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March 29, 2022

Homelessness & Housing Justice

by PBI intern Isabella Brill

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

An Eye toward Housing Justice

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

Addressing the Issue of Housing the Homeless

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

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

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

Pro Bono Opportunities to Help Address Homelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn More about Housing Justice with PBI!

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

March 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

February 16, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 8, 2021

Crime-Free Housing Ordinances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 6, 2021

Assisting Refugees with Resettlement in the U.S.

 By PBI Intern Søren Whiting

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

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

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

The Importance of Counsel  

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

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

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

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

Pro Bono Opportunities to Assist with Resettlement 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

November 15, 2021

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

By PBI Intern Søren Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

October 20, 2021

Pro Bono Week 2021

by PBI Intern Søren Whiting

While carving pumpkins with your families or loved ones this fall, why not carve out time to celebrate pro bono?! As the season changes, pro bono practice is also transitioning into the start of a post-pandemic world. Despite the many obstacles over the past two years, pro bono endured, and that is worth celebrating and recognizing. 

This October 24-30, 2021 marks the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 13th Annual Celebration of Pro Bono. The event is an opportunity to celebrate the perseverance of pro bono and recognize the work that still needs to be done to strengthen access to justice. This year’s theme for the Annual Celebration of Pro Bono is “Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World” —  a theme that acknowledges the resiliency of pro bono and how the need for equal opportunities to access justice has only grown through the pandemic. There are so many opportunities to assist the millions of people now vulnerable to eviction, unemployment, bankruptcy, and countless other legal challenges brought forward by the pandemic. The Annual Celebration of Pro Bono is a unique way to connect with pro bono leaders across the country and learn the best practices that endured through COVID-19. 

Many local bar associations, firms, and legal departments organize a “Pro Bono Week” or “Pro Bono Month” concurrent with the ABA’s Celebration. There are events, trainings, and opportunities to serve planned around the country, including: 

  • CLE training on trauma-informed care to domestic violence survivors in restraining order hearings in Orange County, California, hosted by Human Options and the Public Law Center.
  • workshop hosted by the Georgia Justice Project on understanding Georgia’s criminal record clearing laws, including a recently passed bill that greatly expands expungement opportunities for the 4.2 million people who have a Georgia criminal record.  
  • A small business legal clinic where pro bono attorneys will hold one-on-one conversations with small businesses about their legal needs, hosted by Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston.
  • The Minnesota Collaborative Justice Project, for which PBI is the backbone organization, is hosting a Reentry Justice Volunteer Engagement Event to introduce prospective volunteers to the Project’s Civil Legal Needs Initiative which provides pro bono legal assistance to formerly incarcerated Minnesotans to address barriers to successful reentry. 

You can learn about more events and opportunities hosted across the U.S. by accessing this calendar and event map

Back in Washington DC, the Washington Council of Lawyers has put together a committee of public and private attorneys to organize DC Pro Bono Week 2021, featuring free virtual clinics, webinars, and interdisciplinary events including: 

All DC Pro Bono week events are free but require registration.

Pro Bono Week is not limited to the United States. There are events around the globe. For example, during National Pro Bono Week in the UK, which is held from November 1 – 5, 2021, the In House Pro Bono Group is holding a webinar with Clifford Chance and Ropes & Gray on “In House Counsel and Law Firm Doing Pro Bono Together.” The session will discuss developing a partnership with an in house team and law firm, considerations when working on a pro bono project together, and overcoming challenges in a partnership.  

Pro Bono Week is not only an opportunity to celebrate volunteer service but also a chance to launch new pro bono projects for your company or firm in the year ahead. Be part of a growing community of pro bono advocates seeking to redefine and advance access to justice. 

September 29, 2021

The Homeless Court Movement

By Kristen Bolster, PBI Intern

On any given night there are roughly 580,500 people experiencing homelessness in the United States (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). People who experience homelessness may be penalized and charged with civil offenses for trespassing, and receive fines and fees for actions including living in a vehicle, blocking the sidewalk, and smoking, urinating, drinking or sleeping in public. These acts can be categorized as ‘public nuisance offenses,’ which many people experiencing homelessness oftentimes have little option but to commit. Nonpayment of fines and fees can lead to collection agencies getting involved and tacking on hundreds of dollars to what is already owed. The inability to afford transportation can further compound the difficulties of homelessness by leading to missed court dates and default warrants. These penalties are piled on to already existing legal and societal barriers that the homeless face when trying to find a place to live, gain employment, receive public assistance, or get or reinstate a driver’s license. 

