The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It


November 8, 2022

Government Lawyer Pro Bono 

by Cynthia Montoya

On August 16, 2022, the Pro Bono Legal Representation Expansion Amendment Act of 2022 went into effect in Washington, DC, permitting local government lawyers to participate in pro bono subject to certain restrictions. This legal change in our hometown inspired PBEye to do a deeper dive on government lawyer pro bono.

Pro bono work is an ethical obligation that should be easily accessible for every legal professional, including those who work in all levels of the government. Yet, participating in pro bono work can be complicated for some government lawyers. Some offices have policies restricting the type of pro bono work government lawyers can participate in, while others lack easily accessible and straightforward guidelines on what is appropriate work for government lawyers. 

The primary guideline for government lawyers is generally that they can participate in appropriate pro bono opportunities that do not impose conflicts of interest (or perceived conflicts) with their day jobs. They can provide legal services during their own time outside of the office, and they cannot use government resources to provide services. They must be aware of possible conflicts of interest. Further, policies often restrict the type of pro bono work that government lawyers can do. 

The American Bar Association (ABA) and The Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division created  a guide for government lawyers called the Pro Bono Project Development: A Deskbook For Government and Public Sector Lawyers. The deskbook was published in 1998, and is currently undergoing revisions. The deskbook helps explain the restrictions that government lawyers face. For example, judicial branch lawyers have restrictions to maintain an unbiased environment while doing pro bono work. Therefore, such lawyers could not use their titles, resources from work, or office space to do pro bono work. Government lawyers can only offer their expertise during their personal time to organizations and clinics after it is approved by the head of their department. 

For decades, federal government lawyers advocated for the right to do pro bono work, and that paid off in 1996 with Executive Order 12988, which directed federal agencies to develop policies for volunteer work, including legal pro bono. The Interagency Pro Bono Working Group, which is the steering committee for the Federal Government Pro Bono Program, developed pro bono policies and now serves as a resource on federal attorney pro bono work. More than fifty agencies participate and most have written pro bono policies to for their attorneys and legal staff.  The Program operates in Washington, DC, Maryland, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Dallas.  Example of federal agencies that participate in pro bono include the Department of Justice, and the Internal Revenue Service.  

Some states and local counties have followed the lead of the federal government by creating policies and programs to permit government lawyers and legal staff to participate in appropriate pro bono work, including: 

  • Washington, DC. DC recently passed a law allowing government employees to do pro bono work before any DC court, DC agency, federal court, or federal agency if it does not create a conflict of interest, authorized by an employer, and through an approved organization. This program builds on work by the Office of the Attorney General of DC, which adopted a pro bono program several years ago.
  • West Virginia. In West Virginia, a policy permits government lawyers to do pro bono to fulfill their responsibilities under Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1.  Examples of permissible work include providing brief advice to people of limited means in family law cases, domestic violence protective order cases, landlord/tenant disputes, public benefits and veterans’ benefits cases, consumer protection and bankruptcy; drafting wills, handling simple probates, drafting guardianships; assisting a non-profit organization in the process of incorporation and filing for 501(c)(3) status; and volunteering through West Virginia Free Legal Answers.
  •  Pennsylvania.  The Pennsylvania Bar Association has a Government Lawyers Committee alongside the Pennsylvania Bar Institute co-sponsors, “To Help or Not To Help: Pro-Bono Work for Government Attorneys.” This training discusses the types of legal and non-legal pro bono work government lawyers can do. 
  • Baltimore County, Maryland.  The Office of Law Pro Bono Program has a “Public Lawyers Pro Bono Program” where lawyers can take on pro bono cases on their own time by referral to the office, in the areas of divorce, custody, child support, and bankruptcy, and drafting of simple wills and general powers of attorney. They only accept referrals from Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and Legal Aid Bureau, Incorporated.

We hope that more state and local jurisdictions will put clear policies in place to maximize the opportunities for government lawyer pro bono.  These lawyers know the communities they serve and have personal knowledge of the many issues affecting low-income and underserved communities. Having clear guidelines and policies will allow government lawyers and legal staff easy access to volunteer to use their unique skills to give back to their local communities.

