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Pro Bono As We See It

Public Interest

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


March 13, 2014

Video: WDPB – Annie Pineda, The Bronx Defenders

Pro bono gives lawyers an opportunity to think creatively and use problem-solving skills that they may not use in their everyday line of work. This week, we hear from Annie Pineda, pro bono attorney at The Bronx Defenders, as she explains why doing pro bono can be an eye-opening experience.

September 3, 2013

Video: WDPB – David Stern, Equal Justice Works

Pro bono can be very rewarding and powerful for lawyers. This week we hear from David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works on why instilling certain values in young lawyers is so important.

June 24, 2013

Video: WDPB – Margaret Middleton, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center

Partnerships formed between public interest groups and law firms can be very beneficial to pro bono clients. This week we hear from Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center as she explains the importance of the legal community taking on pro bono projects together.

April 23, 2013

Pro Bono Assistance for Young Immigrants

When President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June 2012, undocumented immigrants were given the opportunity to step out of the shadows and finally pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and teachers in the U.S. The program gives a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants who meet a variety of eligibility requirements, including those who came to the U.S. before age 16 and are in school, high school graduates, or military veterans. Potential participants also need to be under the age of 31 and have lived in the U.S. for five years. An estimated 1.7 million people are eligible for the program and as of January 154,404 have been granted deferred action.

The large demand for legal advice for those seeking a reprieve has led lawyers around the country to gather and provide pro bono assistance to the qualifying immigrants. In Illinois, the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) holds weekly clinics to meet the needs of the estimated 75,000 youth between the ages of 16 to 30 in Illinois eligible for the DACA program. Attorneys from Exelon Corporation** partnered with Dentons*† (formerly SNR Denton) to help staff these clinics. The legal department at United Airlines and the Chicago chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel also volunteer at these clinics. They work directly with clients to fill out the 20-page application for deferred action and help them find document evidence to prove their eligibility.

Volunteer lawyers from Latham & Watkins LLP*† have focused their efforts on meeting with young undocumented immigrants in San Diego and determining their eligibility for the DACA program. These meetings have been invaluable for Latham lawyers, as they have underscored the importance of equal access to justice to all members of society, including those living in the shadows.

Law students have also recognized the necessity of providing quality pro bono legal services to young, undocumented immigrants. Professors and students at the University of Texas School of Law created a partnership between the Law School’s Pro Bono Program and the Immigration Clinic in order to hold legal clinics for undocumented immigrants. The clinics, held in the Austin area, assist qualifying attendees in completing and filing applications for the program. The astounding success of these clinics has led the law school to partner with organizations in the Rio Grande Valley to serve young immigrants in the border region.

While immigration law is a new venture for many attorneys, they have quickly risen to the occasion and are well aware of what is at stake for many of the young men and women they are helping. As Ben Weinberg, pro bono partner at Dentons who volunteers with NIJC, stated:  “These are people who are underground, coming out and saying we feel so strongly about working and being productive members of society that we’re going to shine a light on ourselves to the federal government that has the power to send them far away.”

Immigration will continue to be a hot button issue as Congress works to find a cohesive solution to assist all undocumented immigrants. To learn about immigration-related pro bono opportunities and developments, contact Tammy Taylor or Eve Runyon.

* 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

November 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Attorneys, Advocates, and Law Students Collaborate with Appleseed to Reimagine U.S. Immigration Courts

By Betsy Cavendish, Appleseed, and Malcolm Rich and Katy Welter, Chicago Appleseed

Collaborating across firms, disciplines, and cities, a team of attorneys, advocates, and law students evaluated the federal Immigration Court system and recently released its findings in “Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line:  Transformative Change for the Immigration Justice System.”  The report is the product of a model approach to pro bono advocacy efforts, and work to implement its reforms has already begun. 

“Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line” grades the U.S. Immigration Court system’s response to recommendations from the team’s 2009 “Assembly Line Injustice” report. Pro bono attorney teams from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP*† and Latham & Watkins LLP*† partnered with Appleseed’s flagship office and affiliate Chicago Appleseed on both investigations. The 2009 report detailed a number of failings in the Immigration Court process, and true to the Appleseed model, proposed realistic, achievable recommendations for reform.

Soon after the 2009 report’s release, its lead author, Steven Schulman, pro bono partner at Akin Gump, began planning a follow-up as part of its outreach to persuade Obama administration officials to adopt policies in line with the recommendations.  The report gave tough grades – no A’s, lots of C’s, and even an F – but Schulman complimented the administration both on achieving some progress and being open with pro bono counsel:

“The cooperation and [openness] from the administration was really exemplary. Especially the Executive Office for Immigration Review, but the Department of Homeland Security, too, was more open than in the past.”

Both Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed are dedicated to achieving upstream, systemic changes to make our justice system fair to all. Pro bono lawyers contributed nearly all of the research. Latham & Watkins dedicated more than 900 hours over the past year, and this year alone, Akin Gump’s lawyers have devoted nearly 400 pro bono hours. A member of the Appleseed Board of Directors and an immigration law expert, Schulman was also the lead author of the most recent report.

