The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

The Americas

May 29, 2014

Marketplace of Pro Bono Ideas: Part 2

annual conference 2014The 2014 PBI Annual Conference featured three dynamic “Marketplace of Ideas” sessions, during which participants shared information on cutting-edge pro bono projects and attendees learned about new opportunities, offerings, infrastructure, and other creative and replicable pro bono developments.

The PBEye reported last week on some of the global projects featured during these sessions. Here are two more of the innovative projects that were highlighted:

Crime Victim Rights Advocacy
Heidi Naasko from Dykema Gossett*† described her experience advocating for the rights of crime victims and shined a spotlight on an area ripe for pro bono development. Under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, victims in federal criminal cases have various rights, such as the right to protection from the accused, the right to attend proceedings, and the right to restitution. While representing a group of Central American children involved in human trafficking, Naasko fought to ensure that her clients could be present at the sentencing of their trafficker and that they received restitution. Pro bono attorneys are vital in these cases because other players in the justice system may not properly defend the rights of a victim, or even be aware of them. Additionally, crime victims need attorneys who can take into consideration the depth of their losses and protect their interests with appropriate sensitivity.

In addition to being personally rewarding, representing victims offers tremendous professional development opportunities for litigators. Potential cases can be found through the courts or the National Crime Victim Law Institute.

Name Change Project
Michael Silverman discussed the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund’s (TLDEF) innovative Name Change Project, which helps transgender people overcome the legal obstacles to securing a name change. For many transgender people, obtaining a legal name change is an important step toward making their legal identities match lived experience, but interaction with the court system and judges is a foreign and intimidating experience for many people. A lack of appropriate identity documents can deter people from applying for jobs, school, and public benefits, and can lead to discrimination. By providing eligible individuals with pro bono legal representation, the Project ensures that clients can successfully complete the process and move forward with their lives.

While the initiative was small in scale at first, more than 30 law firms and legal departments are now involved. The work is an attractive pro bono opportunity for many lawyers, both litigators and non-litigators, since it is a time-limited commitment. The Project is currently expanding beyond New York to Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.


Check out the full recap of the 2014 Marketplace of Ideas sessions in the May 2014 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.

* 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


April 16, 2014

Making a Case for Pro Bono

For over a decade, PBI has promoted the “business case” for pro bono. Indeed, PBI’s research suggests that the benefits of pro bono outweigh the costs of starting and maintaining a pro bono program. In particular, pro bono engagement can help a law firm or legal department recruit and retain talent, develop the professional skills of its attorneys, and increase employee engagement.  This is a case PBI reiterated for law firms in a 2010 law review article and for in-house departments in a 2013 paper. So The PBEye was heartened to see the business case argument compellingly made this month in a piece by Jim Middlemiss in the Canadian Lawyer. As Paul Belanger, co-chair of the Financial Services Regulatory group and co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee at Blake Cassels & Graydon  bluntly notes, “We’re in a war for talent. Young people want to be able to do something that is meaningful to them. You need to offer a robust pro bono program.”

Photo: Sara Tyson

Photo: Sara Tyson

The article cites four interest-based reasons for how law firms and legal departments can improve their performance while also doing good for society via pro bono:

  1. Better recruitment: Currently, most high school students are required to volunteer to secure their diploma. Attracting talent requires responding to this volunteering seed planted during their school days.
  2. Improved retention and training: Pro bono can provide opportunities for skills development and an opportunity for rewarding work — benefits which may reduce associate attrition and its significant economic costs.
  3. Corporate social responsibility: Canadian companies are increasingly involved in community initiatives, and their general counsels are examining metrics such as diversity and gender when choosing to hire law firms. Such metrics may increasingly include pro bono service. Firms that fail to engage in pro bono risk losing out on such selective clients.
  4. Increased profile and profitability: Middlemiss, citing PBI’s original 2000 paper, “Making the Business Case for Pro Bono,” notes that a major law firm’s managing partner quoted in that paper highlighted that every dollar spent on pro bono generated 10 times that value in good publicity and heightened visibility for the law firm.