Some jurisdictions are examining policies that deepen the cycle of homelessness and have begun to treat people experiencing homelessness with compassion and understanding, instead of hostility and contempt. The American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty seeks to decriminalize homelessness by establishing homeless courts, where homeless defendants can receive legal aid that helps to break down the barriers that homeless individuals face when trying to create stability and maintain self-sufficiency in their lives. The ABA’s Commission and its Homeless Court Advisory Committee aid in the work of homeless courts by developing resources and best practices that courts can follow, offering training and technical assistance, and facilitating the creation of new homeless courts throughout the country. So far, the ABA has helped to establish roughly 70 homeless court programs operating across 21 states

How Homeless Courts Work

While each homeless court is different, all of the courts rely on collaboration with local homeless service agencies and homeless shelters. Resorting to homeless courts is voluntary, and accessibility is emphasized to facilitate their use. (Generally, homeless people are able to sign up at their local shelter.) The courts focus is on resolving common legal issues, such as outstanding misdemeanor offenses, traffic citations and warrants. After signing up, case workers meet withprospective participants to discuss the legal barriers that they face and to create a plan for a more stable future. 

The sentencing structure of homeless courts is designed to help assist those experiencing homelessness reintegrate into society.  It does this by stripping away punitive and coercive measures that traditional courts often utilize. In traditional court, municipal code violations typically are addressed with a fine that can be settled through ‘credit’ that is earned by spending days in custody. For example, traditional San Diego courts offer a “$50 credit” for each day spent in custody, so a $300 fine could be settled by spending 6 days in custody. Homeless courts have worked to improve upon this model by offering “credit for time served” for participants who complete activities offered through their shelter programs. According to the ABA, activities like life-skills, chemical dependency or AA/NA meetings, computer and literacy classes, training or searching for employment, medical care, counseling, and volunteer work may be used as credit depending on the housing court. 

Potential homeless court participants typically have the opportunity to begin these activities within the shelter or agency before they see a judge at homeless court. Oftentimes, individuals are able to accumulate enough credit by the time of their hearing date to satisfy the penalty associated with the alleged committed violation(s). Further, by ensuring that homeless court participants are already on the path to success by the time of their hearing, fewer hearings are required and less time is spent in the court, thereby reducing court costs. 

The Impact of Homeless Courts

The following example showcases how homeless courts work with communities to reduce homelessness and give participants the tools they need to create stability in their lives. 

San Diego

San Diego is home to the oldest rotating homeless court in the country and has continued to be a leader in the homeless court movement. The homeless court began in 1989 as part of a Stand Down event hosted by the Veterans Village of San Diego. In that very first homeless court session, 116 homeless veterans said that their biggest barrier to stability was outstanding legal issues. The Homeless Court Program (HCP) began as an annual event. However, because of need, the program turned to a quarterly schedule, and today the HCP runs on a monthly basis. 

The impact of San Diego’s HCP has been tremendous. Even when the program was only running annually (circa 1989-1992) the HCP was able to help 942 homeless veterans resolve 4,895 cases. Today the court has expanded to helping all individuals experiencing homelessness and has helped over 10,000 participants. Many of the cases brought to homeless court involve collection of fees that most HCP participants would never be able to pay back. For example, in 2018, San Diego’s HCP was able to satisfy $2,038,100 in fines and fees spread over 3,272 cases through alternative sentencing. The total number of cases that the HCP processed in 2018 was 4,226, split between 720 clients. 

San Diego’s Homeless Court Program has been streamlined, so that, when a participant goes before a judge, the resolution of their case has already been agreed upon and the hearing is mainly a formality. Those who would like to participate in the homeless court program are first paired up with an HCP provider who will refer them to the homeless court program only if they have completed the program’s requirements, which include “credit for time served” activities. This way the “sentence” that the participant receives is already completed prior to the time they will appear in court.

Many other homeless courts have modeled themselves off of the evolving practices of the HCP in San Diego. The Commission on Homelessness and Poverty of the American Bar Association, along with San Diego’s HCP has curated the San Diego Service Provider Toolkit that documents how providers can best implement homeless courts in their communities. The San Diego HCP was also highlighted in the Homeless and Community Court Blueprint, a document that outlines best practices for an effective homeless court.

