who may not have the time or resources to obtain a qualifying ID.  These voter ID bills, as Stephen Colbert demonstrates, are a solution in search of a problem and will only serve to disenfranchise eligible voters.

Colbert wryly notes that his beloved home state of South Carolina has some of the toughest voter ID laws, requiring a driver’s license, military ID, or passport to vote.  According to the state election commission, this disenfranchises 178,000 state citizens.  With barely half of Americans voting, these roadblocks are likely to discourage many more.  In his signature tongue-in-cheek tone, Colbert theorized that these laws are clearly designed to “keep the wrong people from voting,” citing opinions that “college students do not have the life experience to vote” and that property owners and upper-class voters have a higher stake in election results than poor people.  And as Colbert persuasively demonstrates, the specifics of voter fraud raised to justify these laws do not hold up to scrutiny: in Ohio, a swing state in the last few elections, a “statewide survey of votes cast in 2002 and 2004, found that out of 9,078,728 votes, there were four instances of fraud… forty-four one millionths of one percent.”

Pro bono lawyers have roles to play at all levels of the election protection and reform processes on Election Day and year-round.  To learn more about election-related pro bono opportunities, listen to our “Pro Bono and Elections” webinar, on demand here, and/or email Mary Baroch to request a copy of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project publication “Facing the Challenges of Citizenship: Election-Related Pro Bono Opportunities.” Both are free of charge to Law Firm Project Member firms.

Two especially useful resources protecting voting rights are the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Watch the Colbert Report clip and let us know what you think.

July 28, 2011

Global Spotlight: Vitamin Angels

Surely by now you’ve read our article, Pro Bono Food for Thought: Improving Access to Nutrition, in this month’s edition of The Wire, so you’re well aware of the important role pro bono plays in improving access to food and nutrition across America.  As it turns out, nutrition is an equally vital enterprise for firms and legal departments seeking to do global pro bono as well.

Nine hundred and twenty-five million – or one out of every seven people in the world – went hungry last year, and one in three people in developing countries suffers vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  According to UNICEF, children are exceptionally vulnerable:

Undernutrition contributes to the deaths of about 5.6 million children under five in the developing world each year.  It can lead to poor school performance and dropout, it threatens girls’ future ability to bear healthy children and it perpetuates a generational cycle of poverty.

Access to adequate food is what the U.N. describes as an empowerment right – “both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.”  No wonder the number one Millennium Development Goal is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.

And one California-based nonprofit, The Vitamin Angel Alliance, Inc. (Vitamin Angels), works tirelessly to do just that.  Their mission is to reduce child mortality worldwide by connecting newborns, infants, and children under age five with essential nutrients:

Essential nutrients address chronic malnutrition and the resulting morbidity and mortality caused by vitamin deficiencies . . . Vitamin A and multivitamins are part of a foundational strategy to address nutritional gaps and help break the cycle of poverty by improving health, educational achievement and economic productivity.  Essential nutrients enable young immune systems to fight infectious diseases, helping children attain good health and the opportunity to lead meaningful and productive lives.

At last week’s Summit of the Angels, Goodwin Procter LLP* earned an Archangel Award for contributing hundreds of pro bono service hours to Vitamin Angels.  The firm’s legal assistance ran the gamut from nonprofit law, corporate governance, contract and lease negotiations, tax issues, and international expansion, to employment law and trademark issues.  Vitamin Angels Founder and President Howard B. Schiffer, who presented the award, underscored the mission critical role that pro bono can play in international development, “Goodwin has really helped us shape our business, gotten things done quickly and added value to all they touched.  Vitamin Angels could not be where we are today without Goodwin’s incredible support.”  Last year, with the help of its pro bono partners, Vitamin Angels’ programs reached 24 million children in 43 countries.

The takeaway?  Malnutrition is a global problem of epic proportions that is unlikely to abate without more hands on deck.  Many of the myriad NGOs, governments, and supranational institutions engaged in combating hunger and malnutrition need pro bono partners to fulfill a wide array of legal needs.  Opportunities to do rewarding, impactful pro bono abound.

