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March 28, 2014

Guest Blog: Pro Bono Legal Advice Opens the Tap to Provide Clean Water

Yasmin Batliwala  Chief Executive, A4ID

Yasmin Batliwala
Chief Executive, A4ID

March 22 marked the commemoration of World Water Day, an opportunity to focus public attention on critical issues relating to water. A key issue concerns the fact that 768 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water. Millions of people around the world are forced to choose between having to travel great distances to collect clean water or to drink water which is contaminated. Neither option is ideal. Children (and girls in particular) are often withdrawn from school to collect water for their families. And the consequences of drinking dirty water, as we already know, can lead to outbreaks of deadly waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Another critical issue is the provision of sanitation facilities such as a hygienic toilet and water for hand washing. It is hard to imagine life without a toilet in this day and age, but for 2.5 billion people this is their reality. In the absence of adequate latrines, not only are diseases spread but people’s dignity is compromised. Additionally, rapid urban growth in developing countries is bringing new challenges as water pipes and sewage systems become overburdened.

Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are essential in order for people to lead healthy and dignified lives. To this end, the UN has formally recognised that affordable, accessible, and safe water is a basic human right. Moreover, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are aimed at galvanizing the international community to halve the number of people living in poverty, also recognize the importance of the right of access to clean, safe drinking water.

Our own work at A4ID focuses on the achievement of the MDGs and we source pro bono legal advice for development organizations working towards meeting at least one of the eight MDGs. For instance we have secured pro bono legal advice for our development partners such as WaterAid and Oxfam who are working on large-scale water projects. Furthermore, A4ID has worked specifically with U.S. law firms to provide pro bono legal advice to organizations such as The BARKA Foundation, which works in Burkina Faso. The Foundation has drilled wells, built toilets and conducted a hygiene promotion campaign. This is important work, as Burkina Faso is one of the most water-stressed nations on our planet, with high rates of waterborne diseases.

The BARKA Foundation has now received assistance from U.S. based law firms. By providing pro bono legal advice, these law firms enabled the Foundation to establish a partnership with a Ghanaian water filter factory. The BARKA Foundation also received pro bono legal advice from U.S. law firm Dechert*. The advice concerned an investment opportunity which posed risks, that the BARKA Foundation would have been unable to access on their own.

A well in Lampiadi, Burkina Faso, being drilled days before its scheduled official opening to the public on World Water Day. Photo: The BARKA Foundation

A well in Lampiadi, Burkina Faso, being drilled days before its scheduled official opening to the public on World Water Day. Photo: The BARKA Foundation

Mobilising the law and lawyers to help fight poverty is A4ID’s mission. Consider becoming involved and helping in this way.

Yasmin Batliwala
Chief Executive, A4ID
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®


November 26, 2012

Protecting Women from Violence with Pro Bono

On November 25, the world celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Around the world, violence against women and girls has become one of the most pervasive tragedies of our time. According to UN Women, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The group also states that acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined, in women ages 15 to 44.

These statistics are among the reasons why the United Nations designated a day of recognition to promote awareness of violence against women. In honor of the brutal 1960 assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists from the Dominican Republic, the day is meant to solemnly remind the world of the great injustices suffered by females.

Unfortunately, violence against women is a complex issue that takes many forms. It can be as extreme as female genital mutilation, a harmful practice experienced by approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women around the world. It can also occur in more common ways, such as domestic violence, a cruelty suffered by 3 million women a year in the U.S.

While ending violence against women is undoubtedly a daunting task, attorneys have eagerly risen to the challenge. Indeed, for many lawyers, the fight to end violence extends well beyond a designated day, as law firms devote countless pro bono resources to protect the basic human rights of women.  Here are a few inspiring examples:

