The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Public Interest

June 22, 2017

Measuring the Justice Gap

Last week, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) released a report, The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans,”  which is the result of a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago of 2,000 Americans living at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level.  The report takes a detailed look at documents the extent of the “the justice gap,” which  LSC defines “as the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs.”

Key findings include:

  • Seventy-one percent of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem during the past year in areas such as healthcare, housing conditions, disability access, veterans’ benefits, education, and domestic violence.
  • In 2016, 86 percent of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.
  • Low-income Americans seek legal help for only 20 percent of their civil legal problems.
  • In 2017, it is estimated that low-income individuals will contact LSC-funded legal aid organizations for support with 1.7 million problems. However, they will receive limited or no legal help for more than half (1.1 million of these problems due to inadequate resources).

University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was among the speakers at a launch event for the report. “I may be a football coach,” he said, “but I am an American first and foremost, and all Americans should care about equal access to justice.” He continued, noting that it’s “about fundamental fairness…if you have money, you have access to justice. If you don’t have money, you have less access to our justice system, and that’s not the way it should work.”

To learn more about LSC and its current challenges and opportunities, check out our recent interview with Ronald Flagg on the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s Podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour. The episode is available on Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

June 19, 2017

It’s Pro Bono Podcast Monday

Don’t miss the latest episode of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour, featuring Ronald Flagg of the Legal Services Corporation. Ron talks to us about his career, his transition to LSC from private practice, his experience leading a law firm pro bono program while he was at Sidley Austin*†, LSC’s current challenges and opportunities, and more.

Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review! We’d appreciate the feedback and it would help us expand the conversation about access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to Be warned: we might just read them on the air.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

May 29, 2017

We Honor Those Who Serve

Today, we celebrate Memorial Day, a time to honor and pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving in the military. We are grateful to them and their families for their sacrifices and their service.

The holiday is a poignant reminder that providing pro bono assistance to eligible veterans is a unique opportunity for lawyers to exercise our patriotic duty and in some small way help repay those who served our country. Interested in getting involved? Check out VetLex, a new Veterans Legal Services Initiative, which will be operational soon.

May 11, 2017

“The Time to Lead is Now”

“The future will belong to those who can embrace change.”
Hilarie Bass, President-Elect, American Bar Association; Greenberg Traurig*†, Co-President

We have previously reported that a video can be an innovative and engaging way to promote law firms pro bono program and demonstrate the firm’s dedication to pro bono. Similarly, a video is an eye-catching and informative way to promote legal services organizations and create awareness about needs and opportunities.

This year, our friends at The Florida Bar Foundation released an inspiring video, “The Time to Lead Is Now.” The fast-paced and ­­­catchy video is a call to action and highlights “trouble in paradise;” an access to justice crisis for many Floridians and how pro bono lawyers can be of help. Check out the video below and imagine if everyone had access to legal help and how we might achieve our goal:

Have you created a video to promote pro bono and access to justice recently? Leave a comment and share your experience, and be sure to link to the video!

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® Member

April 27, 2017

Pro Bono Spring Break

Law schools, law firms, and public interest organizations have made tremendous progress in their efforts to inculcate the value of service and involve law students in providing meaningful pro bono. During the spring break season, a wide array of schools offered their versions of “alternative spring breaks,” during which students spent their vacation time offering pro bono work. Earlier this year on the Law Firm Project’s Podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour, we the discussed Columbia Law School’s alternative spring break with Laren Spirer. Their Spring Break Pro Bono Caravans, with support from Dentons*and others, enables law students to work with legal services and public interest organizations nationally and abroad, from Alaska to California to Texas to Jordan and South Africa and places in between, on a range of legal issues, such as immigration, criminal justice, domestic violence, water rights, and reproduction rights. In addition to Columbia Law School’s program, a variety of law schools across the country offer similar programs: Boston University School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, Harvard Law School, Rutgers Law School, Stanford Law School, Texas A&M University School of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law, University of Colorado Law SchoolUniversity of Chicago Law School, and more.

These intensive, pro bono experiences can be life changing for the clients, host organizations, and next generation of lawyers.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® Member


April 18, 2017

CLO Letter in Support of Funding LSC Reaches 195 Signatories

In response to The White House Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) recommendation to eliminate federal funding for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC) for FY18, 195 chief legal officers and general counsel from across the U.S. have signed their names to a letter in support of funding LSC at $450 million for the next fiscal year. The National Law Journal pointed out that the signatories represent numerous industries and some of the country’s biggest companies.

Why are so many general counsel committed to supporting LSC? As the largest funder of civil legal services in the U.S., LSC funds the legal aid organizations that serve almost two million Americans every year and play a vital role in helping ensure access to justice. LSC-funded organizations offer a wide range of necessary services, including representation of domestic violence survivors, families in danger of losing their homes, and veterans and seniors deprived of public benefits to name a few. In addition, these organizations are essential in connecting those in need to pro bono legal services offered by legal departments and law firms.