Is your firm or legal department helping to combat hunger and malnutrition?  Leave us a comment and tell us about it.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

July 26, 2011

Collaborating to Serve Consumer Debtors

In response to the economic downturn, a group of legal departments and a law firm are collaborating to support a New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for Justice project dedicated to tackling issues facing consumer debtors.  Lawyers from Prudential, AT&T**, Merck** and McCarter & English LLPbanded together to form Newark Legal Aid and Resource Clinic for Consumers (NLARCC), which provides legal assistance to an ever-increasing number of self-represented consumer debtors.  Together, the group of lawyers has significantly increased capacity to address the uptick in consumer legal issues.

The N.J. court system has been inundated with consumer-related cases, and the work of volunteer attorneys has helped to ameliorate some of the burden.  Clinics are held at the Essex County Superior Court three times each month.  The NLARCC is an innovative, inspiring example of different segments of the legal profession collaborating to proactively and meaningfully respond to an emerging and critical legal need.

Volunteer lawyers receive training on the state statutes governing basic consumer rights and then use that information to address a wide range of concerns, including:

  • law suits by creditors or debt collectors to recover alleged debts;
  • credit report issues and discrepancies;
  • garnishment of wages;
  • harassing calls and letters on debts; and
  • frozen bank accounts, among others.

Legal guidance provided by the lawyers regarding debtors’ rights and obligations can be life-changing for the many clients served.

We at The PBEye are so happy to see all sorts of collaborative pro bono efforts becoming increasingly popular.  Be sure to stay tuned as CPBO will be showcasing another great partnership with its Partner Award at the  Annual Dinner in November.

Do you know of any collaborative pro bono efforts?  If so, why not share them below . . .

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

July 22, 2011

Pro Bono Blossoms in Post-Quake Japan

In the aftermath of Japan’s recent three-fold disaster, civic-minded professionals around the world are rallying to help survivors rebuild their country and their lives.  The earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on March 11 was the fourth most powerful (9.0 magnitude) in recorded history, triggering a tsunami and a level seven nuclear accident said to rival Chernobyl.  Thousands of people perished, thousands more remain missing, and estimates of the economic damage to the island nation run as high as $300 billion.  It is often the case that profound tragedy stirs a powerful sense of global community and inspires the desire to lend a helping hand to those in need.  Post-quake volunteer efforts in Japan have run the gamut from rubble removal to pro bono legal services.

The PBEye was pleased to learn from CSR Asia that the seeds of pro bono that took tentative root in Japan last season are beginning to blossom in the wake of the quake:

Similar to other parts in Asia, the concept of pro bono service has taken time to find its footing in Japan.  Before 2010, which was labeled “The first year of [p]ro bono in Japan”, this concept was merely limited to a select group.  However, it was not until the ill-fated events of March that the term pro bono started gaining wider currency in business circles.

One example of post-quake pro bono is the “Rebuild Japan Initiative.”  Set up by the U.S.-based Boston Consulting Group, the Initiative delivers pro bono legal services to nongovernmental organizations like Save the Children Japan that in turn provide relief and developmental support to people in devastated areas of Japan.  And, other organizations, like Service Grant and the Daino Tokyo Bar Association, are leading the movement to institutionalize pro bono into Japan’s legal culture.

We hope that what CSR Asia dubs “Japan’s Year of Pro Bono” is but the beginning of an enduring national pro bono tradition.  Japan, we’ve got our PBEye on you, with great expectations…

Is your firm or legal department working in Japan? We’d love to hear about it — leave a comment below.

July 15, 2011

Ashe Awardee Fights for Justice

Yet again, pro bono is found where one would least expect it.  The PBEye was pleased to hear that  ESPN gave  the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage to Dewey Rader Bozella at its annual ESPY Awards earlier this week.  Bozella, 51, was imprisoned for 26 years following a wrongful conviction in the gruesome murder of a 92-year-old woman in 1977.

Our own Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory WilmerHale was the firm behind Bozella’s 2009 release.  But this pro bono miracle came only after many trials and tribulations for this innocent man.  Bozella had a rough childhood, from witnessing his father murder his pregnant mother to the deaths of three of his older brothers.  He had vowed to turn his life around when he was accused of the crime.