Pro Bono and Homelessness 

There are many avenues for pro bono attorneys to play a part in reducing homelessness. Homeless courts often rely on the volunteer efforts of pro bono lawyers. For example, the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz(Baker Donelson) has many attorneys who actively volunteer with the Homeless Experience Legal Protection (HELP)program. The HELP program offers legal clinics for the homeless where pro bono lawyers address legal obstacles preventing participants from finding housing, obtaining employment, or accessing public assistance. Baker Donelson was also a key player in the organization and implementation of the homeless court program located in New Orleans in 2010, and more recently a homeless court in Nashville in 2019. There are also other opportunities pro bono volunteers can work towards the prevention of homelessness. Along with their other efforts, Baker Donelson attorneys devoted nearly 500 pro bono hours of research contributing to the 2020 State Index on Youth Homelessness. The report, from the National Homelessness Law Center and True Colors United, evaluates all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness. By utilizing the Index, states can better allocate resources to prevent youth homelessness. PBI interviewed Jonathan Cole, a partner with Baker Donelson, on the firm’s pro bono efforts to reduce homelessness. Cole shared that “[i]t’s been very fruitful for our firm. I always just really enjoyed it, and it’s nice making a significant impact on a big issue like that, that’s present in all our cities that we have offices.” To access the interview, click here. 

The firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough (Nelson Mullins) has helped to create multiple homeless courts throughout South Carolina. The first designated homeless court in the State started in Columbia, SC in 2015 and came about through a collaboration between Nelson Mullins, dedicated judges, the Richland County Solicitor’s Office, the Richland County Public Defender’s Office, the South Carolina Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and several other nonprofits. Nelson Mullins has also been involved in the creation of homeless court programs in Myrtle BeachFlorence, and Spartanburg. Similarly to Baker Donelson, Nelson Mullins is active in the HELP program and was a part of the movement to set up the program in Columbia, contributing both funding and pro bono attorneys to support bi-monthly legal clinics aiding the homeless. 

Helping the homeless with legal matters is not limited to law firms or jurisdictions that have active homeless courts. In 2020, the PBI recognized Amazon (in partnership with K&L Gates LLP) for providing services to Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that provides safe, inclusive shelters and services to support women, children, and families on their journey out of homelessness. Lawyers from Amazon and K&L Gates provide legal advice to Mary’s Place staff on corporate matters, in addition to guests at Mary’s Place shelters during legal clinics. Further, in 2020, Amazon provided space within one of its buildings to a new Mary’s Place family. Pro bono volunteers from Amazon’s Legal Department are able to meet with Mary’s Place guests in a legal office that will serve as a permanent clinic within the shelter. 

There are many ways for firms and corporations to help end the cycle of homelessness, whether it’s pro bono assistanceinvolving changing laws that criminalize homelessness, researching ways that states can better aid their homeless population, participating in clinics, or establishing homeless courts. The American Bar Association encourages new attorneys who are interested in becoming involved with homeless courts to learn more about the Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, join the ABA’s Advisory Committee, or to take advantage of free technical assistance training provided by the Commission to start a homeless court program in their community. 

Conclusion

With homelessness anticipated to skyrocket, it is imperative now more than ever that law firms and corporations involve their pro bono volunteers and choose a path to address homelessness in their communities.  Many people have been unable to work due to the pandemic, making it impossible for them to pay their rent or mortgage fees, and creating a grave threat of eviction and possibly homelessness. 

To combat this and decrease the spread of COVID-19, the federal government announced a temporary moratorium on evictions for missed rent payments. Roughly 6.5 million renters are currently behind on rent or mortgage payments, and it is expected that the end of the moratorium  will result in a tsunami of evictions and foreclosures. 

Homeless courts present one option for dealing with the current crisis in a constructive manner that benefits many.


August 30, 2021

Help us reach our goal of 200 signatories to the CPBO Challenge® initiative

PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® (CPBO) initiative is celebrating its 15th Anniversary this year! 

Since 2006, more than 185 legal departments have signed the CPBO Challenge statement and committed to encouraging their legal staff to use their unique skills to provide pro bono legal services to those in need. We thank our many signatories, which include departments with longstanding pro bono programs and departments that have recently started programs, for their commitment to improving access to justice through pro bono. 

This year, CPBO staff and members of the CPBO Advisory Board are calling on General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers to sign onto the CPBO Challenge initiative on behalf of their legal departments. Please make a public commitment to supporting access to justice through pro bono. We hope to meet a goal of 200 signatories by the end of 2021, to increase the amount of available pro bono services for those who need it most.

Interested in joining the Challenge, but not sure where to begin? Over the years, we have helped many CPBO signatories start new in-house pro bono programs, or grow and professionalize existing programs. We have many resources, guides, and templates, to help, and CPBO staff are available for complimentary consultations.

The Challenge sets an aspirational goal that one-half of the department attorneys and staff will participate in pro bono annually. However, as our annual CPBO Challenge Report shows, many signatories are still working toward that goal! This aspirational goal is intended as a helpful target and a way to benchmark progress. It is not a barrier to joining the Challenge.

