The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
February 17, 2021

Empowering Communities of Color Through Fair Redistricting Plans

Fair redistricting is essential to our democracy, and this year represents an opportunity to ensure that, in the future, communities of color will have the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) has been a safeguard for minority representation in elections since its enactment 56 years ago. VRA Section 5 represented a cornerstone of this protection by requiring those States, or their political subdivisions, with a history of discriminatory voting procedures to obtain federal approval before implementing changes to their geographic voter districts (or any other change in standard, practice of procedure).  When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled VRA Section 4 unconstitutional in 2013 (in Shelby County v. Holder), it effectively rendered Section 5 inoperable. While many had hoped the U.S. Congress would enact a work around to revitalize Section 5 before the 2020 census was completed and redistricting (based on revised population figures) started, this has yet to occur.  Without the protection of Section 5, communities of color are at increased peril of disenfranchisement through unrepresentative redistricting. 

The United States has a checkered history of minority voter exclusion and unfair redistricting practices. Much work has yet to be done to secure fully representative voter districting. This is important at all levels of government, as redistricting affects maps for local city councils, county commissions, and school boards, in addition to state legislatures and federal congressional seats. The loss of VRA Section 5 protections adds to the challenge of blocking unfair redistricting efforts.

Redistricting is not a partisan issue; it is not simply a tool for one political party to gain advantage over another. More importantly, it is a racial justice issue, as the voting will of minority groups is being repeatedly negated in gerrymandered districts. Giving voice to these communities begins with fair redistricting maps, allowing communities of color to elect leaders of their choice to represent them at all levels of government. Redistricting is an essential component of election protection work, giving true power to the right to vote. 

In partnership with Pro Bono Institute (PBI), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) recently presented a program on Empowering Communities of Color through Fair Redistricting Plans to several dozen pro bono leaders from law firms and legal departments across the U.S. The panelists discussed pro bono opportunities to support fair, non-partisan, redistricting and ensure that minority voices are heard in upcoming election cycles. The LCCRUL speakers also outlined redistricting principles and legal issues to consider when assessing redistricting maps in 2021; including a plan to combat unfair redistricting, emphasizing community involvement and advocacy to ensure clients feel supported throughout this process. 

Advocates need to engage with the public and promote education surrounding redistricting in order to recognize and challenge unfair redistricting maps. After evaluating redistricting maps, advocates must challenge unfair maps and promote alternative maps that better represent and empower communities of color. When necessary, lawyers can pursue litigation, particularly if maps are implemented that attempt to silence minority groups in their local, state, and federal maps. 

There are many ways for both law firms and corporate legal departments to support and focus their pro bono efforts on fair redistricting, including research efforts, assisting community groups, and litigation if necessary. In addition to community engagement and advocacy, the presenters identified other ways in which redistricting maps can be legally challenged. Even without the protection of Section 5, legal assistance can still be utilized to make claims under Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits discriminatory voting practices. Claims can also be made against racially gerrymandered districts, particularly when maps are drawn to intentionally pack minorities into fewer districts or when they are deliberately spread across many districts with the intention of diminishing their voting strength. 

Many pro bono programs participated in the LCCRUL’s nonpartisan Election Protection program to protect voter rights in the 2020 election, and these redistricting pro bono efforts are a natural next step.  If you or your firm or legal department is interested in learning more about how to engage in the LCCRUL’s redistricting work, please contact Nancy Anderson, Director of Pro Bono, at nanderson@lawyerscommittee.org. If you missed the recent program and would like to view a recording, please contact pbi@probonoinst.org.

Many thanks to PBI Intern Robin Reikes for her work on this blog.

February 5, 2021

2021 FIPBD: Overcoming the Pandemic to Serve the Underserved

The second-ever Financial Institution Pro Bono Day overcame obstacles posed by COVID-19 to virtually provide crucial pro bono services to underserved individuals. Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a project of Pro Bono Institute, organized Financial Institution Pro Bono Day in partnership with pro bono leaders from 18 financial institutions, alongside partner law firms and legal services organizations.  On the day of service, January 14, 2021, more than 630 volunteers from 37 financial institutions participated. Pro bono volunteers showcased their commitment to increasing access to justice in over 50 events in cities across the United States and the United Kingdom. The events varied greatly in subject and scope, including topics such as driver’s license restoration, citizenship, uncontested divorces, transgender name changes, financial literacy, advising nonprofits, and many more. In total, nearly 1200 individuals received or benefited from pro bono services as a result of Financial Institution Pro Bono Day. The clinics and trainings of Financial Institution Pro Bono Day provided crucial legal assistance to those in need and showcased how the legal staff of prominent financial institutions can leverage their skills, in partnership with law firms and legal services organizations, to enhance access to justice. 