Middlemiss closes with an urgent conclusion — there’s a survival case to be made for pro bono, so do it if you want your firm to stay in business.  A strong sentiment, but one with which The PBEye can agree!

January 23, 2012

Canada Embraces Medical-Legal Partnerships

Good legal help is hard to find.  Particularly for the low-income parents of a sick child who pass countless hours in hospital waiting rooms and at their child’s bedside.  Attorney Lee Ann Chapman told The Star:

Having a sick child can bring about a domino effect.  Families sometimes let important, practical issues slide because they’re so focused on their child’s health.  Often they have no idea of their rights and have never had access to legal information.  Sometimes they are quite desperate.

Enter The Hospital For Sick Children (SickKids) and Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO), who’ve teamed up to deliver Canada’s first medical-legal partnership, modeled after a U.S. counterpart.  By collocating pro bono lawyers at the hospital, The Family Legal Health Program brings access to justice directly to the families who need it most.

Doctors, nurses, and social workers at SickKids Hospital are trained to identify low-income patients who may require legal assistance with critical issues ranging from disability benefits, taxes, education, evictions, and employment, to immigration.  “These families are so overwhelmed with a sick or terminally ill child,” explains Pro Bono Law Ontario Executive Director Lynn Burns, “that they just don’t have the wherewithal to attend to these problems.  They don’t even know there is a legal remedy available.” 

“That’s the job of our lawyers,” adds PBLO attorney Chapman, “to take the burden from them.”  After only two years in operation, the SickKids/PBLO partnership has already helped more than 1,000 families to access justice.

Julia Morreale received a heart transplant when she was just 8 months old.  After she experienced organ rejection episodes and a rare post-transplant complication, Julia’s doctors at SickKids recommended that she be treated in the U.S., where CTL (Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes or “killer T-cell”) therapy is available.  According to her doctors at SickKids, CTL is Julia’s only hope of survival.  Unfortunately, Ontario’s public health insurance plan (OHIP) deems CTL treatment “experimental” and has consequently declined to cover Julia’s costs.  Each three-week cycle of CTL therapy costs between $60,000 and $80,000 — a price that Julia’s parents, who have three young children, simply cannot afford.

Fortunately, PBLO onsite “triage lawyer” Lee Ann Chapman connected Julia’s family with pro bono attorney Duncan Embury of Torkin Manes, who will argue Julia’s OHIP appeal before the Review Board.  The fifty hours that Chapman has already logged on Julia’s case would have cost the Morreale family $30,000.  “I can’t think of a cause . . . more worthy of our time as lawyers,” said Embury.  SickKids Director of Social Work and Child Life Dr. Ted McNeill couldn’t agree more: “Being able to offer onsite legal guidance to families who might not otherwise have access to lawyers will play a significant role in improving the health and well-being of these children and their families.”

The PBEye is pleased to report that PBLO aims to establish similar programs at Ontario’s three other children’s hospitals.

Drop us a comment and tell us about your pro bono medical-legal partnership!

January 3, 2012

Forced Marriage in the U.S.

Would it surprise you to learn that, every year in the U.S., thousands of women and girls are forced into marriages against their will?  The recently released results of a national survey conducted by the Tahirih Justice Center revealed more than 3,000 known and suspected cases of forced marriage in the past two years, alone, and Tahirih Executive Director Layli Miller-Muro recently told Newsweek, “We’ve already learned enough in the survey to tell us we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg.”  In many of these cases, death threats were among the arsenal of tactics used by families to coerce unwilling brides to tie the knot.  Unfortunately, lack of awareness about this emerging issue coupled with inadequate legal protections leave U.S. forced marriage victims with little recourse.  According to the Baltimore Sun, while immigrant women fleeing to escape forced marriages in their home countries have obtained asylum in the U.S., no legal resources exist to protect U.S. citizens and legal residents from being forcibly taken abroad to the altar.  The PBEye is pleased to report that pro bono lawyers are working to change that.