October 18, 2022

2022 National Celebration of Pro Bono 

by Cynthia Montoya, PBI Intern

With Pro Bono Week right around the corner, now is a great time to solidify longstanding partnerships and make new connections that can inspire pro bono throughout the year! On October 23-29, 2022, the legal community will come together to participate in the American Bar Association (ABA) National Celebration of Pro Bono. The programs and events planned during this week present a great way to get involved in the community, meet new colleagues, and give back through pro bono service. The annual celebration highlights the hard work of legal staff, law students, and lawyers partaking in impactful pro bono work nationwide. Through the national celebration and many parallel local events, there are many opportunities to get involved in-person or virtually.  

Participating in pro bono has many benefits for the communities where the work is being done. Yet, it is also an opportunity to connect with other legal professionals through pro bono teamwork. By joining community-wide pro bono events, volunteers can meet other legal professionals with similar pro bono interests. This is particularly true this year, as more in-person events are being hosted since the start of the pandemic!

The theme for the 2022 National Celebration of Pro Bono is “Law in Everyday Life,” highlighting how legal assistance can help low-income individuals and other marginalized people in all aspects of life. This year’s theme is structured for legal professionals to focus on local needs, local programs, and local issues, with the purpose of furthering a unified effort to provide access to justice for low-income people and individuals in vulnerable communities post-covid. 

There will be events honoring the pro bono work being done throughout the country, and opportunities for training and service in various areas of pro bono.  Multiple events are being hosted throughout the nation by local bar associations, firms, and organizations celebrating Pro Bono week through clinics, training, and other events nationwide, including these examples:

  • legal clinic conducting survey calls to North Carolina drivers who have received tailored advice letters from the center to restore their licenses after being suspended, a clinic hosted by the NC Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC), and staffed by UNC law students.
  • CLE training provides attendees an overview of what is involved in representing a client with an asylum proceeding (in a detention center, in court, or before USCIS) in San Diego, California, hosted by Casa Cornelia Law Center. 
  • recruitment event, where over 40 of Chicago’s legal aid, pro bono, community service, and mentoring organizations will meet in a virtual event on how to make a difference in Chicago, Illinois, hosted by the Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Bar Foundation.
  • Clinics throughout the state of Louisiana will provide Ask-a-Lawyer Consultations in libraries hosted by the Louisiana State Bar Association.

You can learn about more events and opportunities being hosted nationwide through this event map and calendar

In Washington, D.C., the Washington Council of Lawyers is hosting its annual DC Pro Bono Week from October 23-29, concurrently with the ABA celebration. They are hosting events throughout the whole month with opportunities to join either in-person or virtually. These are only some of the many local events happening in DC: 

  • The Washington Council of Lawyers kicks off the Pro Bono Week celebration with Pro Bono Goes Local, featuring guest speakers Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby from the D.C. Court of Appeals and Chief Judge Josey-Herring from the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. 

All events in DC Pro Bono Week are free but require registration. 

There are also affiliated trainings happening before and after DC Pro Bono Week as another way to get involved, including:

  • Trauma-Informed Lawyering is a training to educate about the effects of trauma on survivors, the impact of their legal goals, and tips on how to navigate communication with a client in an informed manner.
  • TzedekDC Debt Collection Defense Training will train volunteers to assist residents in the DC area, primarily east of the river, with legal assistance, and empower and inform people on navigating the legal system.

Pro Bono Week is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in pro bono work, whether you are jumpstarting a new project, or reengaging in a longstanding project. It’s a chance to learn about and train in different areas of pro bono that can be continued into the following year. So find an event near you, and make an important contribution to your community!

If there is any Pro Bono Week event happening that you would love to share with us or tell us about your experience, let us know at

September 19, 2022

1.9 million and counting: An Immigration Update & Pro Bono Opportunities

By Noor Khan, PBI Intern

In the fiscal year 2022, there were 1,917,464 active immigration court cases backlogged in the United States, the largest in this country’s history.  This backlog includes most of the new deportation cases of 2022 (in the first two months of 2022 alone there were 310,658  proceedings filed in the United States). Through a combination of immigration court closures, shutdowns of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices, and the implementation of Title 42 which permits expulsion of many asylum seekers to Mexico, many of these cases can be attributed to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic

Immigration case backlogs leave individuals in a state of uncertainty for years, with ramifications for themselves, their families, and the U.S. immigration system at large. This country’s immigration dilemma has dire implications for asylum seekers, immigrants residing in the U.S., and immigrants abroad. Lengthy waits for immigration court hearings leave vulnerable groups unprotected and those ineligible for asylum knowing their case is years off. Many immigrants in the United States have been forced out of their jobs (despite a national labor shortage) due to delays in the approval of work authorization documents. Migrants waiting abroad for interviews continue to be separated by their family based in the U.S and face the loss of job and educational opportunities. 

