The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
August 11, 2022

Ghostwriting Can Increase Pro Bono and Expand Access to Justice

By Kelsey Hunt, PBI Law Clerk    

Ghostwriting is a form of limited scope representation that allows attorneys to draft or assist in drafting a pleading, motion, or other document filed by a pro se party without entering an appearance or engaging in formal representation. Many low- and modest-income parties litigate pro se because they cannot afford the high price of full-scale representation. Ghostwriting increases their access to justice by allowing them to receive some legal assistance and more effectively advocate their position during litigation.

Ghostwriting can also expand pro bono work by providing meaningful opportunities for attorneys seeking to do pro bono. Ghostwriting is accomplished with less time and resources and is an ideal project for busy attorneys to take on. Attorneys can provide limited assistance by drafting a document or helping to complete a form and have a large impact on a pro se litigant. 

Ghostwriting is beneficial to pro se parties who need legal assistance, attorneys who need bite-sized pro bono opportunities, and courts who benefit from well-argued pro se pleadings that follow court rules and efficiently express legal positions. 

Allowing attorneys to provide ghostwriting services without requiring them to disclose their assistance or identity makes it more likely they will provide this service pro bono. Attorneys may fear disclosure will impose broad responsibilities on them, both ethically and procedurally, and they may be uncomfortable identifying themselves on a document when they are not in control of the final product.  

Still there are many who oppose undisclosed ghostwriting, questioning the professional ethics of attorneys who engage in the practice, and contending that it is misleading to courts, which apply a more lenient pleading standard to pro se parties.  

Nevertheless, many jurisdictions favor permitting undisclosed ghostwriting, because they recognize that it is unlikely a ghostwritten document will materially mislead the court or that pro se parties will receive undue benefit. Ghostwritten documents are easy to spot when compared with usual pro se pleadings, so courts will likely recognize them, and an attorney’s name or bar number is not needed to ensure that they do. If the court does not recognize that an attorney assisted the pro se litigant, then the litigant likely gained no benefit from the attorney’s limited service.

Jurisdictions have varying rules on ghostwriting. The American Bar Association (ABA)’s Ethics Opinion on the matter takes a permissive approach and permits ghostwriting without any required form of disclosure. Some jurisdictions follow this approach, acknowledging the benefits that ghostwriting provides pro se parties, while other jurisdictions are more restrictive, requiring full disclosure of the identity of the attorney who provided assistance. Most federal courts that have addressed the issue fall on the more restrictive side. A few jurisdictions fall in between and require anonymous disclosure (indicating that an attorney provided support, but not identifying the attorney) or disclosure of substantial assistance. Some jurisdictions have not addressed the ghostwriting issue and have no guiding policy. The wide variety of ghostwriting rules means that access to this form of legal assistance is unequal across the country. 

To learn more about how ghostwriting increases access to justice for otherwise self-represented litigants, and for a review of the rules and ethics opinions on ghostwriting across all fifty states and the District of Columbia, please see our guide here.

July 14, 2022

2022 FIPBD: Impact Around the Globe

The third annual Financial Institution Pro Bono Day (FIPBD) was the biggest yet and provided pro bono services across the globe! FIPBD was organized by Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO®), a project of Pro Bono Institute® (PBI), to spotlight the severe gap in legal services for underserved individuals and promote in-house pro bono collaboration in partnership with law firms and legal services organizations.

On the day of service, April 28, 2022, more than 1100 in-house volunteers from 35 financial institutions participated. The FIPBD partners organized both virtual and in-person pro bono events that addressed diverse issues ranging from homelessness to transgender name changes, to life planning for veterans, to green card assistance for domestic violence survivors, to advancing racial justice and serving communities of color, and many more. The volunteers served over 1000 clients, with an expectation that many more clients will receive services as a result of trainings that were held as part of FIPBD. At several events, volunteers developed new resources for a nonprofit or NGO that will use the resources to serve additional beneficiaries.

FIPBD was originally conceived as an opportunity for legal departments in a common industry to collaborate on pro bono, and the goal is to include institutions throughout the United States and globally. This year, we saw incredible volunteer engagement at two global multi-institution events – one in-person and one remote. We spoke with the event organizers about their keys to successful FIPBD planning. 

In London, the In-House Pro Bono Group and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP organized an all-day, in-person event in which nearly 100 in-house volunteers from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup**, Credit Suisse, Barclays Bank PLC**, BNY Mellon, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America** participated.

The event was organized by Deborah Smith of Goldman Sachs, and Robert Powell of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. The participating organizations are involved in the “In-House Pro Bono Group” in the UK, where Deborah serves as founder and member of the steering committee. Deborah thought that FIPBD was a perfect way to bring the group together for the first time in-person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She recalled reaching out to Rob about the idea, saying, “I called Rob and the next thing I know he had sent over a massive spreadsheet of things we could do and said that he booked the law society for us, and it took off from there.” 

The morning sessions supported Dress for Success Greater London for women who are long-term unemployed and have faced difficult circumstances. The aim was to equip the women with the skills and confidence to re-enter the workplace and secure meaningful employment. The afternoon sessions supported UnLtd. Social Enterprise Support for innovative social entrepreneurs to meet, connect and network with lawyers and professionals to seek guidance and grow their enterprise through an onsite legal clinic addressing “topic tasters” like governance, trading subsidiaries, managing volunteers. Both morning and afternoon sessions were extremely successful, supporting over 60 clients in total. 