Tahirih Director of Public Policy Jeanne Smoot told The PBEye, “The findings of Tahirih’s national forced marriage survey are both alarming and a resounding call to action.  Because a young woman may only have one chance to reach out, we have to ensure that service providers on the frontlines are alert to the problem and at the ready to help her.”  According to Smoot, pro bono will play a pivotal role in developing a U.S. national response to forced marriage:

The United States lags more than a decade behind the United Kingdom and a number of other countries in dealing with forced marriage.  Because the U.S. movement to address the problem is being led by nongovernmental agencies with limited resources, our pro bono partners are absolutely critical to amplifying our capacity and enabling us to make rapid progress.  Tahirih has been extremely fortunate to be able to call on the generosity of a number of law firms to support our forced marriage initiative.  The pro bono work they’re doing on forced marriage is especially rewarding because this is uncharted terrain in the United States and we face incredibly complex legal and policy challenges to addressing the problem.  We have a tremendous amount of work ahead, and we have to work quickly because the lives of thousands of young women facing forced marriages hang in the balance.

Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C.*has teamed up with Tahirih to craft a legislative solution to the U.S.’s forced marriage crisis.  “When we were first asked to look into this subject,” shared Mintz Levin attorney Ella Shenhav, “none of us knew this was an issue at all.  We were extremely surprised!  Really?  In the United States in 2011?  Forced marriage?”  Mintz Levin lawyers and law clerks are studying foreign forced marriage statutes as a model for U.S. legislation, weighing civil versus criminal remedies, and assessing whether a federal law would pass constitutional muster.  At a minimum, says Shenhav, they aim to propose a civil forced-marriage protective order mechanism, along the lines of that provided for by the U.K.’s Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, the violation of which would constitute a criminal offense.

Mintz Levin isn’t the only Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory helping to combat forced marriage through pro bono service.  Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP*†, Hunton & Williams LLP*†, K&L Gates LLP*†, and Latham & Watkins LLP*† have all represented Tahirih victims fleeing forced marriage.  Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP’s*† Austin office researched court decisions for forced marriage cases and advised on the family law aspects of a Texas forced marriage case.  Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s*† Washington, D.C. office hosted a forced marriage briefing for policymakers and policy professionals that included representatives from the Departments of State and Homeland Security, Congressional staffers, and advocates.  And, PBI’s own Global Pro Bono Coordinator Julia Alanen fulfills her pro bono commitment by coordinating a national forced marriage prevention initiative that provides advocates and early responders with free legal technical assistance, training, and resources.  (Every member of PBI’s staff is encouraged and allotted fifty hours annually to do pro bono on the clock!)  Alanen and Smoot recently served as panelists at a conference on Forced Marriage in the United States supported by the Justice Department’s Office on
Violence Against Women.  Smoot told The PBEye:

Most attorneys are drawn to the profession because they are committed to the ideal of justice – but in their everyday practice, they may feel very removed from that concept.  Whether they’re representing a client or researching a policy question, pro bono volunteers feel a deep and immediate connection with the ideal of justice.  They know that what they’re offering to the vulnerable women and girls that we serve is powerful – they give them back a reason to hope, to hold their heads up, and to look to tomorrow and the next day without fear.

Pro bono projects like these offer law firm and in-house lawyers the opportunity to work collaboratively with professional staff and NGOs to shape the law and transform the legal landscape around cutting-edge contemporary human rights and social justice issues.  Shenhav told us, “It’s very satisfying to be working towards something that can actually change people’s lives.  [This project] this will affect thousands of people . . . and give a voice to women and girls who haven’t had a voice.”

