The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Public Interest

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.

August 27, 2015

Katrina and the Legacy of Pro Bono

fleurThis month marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating toll it took on the Gulf Coast. The legal profession had a key role to play in helping those affected by the storm rebuild their lives and their communities in both the immediate aftermath and the long-term.

Residents of New Orleans and the surrounding areas were confronted by a slew of critical legal needs in the wake of the hurricane, but the region lacked the capacity to adequately meet the demand. Pro bono lawyers and law students from around the country stepped in, both remotely and by travelling to the Gulf Coast, to help local legal services organizations and assist with housing issues, reconstruction of important legal documents destroyed by the storm, insurance claims, and other pressing needs. Read more here and listen to a StoryCorps recording in which The Pro Bono Project shares first-person memories of the amazing and generous pro bono response and creative collaborations that took place during the aftermath of Katrina.

The PBEye has previously written about how lawyers can meaningfully contribute to recovery efforts. Lessons learned from the pro bono response to September 11 were applied in response to Katrina; lessons learned from Katrina were implemented during the response to Superstorm Sandy. Going forward, the legal community must continue to develop protocols and resources that will enable pro bono lawyers to be proactive, efficient, and effective in response to future crises. Law firms, legal services organizations, law schools, and others are actively engaged in advance planning, developing innovations such as the Disaster Assistance Recovery Tool, an app aimed at helping survivors of natural disasters through the process of applying for disaster relief benefits. This anniversary is a visible reminder that there is still much work to be done to strengthen the legal community’s disaster preparedness infrastructure so that we can more effectively leverage pro bono efforts and resources to address critical needs.

Hat tip to PBI intern Ali Remick for her help with this post.

August 4, 2015

Video: WDPB – Michael Bergmann, Public Interest Law Initiative

Many lawyers agree that doing pro bono “feels good.” This week, we hear from Michael Bergmann, executive director, Public Interest Law Initiative, as he explains how doing pro bono can be a rewarding experience for lawyers.

December 11, 2014

Juvenile Justice Scorecard

scorecardOur friends at the Juvenile Law Center recently released a rigorous national scorecard that grades jurisdictions based on their policies for keeping juvenile records confidential and allowing for sealing or expungement. In sum, the vast majority of jurisdictions fail to protect sensitive information contained in juvenile records, with none earning the maximum five-star rating and the national average coming in at three stars.

For the millions of youth arrested each year in America, 95 percent of whom are arrested for nonviolent offenses, juvenile records can follow them into adulthood and create barriers for success. In many jurisdictions, employers and other members of the public have access to such records, which can lead to young people being denied jobs, housing, or even access to higher education.

The scorecard reminds us that juvenile justice issues are fertile ground for lawyers, law firms, and legal departments looking to develop or expand their pro bono practice. The range of opportunities is broad and deep, with options for both small- and large-scale projects. Pro bono lawyers assist youth and their families as they work to seal or expunge a juvenile record. Lawyers can also take on related pro bono work, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, access to counsel, and more.

To learn more, check out the on-demand version of our recent webinar, “Pro Bono in Practice: Juvenile Justice,” during which expert panelists explore pro bono and legal developments related to juvenile justice. Registration is free for Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member Firms. Please contact Law Firm Project Assistant Eva Richardson for registration information or for assistance with becoming a Member.

October 3, 2014

Video: WDPB – Michael Silverman, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund

Michael Silverman, executive director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, explains why partnerships with law firms and corporate legal departments are extremely valuable to his organization’s pro bono efforts.

August 4, 2014

Video: WDPB – Bill Lienhard, Volunteers of Legal Service

Many attorneys remember their first time representing a client in court and how intimidating it was. Now imagine how intimidating it must be for clients who are forced to represent themselves without proper training and guidance. This week, we hear from Executive Director of Volunteers of Legal Service Bill Lienhard as he explains his personal experience as a new attorney and the importance of pro bono.

June 2, 2014

Video: WDPB – Garth Meintjes, International Senior Lawyers Project

There are so many great reasons to do pro bono! This week, we hear from Garth Meintjes, executive director, International Senior Lawyers Project as he shares what he believes is the most important reason to do pro bono.

May 23, 2014

Brown v. Board of Education and the Future of Civil Rights

On May 17, 1954, America reached a milestone in its fight for justice and equality when the Supreme Court released its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The Court reached a unanimous decision that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine and outlawed segregation in public schools. For the millions of African-American children and parents forced to deal with the consequences of this institutionalized discrimination, the ruling represented a turning point in their fight for basic civil rights and freedom.

Sixty years later, Brown v. Board still impels many to fight all forms of discrimination and protect the civil rights of marginalized groups. Today, individuals and organizations advocate for the rights of the LGBT community, immigrants, and other underrepresented persons. Pro bono attorneys have been at the forefront of many of these issues, using their unique skills to ensure that every individual has freedom from discrimination.

Attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison*† followed the precedent set by Brown v. Board and took their case for same-sex marriage rights before the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. They joined attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court ruled that DOMA violates equal protection by denying married same-sex couples recognition under federal law, and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married same-sex couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections.

Covington & Burling*† attorneys have also dedicated a significant portion of their pro bono work to civil rights, particularly focusing on the issue of racial profiling. Covington pro bono lawyers devoted numerous hours and resources to proving that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona racially profiled Latinos and illegally detained minorities. In New York City, they convinced a New York federal judge to order changes to the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies after finding they disproportionately discriminated against Hispanics and African-Americans.