The day was not only beneficial for the clients served, but also for the participating volunteers. Deborah and Rob implemented strategies to increase volunteer engagement and reduce barriers to participation. They hosted the event at the historic Reading Room at the Law Society in the heart of London. The location was easily accessible, while the history and beauty of the Reading Room provided extra incentive for volunteers to attend. The event was also broken up into one hour time blocks, which made the time-commitment less daunting to busy attorneys. Volunteers were allowed to stay for as many time blocks as their schedule allowed. Deborah said there were several attorneys who signed up to volunteer for a morning session and were enjoying their experience so much that they ended up staying on all day!

Volunteers were given several networking opportunities throughout the day, which is another great way to increase attendance. Goldman and Weil Gotshal provided lunch for both in-house volunteers and clients, and networking drinks for the volunteers at the conclusion of the day. This can give the event a more festive feel and is a nice thank-you to volunteers for participating. Phillip Springford, a volunteer from Goldman Sachs expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the day of service, saying, “It was a fantastic opportunity for people interested in pro bono to get involved with. Rob and Deborah organized it very well, which made a huge difference.”

In a similar vein, Julia Gilfillan at Accenture** and Erica Blau at American International Group, Inc. (AIG)** partnered with Baker McKenzie* to provide multiple virtual opportunities that engaged volunteers around the globe: three Justice-in-Action sprints garnered 190 volunteers from Accenture**, AIG**, American Express, Aon Corporation**, and JPMorgan Chase. 

The three opportunities focused on human rights issues, a topic that AIG and Accenture in-house volunteers have historically been interested in and were offered in time zones accommodating both North America/Latin America and EMEA volunteers. The accessibility of these projects was intentional; Julia noted that AIG and Accenture wanted to make it feasible to volunteer in any location. 

Additionally, both felt it was important to focus on a “the more, the merrier” mentality for the events. This meant sharing the events early and often with more than just AIG and Accenture’s internal departments. Julia and Erica focused on leveraging relationships with previous pro bono partners and contacts with whom they had worked before in other contexts and sending multiple reminders about participating both via email and at planning meetings. 

When creating teams for the projects, Erica and Julia paired in-house volunteers across institutions. This allowed for networking opportunities through the volunteering itself and points to a broader trend of the importance of partnering with outside institutions. Erica noted that in-house legal departments are in a unique position to team up and provide meaningful and impactful pro bono work. There is power in numbers! 

Both groups are already looking forward to making the #FIPBD2023 event bigger and better, with a hopeful eye on even more in-person opportunities! We are, too. Save the date for Thursday, April 27, 2023. If you would like assistance planning your FIPBD events, please reach out to CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

June 29, 2022

Corporate Pro Bono Publishes New Metrics Resource

Metrics pose a perennial challenge for tracking in-house legal departments’ pro bono programs. To assist departments, PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO) recently published the Corporate Pro Bono Metrics Guide as part of its continuing development of effective tools for measurement and assessment of in-house pro bono. 

Capturing metrics can enable a pro bono program to convey the value and importance of pro bono to volunteers, the institutions for which they work, and the individuals and communities being served. Regular and ongoing assessments of in-house pro bono practice provide a way to evaluate and improve the legal services delivered as well as the pro bono program itself. 

Understandably, a robust metrics program may not be the focus of new in-house pro bono efforts—but early insights can help pro bono programs thrive, and initial efforts can be designed for future scalability. CPBO’s guide is intended to aid these departments in addition to more mature in-house programs that may use the guide to supplement their understanding of metrics, data collection, and use of metrics to amplify their pro bono programs. 

The Guide outlines why departments should track metrics; what measurements departments should consider tracking; and how departments can track them.  It outlines the benefits of data-based evaluation on a legal department’s pro bono program and its impact on the community, noting that tracking the right information creates a useful roadmap for future engagement and leverages a legal department’s resources to meet needs efficiently. Data collection is the foundation for an organized, manageable, and well-integrated in-house pro bono program.

What best practices have you seen at your department regarding metrics? Leave a comment to share your experience or reach out to us directly! CPBO is available to provide tailored assistance to in-house legal departments in addressing metrics questions. Please contact us at cpbo@probonoinst.org to schedule a confidential consultation or if you have any questions. 

May 19, 2022

CPBO Organizes GCs and CLOs to Support LSC Funding

by Noor Khan, PBI Intern

For the sixth year in a row, legal department leaders are speaking out to support increased funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States.

Pro Bono Institute® (PBI®) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono® (CPBO®), worked in partnership with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) to invite General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers to sign a letter asking Congress to approve $700 million in funding for LSC for Fiscal Year 2023. 

A notable group of 162 GCs and CLOs signed a letter of support for increased funding for LSC FY2023, which was delivered to Congress on May 17, 2022. Joining in this effort were corporations and legal departments from a vast range of sectors, industries, sizes, and locations. Beyond the GC and CLO signatories, this matter has garnered attention and support from other organizations and news outlets, urging Congress to increase LSC funding. However, the support of the business community is especially critical to demonstrate that access to legal services is necessary to ensure healthy communities, sound institutions, and rule of law.