The project was an ideal pro bono opportunity for both firms.  Deadlines were somewhat flexible, making the large project manageable internally, and it was inspiring to a number of volunteers to be able to work on a project that could impact tens to hundreds of thousands of cases.

“Many of our attorneys work on immigration cases.  It’s rewarding to take the collective wisdom – as well as frustration – of the firm’s attorneys and our allies and translate it into calls for systemic reforms,” Schulman said.  “Akin Gump also has a robust government affairs practice.  It’s great to use our expertise in government operations for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.”

Latham & Watkins Associate Matthew Cronin remarked:

The Appleseed project allowed junior attorneys at the firms to get a lot of substantive experience in court proceedings and to look at the law from a different perspective. Attorneys normally analyze the law through the lens of litigation.   With Appleseed, we look at what the policy should be, rather than just the precedent and rules of evidence.  It is a different type of advocacy that focuses on systemic rather than individual considerations.  Given political and economic realities, we proposed feasible changes to enhance the justice, efficiency, and legitimacy of the immigration courts. 

The project provided leadership opportunities for Cronin and one-of-a-kind experiences for a group of law students as well.  Cronin coordinated with George Washington University Law School Dean of Public Interest and Public Service Law David Johnson to lead a short-term legal clinic specifically for this project. As part of the clinic, GW Law students conducted dozens of court observations, which provided the researchers with perspective on the current system and made a powerful contribution to the report.

The team is already celebrating major policy changes recommended in both the 2009 and 2012 efforts.  Less than one month after the 2012 report release, the Department of Homeland Security announced a policy lifting the threat of deportation for two years for certain young immigrants. The Appleseed team applauded the change and raised the grade on one section of the report.  The team will focus on local and efficient implementation of such policies as it accelerates its advocacy phase. However, both Schulman and Cronin noted that federal policy promises aren’t always implemented locally in the intended way or time frame.

Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed both hold as a core belief that civically-engaged pro bono lawyers play a powerful watchdog function and can help bridge the gap between policy and practice.

November 8, 2012

Pro Bono After Hurricane Sandy

Last week, millions of people on the East Coast were thrown into a state of disarray by Hurricane Sandy. Despite the destruction created by the storm, there were many inspiring stories of strangers helping each other.  From individuals setting up charging stations for their neighbors without power, to restaurants providing free food to victims, the days following Hurricane Sandy have been filled with random acts of kindness.

Naturally, times of crisis prompt many of us to take action to help those in need and lawyers are no exception. Attorneys in the tri-state area have been quick to respond to the legal needs of those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The president of the New York State Bar Association, Seymour James, noted, “New York attorneys have a history of coming together to provide legal assistance to disaster victims. They got together last year after the floods from Hurricane Irene and in 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks.”

Many innovative pro bono initiatives to assist post-storm relief efforts are already up and running. Here are just a few examples:

  • The New York State Bar Association is coordinating volunteer attorneys to help eligible victims with insurance claims and federal aid applications.
  • On Long Island, the Touro Law School is opening a Storm Help Center to assist eligible local residents and small businesses in completing application forms for available emergency assistance. They will also provide legal consultations and advice on storm-related legal issues to their community.
  • The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) has mobilized a legal aid disaster relief program to help eligible victims of Hurricane Sandy handle FEMA claims, housing issues, and consumer matters, among other issues, and provide training to pro bono lawyers.

Law firms are joining these organizations to provide pro bono assistance. Lawyers and staff from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP*† have volunteered their services through NYLAG and both the New York State and New York City Bar Associations. Currently, some of their attorneys are helping NYLAG clients file claims for FEMA assistance and benefits, while others are helping the New York State Bar Association manage the lawyer referral hotline that was created to serve storm victims. Other firms, such as Mayer Brown LLP*†, McDermott Will & Emery*†, O’Melveny & Myers LLP*, Patton Boggs*†, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP*†, are all providing resources and pro bono assistance, including donating office space to displaced legal services organizations.

Hurricane Sandy underscores the need for pro bono assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters. There is always pro bono work to be done during such difficult times, and lawyers have already proven that they are capable of rising to the challenge. Following the severe destruction of Hurricane Katrina, lawyers worked tirelessly to develop legal resources for the thousands displaced by the storm. When Haiti was rocked by a massive earthquake in 2010, lawyers provided a variety of pro bono assistance, including traveling to the country to conduct fact-finding missions with regard to the security and violence problems that occurred after the earthquake.

The legal community is collaborating and working together to apply pro bono best practices and lessons learned from prior disasters to mobilize effectively and better serve those most in need.

Is your firm or legal department currently participating in any pro bono projects related to Hurricane Sandy? 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

September 12, 2012

Undocumented Youth Have Hope

On June 15, the Obama administration announced a new program to benefit undocumented young people in the U.S.  A two year renewable reprieve from deportation and work permits are available for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before age 16, are currently 30 years old or younger, and are in school, are high school graduates, or military veterans.  Other considerations will also be taken into account, such as one’s criminal history.  It is estimated that around 1.7 million individuals are eligible to benefit from the program which began accepting applications on August 15.