Of course, much work still needs to be done before the individual freedoms of every person are guaranteed, even in the area of school segregation. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice continues to actively enforce and monitor nearly 200 desegregation cases where school districts have not yet fulfilled their legal obligation to eliminate segregation. Many groups are still fighting for equality, and it is essential for every citizen to advocate for tolerance. As President Barack Obama stated on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, “Let us march together, meet our obligations to one another, and remember that progress has never come easily, but even in the face of impossible odds, those who love their country can change it.”

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

May 21, 2014

2014 Pro Bono Marketplace of Ideas: Global

The 2014 PBI Annual Conference featured three fast-paced “Marketplace of Ideas” sessions, including one dedicated to global pro bono projects. During these sessions, participants shared experiences and attendees learned about new opportunities, offerings, and other global pro bono developments.

The PBEye is pleased to share these ideas with the hope that they may serve to guide and inspire others to think creatively, strategically, and collaboratively about future pro bono projects. A few of the projects featured include:

Submissions to U.N. on Behalf of Nonprofits

Dianne Heins of Faegre Baker Daniels*† discussed her firm’s work in bringing international attention to human rights issues through submissions of human rights reports at the U.N. The goal is to expand the capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to advocate at the U.N. on these issues.

Faegre works with civil society groups to help prepare and submit a stakeholders report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. This report informs a dialogue in which Council members question the country’s representatives on their human rights record.

In addition, Faegre recently submitted three reports on Cameroon in connection with its review under The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

International Legal Network

Anne-Françoise Meeùs discussed her role as coordinator of the International Legal Network (ILN) of Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF). ASF has changed its focus from direct pro bono representation of individual clients in Africa to capacity-building of local NGOs so they can provide quality legal services to serve local needs. ILN projects involve lawyers in larger ongoing ASF projects. It’s not just a case of participating in a one-time training but rather a training event that continues through a larger project financed by institutional donors such as UKAID, USAID, or EU.

Genocide Prevention and Holocaust-Looted Art

Owen Pell of White & Case*† discussed several pro bono projects he has been working on in genocide prevention and Holocaust-looted property, particularly art. Pell described the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), the main organization recognized by the U.N. for genocide prevention.

Pell noted that Holocaust looting, including Holocaust-looted art, is an area where pro bono lawyers can make a big difference. His work has included proposals for title-clearing and a dispute resolution entity to address claims relating to Holocaust-looted art.


Look out for more information on other innovative pro bono projects featured during our Marketplace of Ideas session in the May edition of The Pro Bono Wire! We look forward to learning more and sharing other replicable ideas and projects at the 2015 PBI Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 4-6. We invite those wishing to serve as presenters to submit brief proposals in advance describing their initiatives to ensure adequate planning and capacity. Please send submissions to Law Firm Pro Bono Project Director Tammy Taylor (due to time limitations, we may not be able to accept all proposals).

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

May 9, 2014

Webinar Recap: Human Trafficking

Human TraffickingLast week, PBI hosted the first in our “Best of the 2014 PBI Annual Conference” series of webinars “Pro Bono in Practice: Human Trafficking.” The panel consisted of Patrick Rickerfor, global pro bono manager at White & Case LLP*†; Hilary Axam, director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, U.S. Department of Justice; Jeanne Cohn-Connor, partner at Kirkland & Ellis*†; and Martina Vandenberg, president and founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center.

Setting the framework for the discussion, Axam noted that “trafficking” is a misnomer, as it does not require “movement.” Trafficking requires coercion, forcing a victim to engage in activities such as commercial sex work or forced labor. The coercion can often be psychological rather than physical and not necessarily involve the “chains and shackles” portrayals of Hollywood movies.

According to Axam and Vandenberg, pro bono counsel play a critical role in combating human trafficking because it is only when victims feel safe and ready to come forward to law enforcement that prosecution can take place. But victims often have other needs, including a “buffet” of civil legal needs, which must be addressed before prosecution is pursued. This is where the private bar can play a uniquely important role. For example, victims may need immigration assistance or estate planning to ensure the flow of money to their children should something happen to them before they feel comfortable seeking assistance.

Rickerfor highlighted the tremendous attorney interest his firm tapped into when it began working on human trafficking. The firm has had approximately 300 of its attorneys working on a variety of human trafficking projects, including creation of a global trafficking database. Rickerfor emphasized that this subject represents an opportunity for lawyers within a firm to collaborate from their offices around the world as well as include transactional attorneys.

Vandenberg discussed how pro bono assistance in this quest for justice can be emotionally rewarding for attorneys because, as she put it, it is moving to watch a client walk off the witness stand as if they have “grown two feet” after telling the judge their story. Vandenberg’s organization provides firms or legal departments with free CLE training in human trafficking during a firm or department-provided lunch.

Cohn-Connor echoed the point that there are a variety of ways to participate and that one need not be a litigator. Types of work in this area include legislative advocacy, a 50 state survey or direct representation of victims. Sources of opportunities for Cohn-Connor’s firm included Sanctuary for Families, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Legal Momentum, and the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project.

Vandenberg’s closing remarks emphasized what a remarkable time this is to work on trafficking given the interest in this issue by the federal government.

Missed it? Don’t worry, the program is available on-demand. In-house participants should contact CPBO Project Assistant Eric Florenz for registration information. Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member law firms should contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Eva Richardson for the promotional code to register. CLE credit is also available for this program in many states.

denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project