In a time where 92% of low-income Americans do not receive legal help for their substantive legal issues, often due to a shortage of legal aid lawyers, LSC-funded legal services organizations provide critical civil legal assistance to families across the country. LSC provides resources and financial support to 132 legal aid organizations that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments. Despite the tremendous need for legal services and the inequities in accessing justice, LSC has been routinely underfunded and under-resourced. 

Historically, the support of American corporate leaders has proved to have a positive impact on the allocation of funds for LSC. Between FY2021 and FY2022, LSC saw an increase of $24 million in funding. Congress allocated an additional $50 million in supplementary emergency funding in light of the difficulties raised by Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, this is still not enough. According to the LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap Report, LSC-funded organizations areunable to provide any or enough legal help for 71% of the civil legal problems brought to them; this translates to an estimated 1.4 million problems over the course of a year.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the problem of insufficient legal aid has become more acute, making the continued support of LSC’s efforts more important than ever. Just this past year, one third of low-income Americans suffered from legal issues linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The top reported areas of legal were housing, health care, personal safety, and consumer problems; those most likely to experience a pandemic-related problem were from households with children, single parents, and those struggling with substance abuse. Yet, only 19% of Americans near or below the poverty line sought help for their legal issues, listing cost as one of the top barriers. The pandemic has only made the situation more critical. 

For FY2023, LSC has requested $1.26 billion in funding, which is $245 million more than last year’s request. This increase will enable LSC to achieve two goals: 1) to reduce the justice gap by 75% and 2) to increase their Basic Field Grants by 70% to account for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

CPBO is proud to support this effort to secure funding for LSC and thanks the GCs and CLOs for demonstrating their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services. For more information, please contact CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org

March 29, 2022

Homelessness & Housing Justice

by PBI intern Isabella Brill

Last month when the Super Bowl was held at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, a sudden move to shut down a nearby homeless encampment focused the public’s attention on a longstanding issue — homelessness. In the past year, homelessness has become an important topic amongst state and city leaders in Los Angeles, where the population has increased to over sixty thousand people in Los Angeles County. This estimate includes people that are unhoused and live amongst the street. However, it could be much larger due to the difficulty in finding and counting homeless people, and multiple delays in the annual point-in-time count due to COVID-19. The homeless population lacks funds for basic necessities, medical care, and legal needs. Of course, Los Angeles is only one example of a city facing a crisis in homelessness in recent months.

An Eye toward Housing Justice

As previously covered in The PBEye’s recent article about the Homeless Court Movement, some homeless individuals are facing charges against them that essentially criminalizes being homeless. Organizations such as the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty are establishing homeless courts to deliver legal aid. The courts are a step in the right direction for helping the homeless population, especially veterans still facing legal issues, but do not address the root causes of homelessness or the immediate solutions of seeking shelter. Another article concerning COVID-19 and Housing Insecurity discusses how COVID-19 has increased the need for affordable housing due to millions suffering. The pandemic has led to multiple pieces of legislation passed to address the issues of decreasing wages and increasing need for cheaper housing. Additionally, this blog has suggested More Ways to Combat Homelessness by using pro bono and advocacy projects that dedicate time and effort into this issue. These articles and more include detailed information, including ways to increase housing justice through pro bono. This article builds on our past reporting to address the issue of housing the homeless.

Addressing the Issue of Housing the Homeless

A number of proposals have been put forward in LA County that illustrate potential pathways for change. Some leaders and candidates pledge to end homeless encampments and house thousands of people in shelters, while others argue that forcing people into shelters does not always suit their needs. Earlier this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a $2 billion plan to build tiny homes and shelters that would build connections to essential services such as medical care. This would set up almost 44,000 beds in an attempt to remove homeless camps off the sides of the street and move people into a temporary shelter where they can progress. 

In addition to proposals from city and state leaders, a coalition of labor unions, housing advocates and progressive activists are petitioning for a ballot measure in the upcoming 2022 election that would increase taxes on real estate transactions to allocate money for permanent housing for the homeless. This “United to House L.A.” proposed ballot initiative, which needs a simple majority vote to pass, would place a 4% tax on properties above $5 million. Historically, voters in LA have supported funding housing for the homeless, including by passing Proposition HHH, which consisted of a 1.2 billion dollar bond to fund homeless housing in 2016, and passing Measure H in 2017, which involved a 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase. 

Lawyers and law firms together have played a role in addressing this issue as well. On February 15, 2022, in a lawsuit over the homeless encampments filed by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter ruled that there must be a mandatory settlement conference where LA city and county officials construct a solution to this ongoing problem of homelessness. Some have argued that the solution should be up to state and city leaders to decide considering the upcoming election, but the federal judge pointed to lack of accountability with regard to the prior Proposition HHH. 

Pro Bono Opportunities to Help Address Homelessness

Pro bono is a great way to address homelessness and contribute to society. In Los Angeles, the Inner City Law Center provides pro bono opportunities such as eviction defense, homeless veterans project, housing litigation, citation clearing, policy and litigation research and advocacy, and specialty consultations. They also offer pro bono training for those eager to volunteer for efforts to serve one of the largest homeless populations in this country. In 2020, they accumulated over 15,000 hours of support and over 575 volunteers which was equivalent to 7 million dollars. 