  • Many lawyers assist immigrants that have been victims of violence and provide them with crucial legal representation. Lawyers at K&L Gates LLP*†  ensured that an immigrant from Benin, Africa would not be forced to make her daughter undergo genital cutting. After the client’s request for asylum was denied, her attorneys proved that if she was deported and sent back to Benin, her then five- year- old daughter would be forced to undergo the dangerous operation. In addition, lawyers at Ballard Spahr LLP*† have launched a U-Visa practice group to assist immigrants who have been victims of crime, often domestic violence, gain legal status in the United States. In the two years that the program has existed, more than two-dozen Ballard Spahr lawyers have volunteered to assist 18 clients in applying for U-Visas. The first visa was granted to a woman from Guatemala in April 2012. She was in a mentally and physically abusive relationship and decided to take action when her partner tried to strangle her. Because of the assistance she received from her pro bono attorneys, she has escaped her abusive partner and can now live her life without fear.
  • Other lawyers are taking steps to help craft legislation designed to protect women in the countries where it is most needed. For example, lawyers at the London office of Dechert LLP* are collaborating with Oxfam to launch a pro bono project called Raising Her Voice that aims to empower women in Africa. They are working to produce a high-quality legal analysis on the state of the Maputo Protocol, which guarantees comprehensive rights to females and aims to eliminate harmful practices against women. Furthermore, attorneys at Baker & McKenzie*†  have partnered with in-house counsel at Accenture** and Caterpillar, Inc.**  to assist the organization PILnet in crafting legislation designed to protect women from socio-economic and sexual exploitation in Nepal. Members of this pro bono team have already presented to Nepali legislators and are working to ensure that Nepali women are no longer victims.  Indeed, these organizations are working diligently to ensure that the legal system represents and protects women against violence.
  • In addition to their work abroad, many firms have taken steps to prevent violence against women closer to home by advocating on behalf of domestic violence victims. Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C.*† has dedicated a large portion of its time and pro bono resources to its Domestic Violence Project.  Since the project started in 1989, the firm has represented more than 750 victims.  Currently, the firm is representing Crystal Harris, a woman who was brutally attacked by her husband.  Under California law, their client was forced to pay temporary support to her abuser before his prison sentence.  Her lawyers are working to determine the best options for her and have even assisted a California assembly member in creating legislation that protects domestic violence victims’ rights.  Perkins Coie LLP*† is another firm that has committed to representing women who have been harmed by their significant others.  Lawyers in the firm’s Chicago office have devoted many hours to helping people who come to the Cook County Domestic Violence Courthouse help desk seeking emergency orders of protect against their abusers.  In Virginia, the firm assisted a woman and her three daughters in obtaining a protective order against her husband, who set fire to the house and threatened them if they went to the authorities.

While these cases have fortunate endings, countless do not.  The reality faced by millions of women, particularly in developing nations, is tragic.  Yet, as these cases illustrate, lawyers have a unique ability to protect the human rights of women and end the pandemic of violence.  Every woman should have the basic right to live her life without fear of violence, and pro bono work is a wonderful way to give a voice to the millions of women whose lives have been affected by this issue.

Has your firm assisted any women who were victims of violence? If so, we’d love to hear from you.  Leave us a comment below 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

** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM


June 28, 2012

The Wheels on the Bus….

Pro bono clients, especially those in rural areas, often do not have the means to travel to a more populated city or town to receive legal assistance.  Mobile clinics are becoming a popular way to reach out to remote and underserved clients in need of help.  More than ten years ago the Winnebago of Justice was created in California, as a revival of the concept of a bookmobile, to be the nation’s first mobile legal self-help clinic.  Here are a few examples of innovative models of mobile pro bono assistance:

  • Nixon Peabody*† participated in a pro bono project through the “Bus de la Solidarite du Barreau de Paris” which was started in 2003 by the Paris Bar Association.  The project aims to provide low-income people throughout the Paris area with free legal advice.  The bus travels to several disadvantaged areas in Paris looking for clients to help.  Nixon Peabody sends lawyers to volunteer on the bus for three-hour sessions, where they give advice on a variety of legal issues including housing, immigration, and labor.  Lawyers receive thorough training before volunteering for their first time on the bus.
  • In 2007, OneJustice created the Justice Bus®Project by organizing and training California’s urban law students and busing them to rural California to staff free legal clinics in conjunction with rural host partner organizations.  Many summer associates from Paul Hastings LLP*† and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP*†, among others, have participated in the Justice Bus® Project.  Under the supervision of experienced attorneys, law student volunteers conduct intake, draft legal documents, and provide self-help education.  Students at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law also staff their own mobile bus clinic. The “Justice Bus” expands the ability to provide pro bono service beyond the Pheonix Metropolitan area.
  • University of Detroit Mercy School of Law created Project SALUTE, a Veteran’s Law Clinic, which is supported by a custom-designed 31 foot Mobile Law Office, built and donated by General Motors Company**.  Since 2008, the program has provided pro bono assistance to more than 800 veterans and trained more than 300 lawyers to serve as pro bono veteran advocates in Michigan.  In addition to serving Michigan, Project SALUTE has helped veterans in more than 13 states across the country.

Do you know of other innovative mobile models providing pro bono assistance?  If so, feel free to drop us a comment below!

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

January 31, 2012

Global Spotlight: Combating Human Trafficking

In recognition of the thousands of men, women and children who fall prey to human trafficking in the U.S. every year, January has been declared Human Trafficking and Slavery Awareness and Prevention Month.  According to the Global Freedom Center:

Modern slavery, or human trafficking, is the reprehensible practice of holding another in compelled service using whatever means necessary, be it physical or psychological. Anywhere between 12 [and] 27 million people are held in slavery around the world today – men, women, and children coerced into bonded labor, forced or sold into prostitution, held in domestic servitude, and enslaved in agricultural fields and factories.

