Disability rights 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 and those that would appeal to litigators and non-litigators alike. Through a variety of pro bono engagements and partnerships with advocacy organizations, pro bono lawyers can have significant and meaningful impact while being at the forefront of cutting-edge legal efforts. More than 20 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, there is still more work to be done to fight discrimination and promote equal access, independence, opportunity, and freedom from abuse and neglect.
An impressive majority of Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member Firms and Challenge® Signatories are devoting pro bono efforts to individuals with disabilities and groups that serve them. A few inspiring examples include:
- Arnold & Porter LLP*† represented inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) and the Hunt Correctional Center who suffered from mental illnesses of varying types and degrees. The lawsuit alleged that the state failed to meet the minimum constitutional and legal standards in the delivery of mental health services and the treatment of mentally ill inmates. A settlement agreement was eventually reached, which required the state to revise more than 50 basic mental health policies, to implement a comprehensive set of mental health reform policies, and to allow a nationally recognized health expert to monitor and report on state compliance with these reform policies in the two institutions.
- Working with the Learning Rights Law Center, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP*† achieved a precedent-setting victory for a high school student living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, who was denied full access to her school’s campus due to her disability. The student could not ascend or descend stairs due to a genetic progressive neurological disorder and was not permitted to use her high school’s elevator without a chaperone. Her requests for an elevator key were repeatedly denied by school officials. With the help of Manatt, the student filed suit against the local school district for violations under the ADA, asking the Court to enjoin the school to provide her with an elevator key. Ultimately, the Court ruled in favor of the student, determining that she was excluded from school activities on the basis of her disability.
- Morrison & Foerster LLP*† prevailed on behalf of a child with autism against the Anchorage, Alaska, school district for failing to provide him an appropriate education. Follow this success, the school district agreed to fully fund the child’s education throughout his school years and to repay his parents for the costs incurred because the district did not follow the law.
- A team from DLA Piper LLP*† provided support to a coalition of leading disability, human rights, and community organizations to prepare a landmark report on the lived experience of people with disabilities in Australia. The Disability Rights Now report follows three years of community consultation and research and makes 130 recommendations to the United Nations Disability Committee. DLA Piper facilitated consultations in each State and Territory in Australia and assisted in drafting the report. The United Nations Disability Committee will undertake its review of Australia in Geneva in 2013.
Be sure to check out the Law Firm Project’s new publication Spotlight on Pro Bono and Disability Rights which is available (free for Law Firm Project Members and to all others to purchase) from our Resource Clearinghouse. This report showcases many of these innovative and impactful pro bono initiatives.
The PBEye hopes that you will be inspired and get involved. There is an opportunity to suit the interests and talents of many pro bono lawyers!
Is your firm engaged in an innovative pro bono project that promotes inclusion and disability rights? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project