Another pro bono source is the Legal Aid Foundation in Los Angeles. They need pro bono assistance with fee waivers, pre-screened cases, self-help, client intake, legal clinics, and support on cases on the homeless and their legal issues. Their priorities are the people of Los Angeles and to achieve equal justice through either direct representation, community education or adjusting the system. Their foundation has supported this cause for almost 90 years and will continue to fight for the homeless.

Beyond Los Angeles, the need for volunteers throughout the nation to aid the homeless is constant. One example is the Homeless Persons Representation Project Inc. (HPRP), which is Maryland’s only legal service dedicated to the homeless. Not only do they offer free legal services involving counsel, education, advice and representation, but also they deliver these services through shelters, soup kitchens, welfare offices and community services to cater to their clientele. They have special projects involving economic justice, veterans’ legal assistance, a homeless youth initiative, housing justice, and reducing barriers to housing and employment involving criminal records. These projects will help combat the homelessness problem in their area. 

Another organization is the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Legal Assistance Project, which has volunteer attorneys and paralegals help secure shelter, obtain housing subsidies, family support in emergency situations of future homelessness, homeless disability assistance and food assistance. They also work on policy initiatives to ensure clients’ rights and clarify government and contractor responsibilities while also maintaining a healthy environment in Washington D.C. The outcome has been around $9 million in value of legal services in 2020.

In 15 cities across the U.S., Project H.E.L.P (Homeless Experience Legal Protection) assists the homeless. This program is growing with locations in over six states. They have partnerships across the country to appeal to a larger audience. This organization addresses the issues of identification documents, child custody issues, child support issues, creditor law, disability law, driver license suspensions, government benefits, immigration law, housing issues, landlord/tenant law and minor criminal or traffic violations. They provide all of these with the determination of following through for quality assurance. 

Additionally, the National Homeless Law Center supplies pro bono work for the homeless at a national level with almost 3.5 million individuals assisted by this center. This center advocates for housing, decriminalizing the homeless, youth and education rights and surplus properties. They address these topics in detail and need help from volunteers that are interested and want to either develop, maintain or oversee these projects. These pro bono opportunities are beneficial to society as a whole and cannot be done by city and state leaders. Volunteer lawyers can have just as great of an impact when it comes to reassuring those in distress and supporting their legal needs as best as they can. 

Those that are homeless can also be hopeless. They have potentially lost everything they valued and are underrepresented amongst those who have the power to make a change. Lawyers have been and are able to aid those in need of legal services before it’s too late. Advocating for better public policies, as well as volunteering your time to provide direct legal services, are important ways to get involved on this critical issue. Volunteering can provide great practice for your future career, but can also have a life-changing impact on an individual or family in a time of need. 

Learn More about Housing Justice with PBI!

The 2022 Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference will feature a session at its Virtual Program that discusses pro bono attorney involvement in housing issues. The session, titled “Housing Justice Collaborative: Building Pro Bono Capacity to Help the Most Vulnerable Tenants,” will address how pro bono attorneys can help vulnerable tenants to keep them in their homes, building on a case study in Orange County, California. It involves knowledgeable speakers from Community Legal Aid SoCal and pro bono attorneys, answering important questions about serving underserved communities with regard to housing justice. Come learn with us on April 7 by registering for the Conference here.

March 23, 2022

Over Three Dozen Corporate Legal Department Leaders Urge Congress to Support EQUAL Defense Act

This month, Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), have worked with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association to rally the support of more than three dozen legal department leaders behind the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act of 2021 through a successful letter campaign.  The act, formally introduced to Congress as H.R.1408 in February of 2021, aims to establish pay parity between defenders and prosecutors via a federal grant program that would invest $250 million annually to reduce the immense public defender workloads across state, local, and tribal systems. 

Last week an influential group of 37 corporate general counsel (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs) representing numerous industries signed the March 18, 2022 letter addressed to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary in support of the EQUAL Defense Act.

The letter, sent to Congress on National Public Defender Day, highlights the critical role public defenders occupy in the justice system in addition to the shortcomings of the system that negatively impact access to equal justice under the law.  The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 373 U.S. 335 (1963) declared that states are required to appoint attorneys for individuals accused of serious crimes in state courts who cannot afford to retain counsel on their own. However, the public defender system has remained under-funded and over-worked, resulting in tremendous workloads and gaps in access to counsel.[1]  The standards for public defense lies with the states, and often smaller jurisdictions, which has led to disparities in the quality of and access to representation for those who rely on public defenders.  The EQUAL Defense Act seeks to remedy this by committing federal government funding and trainings for public defense services, to address these disparities as a matter of public policy.

PBI and CPBO thank the GCs and CLOs for their support of the EQUAL Defense Act of 2021 and their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services.  For more information, please contact CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org.

Thank you to PBI intern Sara Epstein for writing this blog.