Despite an alibi and a lack of physical evidence, Bozella was convicted after two inmates lied to a prosecutor to secure their release.  He was sent to Sing Sing, where he found a great outlet for his bitterness: the boxing ring in the prison’s former electrocution building.  In the seven years before his retrial, Bozella would harness his boxing skills and even fight Golden Gloves champion Lou Del Valle.

At his retrial, Bozella’s character was put to the test when the district attorney told his lawyer, “If Dewey will admit his guilt, he can walk out a free man.”  He rejected this offer and was once again found guilty of a crime he never committed.  Bozella decided to make the most of his 20-to-life sentence and collected multiple college degrees from behind bars, all the while still boxing.

His determination and never-give-up attitude led Bozella to write to the Innocence Project once a week for years, only to find that all of the physical evidence from his case had been destroyed – leaving him without options.  But there was one sliver of hope left.  WilmerHale lawyers found Bozella’s arresting officer who provided them with previously withheld evidence that proved his innocence.

Nearly a million dollars-worth of pro bono work later, Bozella was a free man at age 50.  But he hadn’t let his time behind bars go to waste.  He now works with kids in order to get them off the street and into the gym where they can express themselves through boxing.

Courage is exactly what Dewey Bozella exhibited during his nearly 30-year ordeal, and The PBEye is proud to say that pro bono (and a Signatory Firm!) had a hand in his release.

Hat tip to PBI Intern Lauren Rabb for her help with this post.

July 14, 2011

More Summer Reading: Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops

We’ve come across an interesting new article that has intriguing implications for law firm pro bono.  Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops in the July issue of Wired explores how we can create subtle reminders that encourage us to do better.  The idea of a feedback loop is simple: give people information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions, encouraging them to improve their behaviors.

A feedback loop involves four stages:

1.  Behavior must be measured, captured, and stored.  As they say, you can’t change what you don’t measure.  This is the “evidence” stage. 
2.  The information is related – not in raw-data form – but in a context that makes it meaningful.  This is the “relevance” stage. 
3.  The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead – there must be a link to some larger goal or purpose.  This is the “consequence” stage. 
4.  There must be a moment when behavior is recalibrated and a choice is made.  This is the “action” stage.

“Your Speed” signs (aha, the picture makes sense now!) leverage a feedback loop.  They are an effective tool for changing behavior by providing people with real-time information and giving them an opportunity to change.

Action.  Information.  Reaction. This reminds us of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®.   Signatory Firms perform and record their pro bono work over the course of a year.  They report their results to the Law Firm Pro Bono Project, so we can analyze the data and place it in context.  Our annual Challenge Report provides meaningful information along with a sense of what firms can do with that information to create new pro bono opportunities and improve their performance over the following year.

Feedback loops, like the Challenge, work because they are how we learn.  Trial by error?  A course correction?  In order to succeed we need to have some sense of where we stand and some way to evaluate our progress.

For more information about becoming a Signatory to the Challenge, please contact us at probono@probonoinst.org.

Do you have any other pro bono-related summer reading recommendations?  We’d love to hear from you.

July 14, 2011

VIDEO: Legal Services and You

As pro bono has grown and evolved over the years, partnerships among the various stakeholders regarding access to justice issues have become increasingly popular.  Collaborations between law firms, corporate legal departments and legal services organizations have become more common as a way to pool resources and expertise for pro bono legal work.  Now we are seeing even more involvement from government as various jurisdictions look to maximize often scarce resources for the administration of justice.

The PBEye recently had a chance to speak with our friend Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, a federally established nonprofit designed to assist the poor with civil legal services.  Jim offers his unique bird’s eye view of what legal services organizations need in terms of resources, how pro bono is useful to such organizations, and other ways law firms and legal departments can help.

July 12, 2011

Pro Bono is Serious Business

Major multinational law firms are used to submitting to competitive bidding processes to land business . . . but more and more, firms are having to do so for coveted pro bono partnerships with leading nonprofits.  A recent article in the Guardian spotlights the three-month competitive process that U.K. charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), used to select four law firm pro bono partners from eleven eager bidders.  Among the chosen few is Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory Baker & McKenzie.