In-house counsel aren’t the only ones in support of funding LSC. More than 150 law firm leaders signed a similar letter sent to OMB in early March which noted, “Eliminating the Legal Services Corporation will not only imperil the ability of civil legal aid organizations to serve Americans in need, it will also vastly diminish the private bar’s capacity to help these individuals.”

PBI stands with LSC and those who believe it should be fully funded.

To learn more or add your name to the letter, which will be updated and re-submitted at various stages of the budget approval process, please contact CPBO.

March 20, 2017

It’s Pro Bono Podcast Monday

Need motivation as you begin spring cleaning? Tune in to the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour, and learn about exciting and meaningful developments in the world of law firm pro bono and access to justice.

Don’t miss our most recent interview with Elizabeta Markuci of Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS). Liz talks to us about pro bono initiatives to support immigrants in the context of her own family’s experience, the value of storytelling, the importance of self-care, her pro bono role models, and more.

Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour in iTunes. Have you rated us on iTunes yet? Would you consider doing it now? We’d appreciate feedback and it would help make it easier for others to find the show and expand the conversation about access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to Be warned: we might just read them on the air.

Want to learn more about the world of in-house pro bono? Check out Corporate Pro Bono’s podcast, the CLO & Pro Bono Series, which features Chief Legal Officers discussing the importance of pro bono and access to justice.

March 16, 2017

In Memoriam: Thomas S. Williamson Jr.

The PBEye was saddened to learn of the passing of our friend and pro bono champion, Tom Williamson, former President of the D.C. Bar. Throughout his 40-year career, Williamson was a staunch advocate for access to justice for all and civil rights. He eloquently reminded us that “[a]ccess to justice is my number one priority…I believe reverently that we have to continue to pay attention to meeting a higher standard of making access to justice a reality and not just an ideal for everyone in our community.”  His passion was exemplified in 2007, when he received the Wiley A. Branton award by the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which honored his work championing equal rights. Williamson was a partner at Covington & Burling*, held positions at the Department of Energy and Department of Labor, and served as the president of the D.C. Bar. Covington colleague spoke kindly of Williamson and his values:

“[W]hat was most striking about Tom to me was the thoughtfulness and empathy he exhibited as a mentor to generations of young, and not so young, men and women within our law firm and in the larger community. He genuinely cared about people, and hardly a day passed in which, over lunch or in a hallway chat, Tom didn’t take the time to think about and offer wise counsel to someone about his or her career or just life in general.”

Charles. E Buffon

The passing of Tom Williamson is a profound loss for his family, friends, colleagues, and the entire pro bono community.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® Member

August 25, 2016

Making Democracy Work

Voting is at the heart of our democracy, yet our voting system remains deeply flawed. A number of prominent civil rights and public interest groups are leading non-partisan efforts to ensure that every eligible voter can vote and that every proper vote is counted.

Pro bono lawyers are often at the forefront of legal efforts to cure legal flaws in the system, which threaten the accuracy, legitimacy, and fairness of the voting process. Lawyers have important roles to play at all levels of the election protection and reform processes – crafting legislation, enforcing voting laws, researching legal developments, monitoring the election process for unlawful behavior, representing eligible individual voters, and aiding local, state, and national organizations in bringing impact litigation to challenge unconstitutional election laws. The range of pro bono opportunities is broad and deep, with meaningful options for both small and large-scale projects and those that would appeal to litigators and non-litigators.

Want to get involved and make a difference this election year? PBI has three new resources to help you navigate election-related pro bono opportunities:

webinarListen to our latest webinar, Best of the 2016 PBI Annual Conference: The Challenges of Citizenship: Election-Related Pro Bono Opportunities (Pro Bono in Practice), which is now available on-demand.  This program explores how pro bono efforts play an important role at all levels of the voting rights and reform processes on Election Day and all year round. Jennifer BrownMorrison & Foerster*†, Ezra RosenbergThe Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Chris WaltersReed Smith*† discuss emerging issues, how to get started, opportunities for collaboration, and a range of pro bono options.

podcast2Check out a special episode of our podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour, about Election Protection. PBI talks to Nancy Anderson and Arusha Gordon, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, about the national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition and how pro bono lawyers can advance and defend the right to vote.

bookVisit our Resource Clearinghouse to access our updated publication, Facing the Challenges of Citizenship: Election-Related Pro Bono Opportunities, which explores pro bono opportunities available during and in-between major national election cycles.

For assistance accessing the webinar, podcast, or Resource Clearinghouse, please contact Law Firm Project Assistant Elysse DeRita.

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

† denotes a member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

September 1, 2015

Video: WDPB – Sarah Nolan, Brooklyn Defender Services

After working on her very first pro bono asylum case as a law firm associate, Sarah Nolan, pro bono counsel, Brooklyn Defender Services, knew that she wanted to do more pro bono and dedicate her career to immigration work.

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