[1]  National Legal Aid & Defender Association. (February 2022). Federal Support for Improving Public Defense Quality: The EQUAL Defense Act (CAC Policy Issue Update). NLADA.org. https://www.nlada.org/sites/default/files/Issue%20Brief%20-%20Equal%20Defense%20Act%20%28Feb%202022%29.pdf

February 16, 2022

Pro Bono & the AAPI Community: A Conversation with Christina Yang of Advancing Justice – LA 

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders account for 7.2% of the U.S. population, and are the fastest growing ethnic population in the U.S. In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in hate incidents targeting the Asian American community. PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono project recently joined Christina Yang, General Counsel and Pro Bono Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA), in conversation to learn more about the challenges facing the AAPI community and what pro bono lawyers can do to help. 

Yang joined Advancing Justice – LA over seven years ago as Pro Bono Director, and eventually took on the role of the organization’s first General Counsel. She was a litigation fellow for the organization after graduating law school before returning to the firm that funded that fellowship. Yang kept Advancing Justice – LA in mind, jumping at the chance to return. Her initial role focused on coordinating and centralizing pro bono opportunities before expanding to act as both General Counsel and Pro Bono Director, which she describes as a “natural evolution” as she “built systems and processes the organization never had.” Yang’s role continues to grow and evolve as the AAPI community’s legal needs shift, something that our conversation homed in on. 

Changing Legal Needs in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Trainings, Housing, & Health Access
There was a significant rise in the number of hate crimes against the AAPI community over the last several years, which necessitated Advancing Justice – LA to be reactive in its work. Ms. Yang says, “We were really focused on providing direct support to clients and other community members that were reporting these incidents to us, which either they themselves experienced, or family members or friends. And we are still providing those direct services and because that spike has decreased somewhat, we have been able to also look more broadly to areas like policy reform, to address those root issues and of course, continue to focus on things like our Bystander Intervention Program, so that if people find themselves in a position to safely help someone who is experiencing an incident, then they will be equipped to do so.” 

The Bystander Intervention Trainings were created in partnership with Hollaback!, a nonprofit working to end harassment in all its forms. Although Hollaback! has done these trainings for quite some time, this is the first iteration that includes the history of AAPI discrimination. These trainings are intended for those who wish to be allies to the AAPI community but may not know how to be the most helpful. Advancing Justice – LA offers the training free of charge in multiple languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. For a fee, law firms and corporations can host additional closed trainings for their employees as well. 

Housing is another area where Advancing Justice – LA has increased its focus because of increased community need during the pandemic. Although there is an eviction moratorium in place in California, the expectation is that it will unfortunately be lifted within the calendar year. Advancing Justice – LA has therefore been conducting know-your-rights clinics in which staff attorneys and pro bono attorneys answer tenants’ questions about how to address landlord harassment and other related concerns such as what to do about back rent. 

Advancing Justice – LA also conducts outreach to the community in Los Angeles and Orange County through its Health Access Project. Yang said: “We have been doing outreach work around COVID vaccination uptake in AAPI communities, other communities of color, and underserved communities.” Interested volunteers can find more on how to get involved with these ongoing outreach events here

Immigration 
Yang describes citizenship work as “one of the bread-and-butter ways of serving a large number of clients and involving volunteers.” Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Advancing Justice – LA has seen fewer AAPI clients seeking citizenship because it seems like other hardships in daily life are understandably taking priority during these difficult times. However, she expects that the number of clients needing these services will increase this year. Each application is an incredible way for a volunteer to connect with an individual client and make a difference. Advancing Justice – LA welcomes volunteers (right now, especially those who are bilingual in Thai or Tagalog) to provide citizenship application assistance, translate, and more.

Civil Rights & Collaboration
Advancing Justice – LA works closely with multi-cultural coalitions to achieve many of its goals. Recently, Advancing Justice – LA witnessed a “really exciting” policy victory in California – the passing of the API Budget, which allocates over $150 million to support community-based organizations focused on community and victims services, violence prevention, restorative justice in K-12 public schools, and more. Advancing Justice worked with 150 organizations to advocate for the passage. 

Yang described further collaboration in our conversation: “We have been working closely with other AAPI CBOs (community-based organizations) in southern California that traditionally are grassroots organizations or service specific geographic areas or communities. Because we’re a larger nonprofit, we’ve been trying to work in a more deliberate way with those smaller organizations, to provide us referrals to individuals who might need help, or for us to provide them funding to partner on things like bystander intervention training. We currently have some CBO partners who are providing staff to serve as trainers to deliver our intervention training in different Asian languages, and that’s something we want to continue doing – amplifying these AAPI organizations that are working alongside us.”

Other Ways to Get Involved
In addition to the many ways for pro bono attorneys to get involved described above, there is value in specific expertise like plaintiff-side employment work. Advancing Justice – LA is also always looking for more attorney and non-attorney volunteers for virtual and in-person opportunities like consulting in their all-purpose legal clinics, issue clinics, and longer-term cases. There is a particular need for volunteers proficient in South Asian and Southeast Asian languages (e.g., Hindi, Vietnamese, Thai, and Tagalog). There are myriad ways to volunteer and to support the AAPI community; Yang says, “We’re definitely always looking for folks who are willing to be a little creative with their skills and expertise and willingness to work with us.” 