The business approach to pro bono may be novel to nonprofits, but the private sector practice of pitching for prized opportunities is old hat to most law firms.  NSPCC General Counsel Catherine Dixon understood this dynamic when she ditched the agency’s previous ad hoc approach to pro bono in favor of a more measured business model.  A formalized bidding process enables potential pro bono partners to assess fit, align expectations, and ensure that the resulting partnership best serves the target community’s legal needs.  The resulting cooperative agreement can help establish clear objectives, define the terms and duration of the partnership, and delineate each partner’s roles and responsibilities. 

In the balance, the business approach to pro bono is win-win-win – it benefits the client, the NGO, and pro bono counsel.  The PBEye sees this emerging trend as further evidence that pro bono is serious business — and seriously good for business.

Are you in the know about an emerging global pro bono trend or initiative?  Leave a comment below and tell us all about it.

July 11, 2011

Interns’ Day Out

Last week The PBEye introduced you to our summer interns.  Today we thought we’d talk about one of the many exciting intern events they experienced so far this summer.  Last Wednesday, our interns and several staff members visited Holland & Knight LLP’s* DC office to meet with Steve Hanlon, a longtime friend of PBI.  Throughout his career, Hanlon has handled a number of civil rights cases, having received countless awards for his work.  When the PBI contingency met with Hanlon, he recounted two of his most memorable cases and offered advice to the aspiring lawyers in the audience. 

Steve Hanlon, Pro Bono Partner

The first case Hanlon discussed was Rosewood Victims v. State of Florida.  Tragedy struck predominantly African American Rosewood in 1923 when whites from neighboring towns burned Rosewood to the ground, leaving six African Americans dead.  Rosewood was effectively wiped off the map and the chilling event erased from Florida’s history, but, in 1991, survivors sought justice by filing a claims bill against the state.  Hanlon represented the survivors for three years, and his work— bolstered by the compelling testimony of the witnesses—resulted in more than $2 million in compensation.

Hanlon then described his recent involvement in Havasupai Indians v. Arizona State University, in which the Havasupai tribe sued the researchers who had used the tribe’s DNA for research without consent.  The tribe agreed to provide blood samples for diabetes research, but the researchers used them for other purposes.  For Hanlon, restoring dignity to the tribe’s traditions was not only a professional success, but also personally rewarding.

The discussion was both informative and inspirational.  Particularly moving was Hanlon’s discussion of the long-term friendships he developed with clients in each case.  His work demonstrates the real power of pro bono—without a doubt, his pro bono work changed the lives of his clients and their descendents for generations to come. PBI interns are very grateful for this real-life example of one attorney’s commitment to pro bono, and, in particular, to have had the opportunity to meet with Hanlon and hear about his passion in person.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

Hat tip to PBI Intern Mallory Kennedy for her help with this story

July 11, 2011

Crime After Crime Comes to D.C.

UPDATE: Tickets now on sale for screening of Crime After Crime on Friday, July 15.

As if the documentary Crime After Crime wasn’t enough pro bono to satisfy your social justice cravings, The PBEye is pleased to announce that PBI’s own Esther Lardent will be moderating the discussion at the film’s D.C. premiere this week.  The West End Cinema is hosting the screening on Friday, July 15.  Our friend, filmmaker Yoav Potash, will also be in attendance at some screenings during opening weekend.  The film has already debuted in New York and Los Angeles to critical raves, with many more cities to come on its tour of the country.

You may recall that The PBEye has long been a fan of  Crime After Crime since we first heard about it way back in January.  The film follows the work of two pro bono lawyers (Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran) from Bingham McCutchen LLP* as they represent Deborah Peagler, a woman imprisoned in California for her connection with her boyfriend’s murder.  It’s a moving story of how pro bono can make a real difference.

The PBEye encourages you to come out and see this amazing production for its first official screening in D.C.  (or the city nearest you!).

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

Hat tip to PBI Intern Lauren Rabb for her help on this post.

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