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

August 24, 2011

VIDEO: Helping Lawyers Help Immigrants in Need

It comes as a surprise to many to learn that, in the United States, an immigrant detainee facing deportation who cannot afford to hire an attorney is not appointed one. Without the assistance of pro bono counsel, many immigrants – some of them asylum seekers and victims of violent crimes – are denied the opportunity to identify legal recourse or present their cases to the courts.

To learn how pro bono lawyers can help immigrant detainees gain access to justice, we spoke to Maria Odom, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).  Maria gave us some interesting insight on the legal needs of immigrants and various challenges they face – a big one being that they are not entitled to legal representation in immigration court.  She also spoke to us about what CLINIC does to match immigrants with pro bono attorneys and how the organization supports those attorneys with resources and professional development.

July 8, 2011

Challenge Firms Champion Rights of Refugees

Human Rights First celebrated World Refugee Day 2011 by paying homage to their law firm partners for outstanding pro bono legal service on behalf of indigent refugees.  Refugees are persons who are unable or unwilling to return to their native countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution or because their lives or freedom would be threatened.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that, by the end of last year, nearly 44 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide, 15.4 million of them refugees.

Many displaced men, women, and children spend years living in crowded camps, others languish in detention centers only to be deported back to the very countries that persecuted them.  The most fortunate among them are granted asylum or refugee status, a bittersweet outcome because, for many, it means starting life over and permanent separation from their childhood homes, hard-earned careers and families.

MSNBC captures the powerful story of one courageous woman, Marie Rose Mukeni Beya, who fled Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) with her youngest daughter after being targeted, detained, and tortured for questioning the Mobutu dictatorship and championing women’s rights at the university where she was the only female professor.  The Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First matched Mukeni Beya with firms Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP* and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP*.  The mother of five had high praise for the legal team with whose pro bono assistance she found lawful permanent refuge in the U.S. and rebuilt her life:

Being here as a refugee is a hard experience.  You experience humiliation – every single day.  You experience unemployment, homelessness, sickness – all these experiences just push you down.  The way [my attorneys] treat me, they were with me every single day.  I consider them as part of my family.

Mukeni Beya recently accepted a position as an associate professor of child development at the City College of New York, and is preparing for her naturalization interview in hopes to soon take an oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Are you in the know about a compelling pro bono initiative? Drop us a comment and tell us all about it.

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

June 27, 2011

Canuck Corporations Embrace Pro Bono

Teen sensation Justin Bieber ain’t the only hot ticket out of Ontario these days. This evening at the happy hour, the Ontario Chapter of the Association for Corporate Counsel will team up with Pro Bono Law Ontario to launch the IN Your Corner campaign over cocktails!

The campaign encourages corporate legal departments to partner up with local legal service providers to offer turnkey pro bono opportunities to corporate lawyers and transform in-house legal culture. The Volunteer Lawyers Service, Child Advocacy Project’s Education Law Program, and Law Help Ontario are among the NGOs that will harness in-house legal talent to assist persons of limited means.

In a show of support for this pro bono initiative, special guest Laurie Pawlitza, treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, will help kick off tonight’s shindig.

Mad props from The PBEye to Ontario’s corporate legal community for its commitment to enhance access to justice through in-house pro bono.

Are you in the know about an exciting emerging pro bono initiative abroad? Tell us all about it.

May 26, 2011

Guest Blog: DLA Piper Associates Work in Guyana

The PBEye recently heard from a team of junior associates at DLA Piper* about their experiences doing pro bono in Guyana.  Pro bono is a terrific way for associates and seasoned attorneys alike to gain skills and develop professionally.  Here’s what our friends at DLA Piper, J. Hess, Nicole C. King, and Terry Smith, had to say:

Attorneys involved with pro bono often share two common perspectives: a belief that we have an ethical obligation to provide pro bono services, and an understanding that pro bono offers unique opportunities to build valuable skills and broaden overall legal acumen.  Junior associates, particularly those working in larger law firms, might find that pro bono work can bring more responsibility and greater exposure than their regular billable work.