December 8, 2021

Crime-Free Housing Ordinances

Adequate housing is a basic human right, yet there are many barriers to housing in the United States. The PBEye has been following the development of laws and policies that create or ease barriers to housing, including the response to growing housing insecurity during the pandemic, the impact of the end of the national eviction moratorium, the decriminalization of homelessness through the establishment of homeless courts, and the movement to secure a right to counsel for tenants in housing court. In this latest article, we look at the impact of crime-free housing ordinances.

Crime-free housing ordinances vary widely state to state and within county and city jurisdictions, but generally bar renters’ housing access based on issues like prior criminal history and bad credit. These ordinances’ purported purpose is to provide protection for both landlords and tenants from potential criminal activity in their community. However, due to their wide variation of standards, the ordinances are easily weaponized against the recently or previously incarcerated, communities of color, the disabled community, survivors of and those living with domestic violence, and other vulnerable peoples. 

For example, on June 1, 2020, a novel barrier-reducing ordinance took effect in Minneapolis, MN. This ordinance limited the criminal history and other “offenses” that landlords could consider when screening perspective renters. Following its passage, landlords could no longer screen potential renters for misdemeanors older than three years, felonies older than ten years, violent felonies older than ten years, evictions older than three years, lack of rental history, or poor credit history. 

The protections, primarily focused on removing barriers to housing for low-income populations and people of color, have been lauded by members of these communities and housing rights activists. Landlords, however, sued the city to ask that the policy be halted as further court proceedings on its constitutionality take place. The trial court denied the landlords’ request for a preliminary injunction and that decision is currently on appeal in the Eighth Circuit. In May of 2021, the Pro Bono Institute as part of the Minnesota Collaborative Justice Project, and several public interest organizations that advocate for Minnesotans facing housing instability, filed an amici brief supporting the City of Minneapolis on appeal, which is pending.

Many vulnerable communities are disproportionately harmed by crime-free housing and nuisance ordinances. Three communities that are the most affected are communities of color, survivors of and those experiencing domestic violence, and disabled persons. 

Learn more about how crime-free housing and nuisance ordinances impact vulnerable communities and how pro bono lawyers can help in this paper: The Impact of Crime-Free Housing and Nuisance Ordinances, and What Pro Bono Lawyers Can Do.

Thank you to PBI law clerks Emma Matters and Jessica Choate for their help in researching and drafting this article.

December 6, 2021

Assisting Refugees with Resettlement in the U.S.

 By PBI Intern Søren Whiting

On August 31st, the Biden Administration ended all U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, marking an end to a twenty-year war. Two weeks before the United States had withdrawn all troops, Taliban forces seized control of the country. In response, tens of thousands of individuals in Afghanistan gathered at central airports seeking to flee gendered, political, or religious oppression under Taliban rule. The Taliban’s rapid takeover complicated the evacuation process for many, leaving U.S. citizens, Afghans who assisted the U.S., and Afghans fleeing oppression stranded in Afghanistan. Moreover, Afghans who managed to leave Afghanistan, or are able to do so in the future, and seek to enter the U.S. still face obstacles.  

For eligible Afghans who worked as translators, interpreters, or other professionals employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, the U.S. offers a green card through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. A “Priority 2” (P2) designation is available for those who assisted the U.S. but did not meet the minimum time in service or employment requirement to qualify for the SIV program. Qualifying for P2 status requires Afghans to get themselves out of Afghanistan and in another country before the U.S. can process them as refugees. Delays and backlogs in the processing of the SIV and P2 visas make it harder for eligible Afghan nationals to attain evacuation and access to refuge. Afghans may also qualify for parole status, which grants temporary refuge in the U.S. under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the U.S. to permit individuals to enter and remain in the U.S. temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons.[1] If granted refugee status, the U.S. will assist with travel.

The resettlement process in the U.S. presents a wide array of unique challenges for stateless individuals who have made their way to the U.S. or a port of entry. U.S. immigration policy authorizes a grant of asylum to individuals who prove that they fled their country due to past persecution or fear of future persecution. However, the process of proving the danger of persecution to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) services is complex. There are two routes applicants can take to seek approval for asylum, termed ‘Affirmative’ (through USCIS asylum officer) and ‘Defensive’ (when the person is in removal proceedings). Whether seeking asylum through the Affirmative Process or the Defensive Process, an immigrant to the U.S. does not have the legal right to counsel and, consequently, must often represent themselves without an attorney throughout the hearing. Through this process, the court will decide whether the individual shall be granted asylum. 

The Importance of Counsel  

In fiscal year 2020, a report by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) concluded that “73.7 percent of immigration judge decisions denied asylum, and asylum itself was granted just 26.3 percent of the time.  [H]aving representation greatly increased the odds of winning asylum or other relief [31.1 percent success rate versus only 17.7 percent for unrepresented asylum seekers.]” 2

A second [U.S.-based] study titled Refugee Roulette 2  examined the relationship between access to legal counsel and the likelihood of a refugee being granted asylum. That study found: “Represented asylum seekers were granted asylum at a rate of 45.6 percent, almost three times as high as the 16.3 percent grant rate for those without legal counsel. The regression analyses confirmed that with all other variables in the study held constant; represented asylum seekers were substantially more likely to win their case than those without representation.”[2] These studies underscore the importance of providing legal aid in the asylum process.  