Because anti-trafficking legal resources are severely limited and trafficking victims are rarely in a position to pay for legal assistance, pro bono plays a pivotal role in protecting and empowering trafficking victims and bringing traffickers to justice.  Whether by helping an undocumented victim obtain a T or U nonimmigrant visa, representing survivors in a civil suit against their traffickers, drafting model anti-trafficking laws, or working to expose and redress noncompliance with the federal Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), pro bono lawyers are a force majeure in the U.S. movement to break the chain.

The Human Rights Group at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC* undertakes innovative, complex human trafficking litigation.  In the tragic case of Ramchandra Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners, Cohen Milstein is taking on two corporations – Daoud & Partners (Daoud) and Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) – on behalf of a trafficking survivor and the families of twelve deceased victims.  The complaint alleges that the companies collaborated to increase profits by obtaining cheap labor to work at U.S. military base camps in Iraq.  They trafficked young Nepali men to Iraq under the pretext that the men would be working at a luxury hotel in Jordan or in an American camp in the U.S.  The men were assured that working conditions would be safe and promised $500 per month for their labor.

But, when the men arrived in Jordan, Daoud allegedly confiscated their passports and informed them that they would be transferred to a camp in Iraq.  They traveled by caravan along the dangerous Amman-to-Baghdad highway without any security.  En route, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, Iraqi insurgents, abducted twelve of the men.  Their captors sent a video of the Nepali men to the Foreign Ministry of Nepal.  In the video, the men state:  “We were kept as captives in Jordan at first . . . were not allowed to return home . . . and were forced to go to Iraq.”  The insurgents killed all twelve men.

One man, Buddi Prasad Gurung, made it to the U.S. base in Iraq.  However, when he learned about the deaths of the other twelve, Gurung became frightened and asked to go home.  Daoud and KBR allegedly informed him that he would not be permitted to depart until his work was finished.  They held Gurung against his will for 15 months before they allowed him to leave.

The Nepali plaintiffs are suing Daoud and KBR under the TVPRA, Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, Alien Tort Statute, and negligence theories.  Last month, Cohen Milstein overcame a significant jurisdictional hurtle in this novel case when it presented sufficient evidence to persuade a U.S. court to assume jurisdiction over the foreign defendant, Daoud, in this transnational matter.  The Court held that Daoud has sufficient contacts with the U.S. to warrant general jurisdiction.  Cohen Milstein attorney Molly McOwen told The PBEye:

This is one of the first cases under the TVPRA against a corporation, and certainly the first of its kind involving the trafficking of individuals to a U.S. military base.  Since the Court announced last month that it has personal jurisdiction over Daoud & Partners, we are now preparing to take this case to trial against both defendants.

Amidst a flurry of international media attention generated by the Daoud case, Jordan has adopted an anti-human-trafficking law.

The Daoud case isn’t Cohen Milstein’s first foray into anti-trafficking pro bono.  The firm undertook groundbreaking litigation representing survivors of the system of sexual slavery instituted by the Government of Japan in the territories it conquered during World War II.  Of the estimated 200,000 victims – euphemistically known as “comfort women” though some were as young as 10 years old – only a few thousand survived the repeated rape and beatings.  Many more perished.  Cohen Milstein sued Japan in the U.S. District Court on behalf of the survivors and the case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  While the judicial efforts did not prove fruitful, Cohen Milstein’s lawsuit heightened the visibility of the plight of “comfort women” and the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling for a formal apology from the Japanese Government.

“For the client,” says McOwen, “it’s about the principle and recognition of what happened.  Our obligation is to give them the best legal representation available.  We offer them a chance to stand up to the largest corporate defendants who have the resources to hire top-notch legal counsel.  This work attracts good lawyers to the firm and gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction.”

Drop us a comment, below, and tell us how your law firm or legal department combats human trafficking through pro bono.

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

Hat tip to PBI Legal Intern Ashley Binetti for her help with this post.

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®

March 2, 2011

VIDEO: Addressing HIV/AIDS Globally Through Pro Bono

HIV/AIDS is obviously a serious issue of public health that has had a global impact, but treating the disease, particularly in developing countries goes far beyond medicine.

To get a better sense of the true depth HIV treatment issues, The PBEye spoke with David Patterson of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).  Patterson, manager of IDLO’s HIV and Health Law Program based in Rome, talked about the various issues his program addresses in developing countries and places with weak rule of law.  One of the issues topping the list is discrimination, a problem that Patterson said can create barriers to treatment, such as potentially infected persons being reluctant to be tested for the virus in the first place.  Patterson also talked about ways pro bono attorneys can get involved and what training opportunities are available to help lawyers do HIV work in other countries.

PBI will be featuring other public interest programs at its 2011 Annual Seminar/Forum, which begins tomorrow, March 3.  Online registration is closed, but onsite registration is an option for law firm and corporate attendees.  You also may call Caroline Stainback at 202-973-872 or e-mail