In our case, such an opportunity came through an international pro bono project in Guyana, South America. Over the last few years, Guyana has made a strong commitment to strengthening its justice sector under a program called Modernization of the Justice Administration System (MJAS).  Both the Judiciary and the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) have spent considerable time and resources upgrading facilities and personnel.  DLA Piper’s nonprofit affiliate, New Perimeter, recognized Guyana’s strong commitment to fortifying its legal sector and offered the pro bono services of DLA Piper attorneys with expertise directly related to MJAS goals.

To prepare for the project, DLA Piper attorneys made two due diligence trips to Guyana.  During these trips, these attorneys observed court proceedings and interviewed judges, magistrate judges, prosecutors, police prosecutors, and senior investigators.  It became clear that magistrate courts were strapped for resources and severely backlogged.  An attorney or judge from the United States or the U.K. cannot help but immediately fixate on seemingly basic, but temporarily insurmountable obstacles.  Hearings move excruciatingly slowly, because there are no court stenographers and magistrate judges must hand-write testimony.  It is nearly impossible to hear testimony from meek witnesses or arguments from soft-spoken attorneys, because sounds from the street blare through courtroom windows which are necessarily open to provide some relief to the tropical heat.  Witnesses fail to show for hearings, because they live hours away by boat and either did not receive notice or have no means to travel to court.

Despite these obstacles, it was an important moment in the development of this project when we realized that technology—stenographers, air conditioned court rooms, and faster boats—was not a realistic goal.  Once we recognized that the Guyanese Judicial System was not going to become resource-rich over night, we instead sought practical solutions that would organically increase efficiency and capacity.  While momentarily counterintuitive, we realized that the most effective way to support Guyana’s modernization efforts was not to address its weakest aspects, but rather to support its greatest resource, the people already working hard every day to support the rule of law.

The prosecutor's training team (from left to right): DLA Piper lawyers Mark Nadeau (Phoenix), Nicole King (Los Angeles), Mitka Baker (Washington, DC), Rob Sherman (Boston), Carolyn McNiven (San Francisco), Terry Smith (Philadelphia), Peter Zeidenberg (Washington, DC).

It was in this spirit that we developed a two-part project that included drafting “best practices” manuals and implementing simulation-based training workshops for Guyanese magistrate judges and prosecutors.  To implement the project, we spent five days in Guyana with 10 other DLA Piper attorneys from offices across the United States and Europe.  For magistrates, the workshops focused on advanced trial-management skills, new anti-money laundering and asset forfeiture laws, and international best practices in bail setting.  In a separate workshop for more than 40 prosecutors, police prosecutors, and senior investigators, we focused on improving trial advocacy skills like cross-examining witnesses, introducing documents and physical evidence, and establishing chain of custody.

Guyana’s commitment to the program was reaffirmed when courts were closed for Friday’s workshops and magistrates and prosecutors gave up their Saturday to attend training sessions. Highly interactive, energetic, and collegial, the workshops allowed legal professionals working in a heavily burdened system time to step back and reflect on their craft.  Discussions carried over through lunch breaks and into the evenings, and it became clear that curiosity and a love for debate are universal traits for legal professionals.

As junior associates, this project offered a number of unique opportunities.  Foremost, we had an opportunity to play an active role in the project’s design and development. We were actively involved in meetings with the Chancellor of the Judiciary, High Court Judges, the Director and Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, as well as other judicial officials.  While normally junior associates spend time sifting through discovery or performing due diligence from their desks, we were in Guyana driving the scope and direction of an international project that would ultimately involve eight partners, seven associates and well over 2,000 hours of donated time. 

From left to right: Guyana's Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh, Justice Roy, Terry Smith (DLA Piper Associate) and Sheldon Krantz (Director of New Perimeter and a DLA Piper partner)

The project also pushed us as legal professionals.  Developing and facilitating workshops that were engaging and well received has increased our confidence and deepened our understanding of what it means to be credible legal professionals.  Additionally, we worked directly with senior partners, which gave us the opportunity to build valuable relationships within our Firm. 