As more refugees enter the U.S. fleeing persecution from the Taliban, pro bono assistance is needed now more than ever. Currently, over 123,000 individuals have been airlifted out of Kabul. As the Department of Homeland Security vets refugees from Afghanistan, a large influx of individuals is expected to require legal aid to navigate the complex U.S. resettlement process.  

Moreover, the large numbers of Afghan refugees seeking to reside in nations other than the U.S. often face similar, and in some cases more formidable, hurdles. In 2020 alone, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that “Afghan refugees constitute one of the world’s largest refugee populations with more than 2.2 million refugees—some 90 percent of all Afghan refugees worldwide—finding safety in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.”[3] Hundreds of thousands more refugees are settling in other countries, such as Canada, Germany, France, and Austria. A variety of countries have made commitments to resettle refugees, including Tajikistan (up to 100,000 refugees), the United Kingdom & Canada (20,000 each), and Germany (10,000 refugees). This is in contrast with countries such as Turkey, Austria, Russia, and France that have enacted policy decisions hostile to refugee resettlement.[4] Clearly, assisting refugees undergoing forced displacement is a global need.  

Pro Bono Opportunities to Assist with Resettlement 

There are many examples of pro bono lawyers partnering with organizations to provide assistance to Afghan refugees.  For example, PILnet has teamed up with one hundred law firms, bar associations, corporations, and organizations to provide 165,000 pro bono hours to support refugees’ access to asylum and other legal protections; Arnold & Porter has partnered with International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) to provide legal aid to displaced individuals; and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP has assembled a team of pro bono attorneys dedicated to aiding Afghan refugees. We applaud these and the many others that are providing assistance.    

Several organizations are offering opportunities to sign-up online to help in various ways. For instance, PILnet and the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) Pledge Legal Community are urgently soliciting submissions of interest from firms, legal clinics, other legal actors, and donors interested in building, funding, or implementing collaborative pro bono projects to address refugee needs. PILnet and the GRF Pledge Legal are looking for aid in the short term, focused on building such projects to provide legal support to Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR) and Global Refugee-led Network (GRN), as they seek to support Afghans with information about legal pathways and to file applications for relevant visas in the U.S., U.K., CA, AU, and EU. PILnet is requesting that those interested in providing pro bono support complete this Afghanistan – Pro Bono Mapping form to indicate their availability, areas of specialty, and other capacity factors. 

Human Rights First is also seeking attorneys and volunteers to provide pro bono legal assistance to Afghan evacuees. They are currently seeking law firms, lawyers, and law school  

clinics to provide legal representation or other legal services on a range of immigration-related matters, including humanitarian parole requests, SIVs, asylum, Petition for Non-immigrant Worker Status (Form I-129), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or family reunification. Interested volunteer attorneys may sign up by completing the Human Rights First Project Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA) – Volunteer Attorney Form

Further, National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) is looking for volunteers to help provide consultations to Afghan clients around their legal status, family reunification, parolee status, asylum process and application, and filing legal documentation. The time commitment is only around 1-5 hours. Interested volunteers can register using this link.   

The American Bar Association also is mobilizing attorneys to provide pro bono support to displaced individuals. You can find a list of opportunities on their website.  

Lack of experience in immigration law need not be an obstacle to making a valuable contribution toward easing this crisis.  If you are interested in providing legal services but would like to first receive training or learn more about humanitarian legal aid to Afghan individuals and families, the International Refugee Assistance Project’s website routinely updates list of resources for attorneys. 

With our collective help, tens of thousands of people will be able to achieve peace and security that is desperately needed. 


[1] Baghdassarian, A. (2021, August 19). Special Immigrant Visas for the United States’ Afghan Allies: Lessons Learned from Promises Kept and Broken LawFare. https://www.lawfareblog.com/special-immigrant-visas-united-states-afghan-allies-lessons-learned-promises-kept-and-broken

[2] Ramji-Nogales, J., Schoenholtz, A. I., & Schrag, P. G. (2007). Refugee roulette: Disparities in asylum adjudication. Stan. L. Rev.60, 295.

[3] How many refugees are fleeing the crisis in Afghanistan?: USA FOR UNHCR. How to Help Refugees – Aid, Relief and Donations. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://admin.unrefugees.org/news/how-many-refugees-are-fleeing-the-crisis-in-afghanistan/.

[4] Ghosh, P. (2021, August 22). Which countries are taking in Afghan refugees and which countries are not? Hindustan Times. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/which-countries-are-taking-in-afghan-refugees-and-which-countries-are-not-101629646800845.html.

November 15, 2021

Panel Recap: The Chief Legal Officer’s Point of View: Sustainability, Racial Justice, and In-House Pro Bono

By PBI Intern Søren Whiting

On October 21, 2021, at the 2021 Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Annual Meeting, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) hosted an engaging panel discussion on leaders of corporate in-house departments engaging their teams to strengthen their sustainability, racial justice, and in-house pro bono missions. Todd Machtmes, Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Salesforce**, Sandra Phillips Rogers, Group Vice President, General Counsel, Chief Legal Officer, and Chief Diversity Officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc.; and Allon Stabinsky, Senior Vice President and Chief Deputy General Counsel, of Intel** served as panelists and provided a great discussion. PBI President & CEO Eve Runyon moderated the conversation.