Are you ready to become a CPBO Challenge signatory, or interested in learning more? To join the Challenge, please complete this sign-on form, or email Corporate Pro Bono Director Alyssa Saunders for more information.

July 26, 2021

Lifted Eviction Moratorium Will Lead to Thousands of Renters Facing Eviction Without Representation

By Kristen Bolster

Over the past few years there has been action at the local level and increasingly at the state level to implement the right to counsel in eviction cases. This action most recently has occurred against the backdrop of COVID-19, at a time when many low-income renters were unable to work and faced the threat of being evicted during a global pandemic. To aid tenants during the pandemic, the federal government announced a national eviction moratorium to stop landlords from evicting tenants for missed rent payments. However, with the moratorium now expiring on July 31, 2021 and roughly 4.1 million renters not current on rent or mortgage payments, eviction or foreclosure in the coming months is likely for millions of Americans. Housing court will soon be filled with tenants trying to plead their case, many without representation from an attorney.

The movement for a right to counsel in eviction cases seeks to redress the imbalance of power between tenants and landlords in housing court. Having the assistance of a lawyer in housing court can mean the difference between staying in one’s home or being forced out. One study found that two-thirds of tenants who had an attorney were able to stay in their homes, compared with one-third of tenants who represented themselves in housing court. Yet, in jurisdictions across the U.S., the majority of tenants face evictions without a lawyer, while the vast majority of landlords, 85 to 90 percent in some housing courts, are represented. 

Not only is the right to counsel in housing an issue of income inequality, as renters typically have less than half the income of homeowners and therefore have less funds to pay for representation, but there is also a racial justice component. Black and Hispanic tenants are disproportionately affected by eviction; this impact has been heightened during the pandemic. The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that Hispanic and Black renters were more likely to lose employment income during the pandemic than other renters, and the share of Hispanic and Black renter households reporting they are likely to be evicted in the next two months is twice as high as that of White or Asian renters. 

Realizing the large increase in homelessness that could result from lifting the eviction moratorium, cities and states across the U.S. have done combinations of passing legislation, passing ballot measures, enacting city ordinances, and creating pilot programs to give more tenants access to counsel when their home is at stake. Even before the pandemic and the greater need for a right to counsel, pro bono attorneys have been and continue to be leaders in eviction defense cases. They have been the backbone of pilot programs that in many cases have eventually led to fully funded programs. 

In our paper on The Movement to Secure Right to Counsel in Housing, Pro Bono Institute has been tracking the right to counsel movement from cities that started out with pilot programs, to cities that created fully implemented and funded programs, to states that have now implemented the statewide right to counsel in eviction cases. 

The right to counsel movement began at the citywide level in New York City and San Francisco and has expanded from there. As the right to counsel in housing has become more prominent, more cities have begun to follow the lead and pass their own legislation. Cities that have secured the right to counsel have done so through a variety of ways, including contracting with nonprofit organizations to manage a right to counsel program or directly funding and managing a program. Each right to counsel city has different qualifications that tenants facing eviction must meet to receive counsel, such as having a certain median household income, being able to qualify for public assistance, or in some cases, having children in the household. 

Not only have cities begun to realize the disparities in representation that tenants face in housing court when they are not able to access an attorney, but several states–Washington, Maryland, and Connecticut–have stepped up to secure the right to counsel in eviction cases. Many cities have also created pilot programs that rely on a combination of city-funded support and pro bono representation to serve low-income tenants and provide counsel to meet the needs of underserved individuals. 

While these cities and states have made great strides to establish a right to counsel in housing, there are thousands of other locales where tenants who cannot afford representation enter housing court, facing eviction, with no legal assistance. Once the eviction moratorium expires at the end of July, many low-income renters will face this reality. Homelessness may become a greater problem in many cities, as having an eviction filing on record can make it much harder for an evicted renter to find a new place to live because some landlords refuse to rent to individuals with an eviction record.

Now more than ever, it is important that pro bono attorneys prepare to get involved and volunteer so that renters have a fair opportunity to make their case before being forced from their home. 

See The Movement to Secure Right to Counsel in Housing to learn more about the right to counsel movement.

States with Right to Counsel Laws Cities with Right to Counsel LawsCities with Right to Counsel Pilot ProgramsStates that have Bills Pending or are Considering Legislation
WashingtonBoulder, COSanta Monica, CANebraska
MarylandLouisville, KYHouston, TXMinnesota
ConnecticutPhiladelphia, PAMinneapolis, MNSouth Carolina
 New York City, NYMultiple Cities in New JerseyNew Jersey
 San Francisco, CARochester, NYNew York
 Newark, NJ Massachusetts
 Cleveland, OH  
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