The old adage “no pain, no gain,” need not apply to pro bono projects.  Junior associates should recognize them as win-win vehicles to do something good for a client as well as for their careers.  For us, collaboration with colleagues during the Guyana project both enhanced our legal skills and advanced the rule of law abroad.

J. Hess, Nicole C. King, and Terry Smith are associates at DLA Piper. Further detail on the Guyana project is available here.

If you would like to contribute a guest blog to The PBEye, please contact Christina Gordon, director of strategic communications and stewardship, with your proposed topic.  We would love to hear from you! 

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

May 25, 2011

Global Spotlight: International Child Abduction

According to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, last year nearly 2,000 children were internationally abducted to or from the United States by one of their own parents, in violation of the other parent’s rights:

That’s 40 children taken from their homes and from their loved ones each week. Abductions traumatize children, their parents, friends, and family. International Parental Child Abduction is a painful scourge for so many, and it is something that deeply concerns me.

Parental kidnapping compromises and destroys parent-child relationships, uproots and destabilizes children, and typically causes acute emotional distress to everybody involved.  Today’s International Missing Children’s Day strikes us as an auspicious occasion to shine PBI’s Global Pro Bono Spotlight on a particularly compelling pro bono partnership benefitting victims of international parental kidnapping.

An international treaty, the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, provides for the swift return of internationally abducted children to their countries of habitual residence. The U.S. is currently bound to 68 other countries under the treaty, and expects to gain its 69th treaty partner a tout de suite following Japan’s recent decision to ratify the Convention.

However, the United States’ execution of its treaty obligations is plagued by a major impediment: by taking a reservation to Article 26 of the Hague Convention, the U.S. declined to provide applicant parents with legal representation in Hague proceedings before the U.S. courts. So, in order to ensure access to justice for indigent and low-income parents abroad with children missing in the United States, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) established an International Child Abduction Attorney Network (ICAAN).

One of ICAAN’s pro bono partners is none other than Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP*. When NCMEC first approached the firm to represent a left-behind parent pro bono in a Hague abduction case, Pro Bono Partner Debbie Segal says she jumped at the opportunity:

It was quite amazing to be able to use our legal skills to facilitate a reunion between a parent and a child – there was not a dry eye in the house. The Hague cases quickly became coveted pro bono opportunities for young litigators, because they were extremely important, fast-paced, unique and exciting. After we had a few successful cases under our belts, one of our associates suggested that others could benefit from our experiences. We approached NCMEC, they embraced the idea, and the rest is history. 

So, in addition to continuing to represent left-behind parents of internationally abducted children in Hague proceedings, the firm authored a national practice manual for NCMEC, “Litigating International Child Abduction Cases Under the Hague Convention” (second edition coming soon!). Kilpatrick Townsend’s pro bono portfolio now includes a signature International Parental Abduction initiative spanning North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Recognizing that the effective functioning of the Hague Convention is dependent upon left-behind parents’ unfettered access to legal counsel, the U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (the designated U.S. central authority under the treaty) is actively seeking legal talent to expand its pro bono Attorney Network. What’s in it for me, you ask?

  • Gain exposure to international law and federal court litigation experience;
  • Pro bono attorneys may recover attorneys’ fees in successful Hague proceedings (See Cuellar v. Joyce, 603 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2010)) — we covered this in The Wire back when it happened, here;
  • And, in the words of one pro bono attorney who recently completed his very first Hague case, “This experience reminded me of why I went to law school in the first place.”

Law firms and in-house legal departments interested in representing left-behind parents in Hague child abduction proceedings in the U.S. courts may contact the State Department’s Legal Assistance Coordinator Patricia Hoff at 202.736.9096. No prior international law experience is required.

To learn more about Global Pro Bono, or for technical assistance, contact PBI Global Pro Bono Coordinator Julia Alanen.

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

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