Although the full ramifications of the program are hard to predict, the anticipated need for legal services points to a new opportunity for pro bono work.  Public interest groups have rapidly mobilized to assist undocumented immigrants in the application process.  Organizations such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights have already conducted a large training which had a surprising 15,000 young people attend to participate in one-on-one consultations and information sessions.

Many advocacy groups have partnered to compile resources such as the “Own the Dream” website which answers frequently asked questions, helps individuals determine their eligibility, and lists free or low-cost immigration legal help through an online directory.  Public interests groups have also scheduled trainings throughout the fall for lawyers who are interested in contributing pro bono services via clinics and workshops.

We’ll be keeping an eye on the future of immigration reform policies and how the pro bono community can continue to respond.

July 16, 2012

More Great Programming from PBI

Though our 2012 Annual Conference was in March, we’re still working to ensure that those of you who couldn’t make it or those who did and need a refresher can still get the latest and best information about pro bono.  Most recently, PBI hosted a webinar “Pro Bono and the Crisis in Legal Aid” in conjunction with West LegalEdcenter.

The program, which is part of our Best of the 2012 Conference Series, focused on how law firms and legal departments can strengthen support for legal services and legal aid and ensure that pro bono activities address the most pressing legal needs of the poor and disenfranchised.  PBI’s President and CEO Esther F. Lardent and the Legal Services Corporation’s President James J. Sandman discussed a number of issues – mainly a rise in the need for legal services for the poor combined with funding cuts caused by the recession – regarding legal aid in the U.S. and how law firms and in-house legal departments can help mitigate the damage.  Sandman’s unique position as president of the largest funder of civil legal aid in the country puts into perspective the effects of the recession on access to justice for the poor.

Want to get more details and hear the full program?  You can access it  on-demand here.  Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member firms may receive the program free of charge and should contact Project Assistant Christine Sutherland for information.  Corporate participants can receive purchase information from Corporate Pro Bono Project Assistant Eric Florenz.

Click here for more information about the Legal Services Corporation at The PBEye.

June 27, 2012

Webinar Recap: Veterans Pro Bono

Last week PBI hosted a webinar exploring veterans-related pro bono opportunities and developments.  Bruce Ives, vice president and deputy general counsel, Hewlett-Packard Company**, moderated the panel, which included Ronald Flagg, partner, Sidley Austin LLP*†, and chairman of the board, National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP); Rick Little, director, Center for Veterans Advancement (CVA) at Public Counsel Law Center; Margaret Middleton, co-founder and executive director, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC); and Amanda Smith, pro bono partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP*†.

Flagg spoke about NVLSP’s free legal services for veterans and their families, which focuses on assisting veterans obtain proper disability benefits.  NVLSP works with volunteer attorneys and staff at more than one hundred law firms and legal departments, including Sidley Austin and Morgan Lewis

Smith reported on Morgan Lewis’s broad veterans program and in particular its work with NVLSP on the class-action lawsuit Sabo et al. v. United States, which resulted in thousands of veterans who had been discharged due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder receiving additional benefits

Ives added information about HP’s collaboration with both NVLSP and Morgan Lewis on veterans pro bono matters, including providing individual representation to the class members of Sabo and assisting veterans with their applications for combat-related special compensation.  There are several great features to this type of work, including  opportunities for attorneys and other professional staff to participate, as well as the option to work remotely and at off hours.  Flagg, Smith, and Ives stressed the high-level of enthusiasm for assisting veterans among their colleagues, even those who typically are hesitant to get involved in pro bono.

Next, Little and Middleton discussed their respective organizations and some of the cutting edge developments in veterans pro bono that they have seen. Both organizations look to address any and all legal issues of needy veterans, which include not only obtaining benefits, but also matters related to housing, consumer issues, and family law.  In fact, Little reports that the number one issue veterans report to CVA is ticket and warrant resolution.  Staff at CVA and CLVC assist in all of these areas by working with numerous pro bono attorneys, screening clients and providing training and support.  In addition to working with volunteers on legal matters, both organizations support a holistic approach to veteran services.  CVLC, which is dedicated to veterans living in Connecticut, provides the legal element to an interdisciplinary team that includes mental health providers.   Meanwhile, CVA, which assists U.S. veterans in the country and abroad, has begun working with the University of Southern California School for Social Work to engage its students in assisting veteran clients of pro bono attorneys as they are also receiving legal help. 

Missed it?  Don’t worry — the program will be available on-demand soon.  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 Project Assistant Christine Sutherland for the promotional code to register.  CLE credit is available for this program in many states.

Check back often for other online offerings and join us for our next webinar program Thursday, June 28 at 1 p.m. EDT, “Pro Bono and the Crisis in Legal Aid”, featuring PBI’s Esther F. Lardent and James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation.

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