As The PBEye covered in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated backlogs and bottlenecks within the immigration system. The pandemic also posed another obstacle for immigrants when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) implemented U.S. health law- section 265 of Title 42. Due to the pandemic, the CDC recommended that the number of migrants allowed into the country be limited. Consequently as of March 2020, Title 42 has been in effect, allowing for the immediate expulsion of migrants and asylum seekers at U.S borders, used to expel migrants more than 1.9 million times. Despite CDC announcement on April 1st, 2022 that “an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary,” Title 42 remains in place pursuant to a court order blocking the policy’s termination.

The past two-plus years have been a difficult time for everyone, but the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted migrants and those involved in the immigration process. Further proven by the 2022 PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge Report, where 95.8%  of the firms surveyed stated they provided COVID-19 related services in the past year. 

In addition to those difficulties, in the United States immigrants do not have access to appointed counsel. Because deportation is technically a civil sanction, immigrants are not given constitutional protections under the Sixth Amendment (unlike defendants in the criminal legal process). Both the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. policies have added to the critical need for pro bono legal assistance for immigrants in the United States. 

Given this situation, there are many ways to get involved in immigration pro bono work.  Here are some recent examples:

Kirkland & Ellis*, in partnership with Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), has worked to provide pro bono counsel to immigrant families in need. In their partnership, the two groups coordinate a pro bono legal effort to help Ukrainian refugees in the U.S. as they seek temporary protected status (TPS), an immigration status that allows them to stay in the country until at least October 2023. Over 2,200 pro bono lawyers have been matched with Ukrainian refugees as they apply for TPS.

Amazon** attorneys in partnership with DLA Piper* and PILnet is leading a pro bono humanitarian initiative. The three groups work to provide free, comprehensive, legal guidebooks for refugees in Europe looking to seek asylum. The guidebooks provide information on how to apply for permits, find housing, access mental and child services, and answer legal questions. 

The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project presented the 2022 Pro Bono Detention award to Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy. The firm was recognized for its work ensuring detained asylum-seekers receive counsel before immigration court, and for assisting immigrants transferred from southern border ICE facilities to the New England region. Fragomen is also partnered with New York City Bar’s Immigrant Justice Project and the Safe Passage Project in New York City to help immigrant children and asylum seekers through matching them with pro bono attorneys and providing guidance throughout representation. 

Jenner & Block* have devoted thousands of hours to asylum, immigration, and trafficking matters. They are working with 50 lawyers across Jenner & Block, as well as an immigration firm in the U.K., to assist nearly 30 human rights defenders trapped in Afghanistan. The firm has also had a recent success in a life-saving result in a pro bono asylum case. The team represented a Nicaraguan political activist and local opposition party official and her 14-year-old daughter. The judge granted both clients asylum, with the government waiving appeal.

If your firm or legal department is interested in pro bono work serving immigrants during COVID-19, there are many resources and opportunities for remote pro bono work, including the following:

The American Bar Association (ABA) launched a pro bono pilot, the Immigration Justice Project (IJP). The IJP aims to increase access to counsel for immigrants and offer legal representation that produces  more fair, efficient, accurate, and consistent results. The IJP trains and mentors volunteer attorneys to aid both detained and non-detained immigrants to increase access to justice for indigent immigrants. To volunteer, click here.

The Immigration Justice Campaign, connects a network of pro bono allies to serve detained immigrants who would otherwise have no legal representation. The Immigration Justice Campaign provides volunteers with training, tools, and resources to help break down policies that dehumanize and harm immigrant communities. To volunteer, click here

The Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA) is a legal resource center created by the American Bar Association (ABA) to provide advocates for children as they go through complex legal procedures. CILA serves in the nonprofit and pro bono legal sector to advance the rights of immigrant youth seeking protection through training and collaboration. To volunteer, click here.

The South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) offers immigrants legal education, access to representation, and connections to different legal services. ProBAR serves immigrants that are in the Rio Grande Valley border region, focusing on aiding the legal needs of adults and unaccompanied children detained or in federal custody. For more information, click here

Are you working on immigration pro bono matters?  Tell The PBEye about it at

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

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

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

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).

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

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.

[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

[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

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