The panel discussed several critical issues that impact mature in-house pro bono programs. For starters, there has been a shift in corporations towards demonstrating sound environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices to investors, redefining how some corporations engage with their communities in a meaningful way. Additionally, the impact of the pandemic paired with the recent calls for racial justice has provided companies with a unique opportunity to use pro bono to advance initiatives that aim to better their local community and the broader planet as a whole. As a result, more and more companies are looking at the intersection of these various issues and considering the role pro bono plays in addressing them. 

There are many different models that corporations are deploying to create real change within communities. At Intel, pro bono is being deployed through a corporate strategic framework for corporate responsibility called RISE 2030, which is modeled to a large degree off of the United Nations sustainable development goals (UNSDGs). Internal initiatives in the legal department align with the larger corporate goals to accelerate the positive impact of their programs. Through RISE 2030, Intel has committed resources to creating a work environment that is sustainable, responsible, and inclusive through initiatives such as developing carbon-neutral computing and intentionally hiring talent from more diverse backgrounds. Stabinsky expressed that combatting the disproportionate representation of black attorneys within legal fields is a significant objective of Intel’s racial justice mission within the legal department. Noting that roughly 13% of America’s population is Black, but only 5% of lawyers are Black, Stabinsky said that Intel seeks to get to the heart of the problem and improve the pipeline for Black attorneys. Intel has partnered with North Carolina Central University, one of the many Historically Black College & Universities (HBCU)s that are a real source of talent for the Black legal profession in the United States, to launch a new tech law and policy center, with Intel investing $5 million into the program during a five-year partnership. 

Racial justice is also a top priority for Intel when it comes to pro bono work. Most notably, Intel has created a full-time racial justice pro bono counsel position that is responsible for advancing Intel’s racial justice values through pro bono work. This position has enabled Intel’s legal department to effectively mobilize around hosting “second chance expungement” clinics and advocating for second chance laws. This year, Intel has hosted multiple expungement clinics and is working toward a goal of dedicating 1000 hours to pro bono. 

Salesforce has also aligned pro bono with the corporation’s ESG corporate goals. Salesforce has set a framework for addressing racial equality and justice and continues to drive racial equality and an inclusive employee experience through four pillars: people, philanthropy, purchasing, and policy. In particular, Machtmes stated that their in-house legal department has a unique role in implementing ESG practices, including by working closely with the legal department’s pro bono steering committee. One strategy that Salesforce’s legal team deploys to increase pro bono in conjunction with ESG is to mobilize around the Salesforce practice that gives all employees seven days of volunteer time off (VTO). Members of the legal departments commit at least five hours of their volunteer time to pro bono work, having attorneys use their skills as legal professionals to help others. There are many ways in which attorneys may spend their hours, including serving organizations that support diverse communities, participating in bail clinics, and helping small business owners from marginalized communities. 

Additionally, outside of pro bono hours, attorneys also use their legal skills to help Salesforce’s government relations branch advance priorities for durable policy reform. For attorneys at Salesforce, this includes evaluating proposed legislation language, joining amicus briefs, and providing pro bono legal help to those working on services for immigration and homelessness. Attorneys also serve as poll watchers and legal counselors for polling places during elections. Machtmes shared that this combination of pro bono and ESG goals stems from a shared understanding of the importance of giving back and being active in our communities.

Toyota Motors North America also has had success aligning pro bono and ESG. Phillips Rogers shared that her legal team has had a leadership role in helping facilitate conversations around corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as well as ESG. She noted that sustainability goals are the “north star” for the company, including enhancing the environment in which team members live and work, reducing inequality, building sustainable cities and communities, working toward gender equality and the elimination of poverty, and building strong institutions. All of these issues flow nicely into pro bono efforts that the legal team is pursuing. Pre-pandemic, the legal department aligned its pro bono opportunities with corporate goals such as helping veterans; since the pandemic, the team has focused on social justice issues. 

In fact, Phillips Rogers shared that the impact of the pandemic and the renewed focus on racial and social justice issues has invigorated her team to be more engaged in pro bono. Despite the many work environment roadblocks such as virtual meetings, burnout, and fatigue, the pro bono program has never been more active. The legal team has been energized to do the work and sees pro bono as a rallying call, invigorating the team to get further involved in the company’s global communities. A few initiatives that have emerged from the intersection of ESG, racial justice, and pro bono include the creation of routine expungement clinics, involvement in the non-unanimous jury verdict project to challenge convictions in Louisiana without a unanimous verdict, training law enforcement to be active bystanders, and involvement in non-partisan election protection hotlines. Moreover, by using the virtual meeting space intentionally, pro bono efforts have become more efficient. For example, rather than holding a two-day expunction expo that requires travel, Toyota hosted a virtual expo over several weeks. It was easier for attorneys to book pro bono hours at their convenience, and they did not have to incur travel time to be physically present at a clinic, resulting in greater participation and more clients served—a true silver lining. 

The panel conveyed that this is a unique moment for increased community engagement of corporate legal departments, including through pro bono legal services. By aligning with the broader corporation’s sustainability and racial justice goals, the legal department can strengthen its pro bono program and even increase engagement. Pro bono is an excellent opportunity for legal departments to mobilize around these critical objectives and meaningfully serve the communities in which their employees live and work.  

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

    Older Posts >