The idea originated in a conversation during the 2018 PBI Annual Dinner. Mark Gittelman, of PNC Bank**, was reconnecting with colleagues David Brooks of Bank of America** and Arunas Gudaitis of BNY Mellon**. They shared the sentiment that it would be great to find a way for financial institutions to work together while promoting access to justice in their communities. And, after receiving tremendous support from PNC’s General Counsel, Greg Jordan, and Eve Runyon, PBI CEO, Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was born.

The first Financial Institution Pro Bono Day occurred on May 2, 2019 in 20 cities across the country. This event was organized by PBI in partnership with 14 financial institutions, and it showcased the legal talents of more than 700 volunteers from 21 financial institutions. Overall, there were 47 pro bono events throughout the day and across the country. The topics addressed in these clinics and trainings ranged from nonprofit corporate governance to transgender name changes to elder estate planning. The first Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was a great success and exemplified how the legal departments of financial institutions can participate in pro bono services and reduce the barriers to justice in their communities. 

From 2019 to early 2021, the Financial Institution Pro Bono Day has evolved in several ways. The most significant was the shift from in-person events to virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, despite this obstacle, the 2021 Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was larger in scope and geographic reach than the 2019 event. This year, Financial Institution Pro Bono Day established an international presence as it stretched beyond the United States and into the United Kingdom. In doing so, the number of events increased from 47 to over 50 internationally. Additionally, the event this year was organized in partnership with 18 financial institutions, an increase from the 14 partnerships forged in 2019. 

This event also expanded on the number of research projects from 2019, in which the volunteers were not meeting with clients but instead were reviewing documents and records on behalf of individuals. In 2019, the Midwest Innocence Project was an event of this nature. Dozens of volunteers were trained, on behalf of incarcerated individuals, on reviewing trial transcripts, police reports, appellate briefs, and other documents to determine whether establishing innocence was possible for numerous inmates. In 2021, research-based events increased. There was a Mid-Atlantic region Innocence Project File Review as well as Ohio Justice Policy Center’s Beyond Guilt event. The volunteers of the Beyond Guilt event, a partnership between Dinsmore & Shohl, PNC, and the Ohio Justice Center, worked on the first stage of screening prisoners seeking judicial release. By reviewing court documents and prisoner records, pro bono volunteers were able to make a preliminary determination of whether any of the applicants would be viable candidates for assistance. 

Other new events featured included the Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Program introduction, where participants received an overview of issues facing unaccompanied children and opportunities to do pro bono work with KIND. Another new event in 2021 was the Driver’s License Restoration Clinic, which focused on restoring driver’s license privileges for low-income individuals who cannot afford traffic fines and subsequently had their license suspended. Another new, United Kingdom specific event was a pair of training workshops, one focused on employment, and the other a privacy training on the General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR), aimed towards charities and social enterprises. A Nonprofit Formation Training organized by Vanguard** and Philadelphia VIP, also a new event in 2021, helped local nonprofits incorporate and file for tax-exempt status at our 90-minute virtual training. 

The 2021 Financial Institution Pro Bono Day showcased some great new events, overcame hurdles posed by Covid-19, and was able to positively impact over 1100 clients and more than 600 volunteers. We thank all of the financial institutions, law firms, and legal services organizations who helped organize and participated in the day’s events. And a huge thank you to all of the volunteers, without whom this event wouldn’t have been possible. The partnership and teamwork demonstrated on Financial Institution Pro Bono Day exemplifies how individuals and institutions can work together to create positive change in their communities and break down barriers to access to justice.

Lastly, here is some of the great feedback PBI received from participants of this year’s Financial Institution Pro Bono Day:

  • “Clients were thankful for the assistance and counsel on what is a very complicated application for naturalization.”
  • “Very positive, thankful for the experience in making such a big impact on someone’s life.”
  • “This event was the embodiment of a great pro bono program – it helped those in our local community in need, while also giving lawyers an opportunity to use their legal skills to directly impact a person’s life.  Because the Will Clinic partnered lawyers up from Reed Smith and PNC, it also provided lawyers with the opportunity to develop new relationships and network, despite the challenges of doing so in our currently remote practices.”
  • “Very worthwhile cause and excited to contribute to this pressing need.”

Clients also shared great feedback about their events, including:

  •  “Access to quality, free training is a godsend for a small charity with limited resources. Many thanks.”
  • “I so appreciate everyone’s time, expertise, and generosity.”
  • “[I have] lived here for 10 years, this is [my] new country, and this is important for [me].”
  •  “Thanks once again for the extraordinary programming.”

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Hat tip to PBI intern Olivia Ross for drafting this blog.

January 21, 2021

Shifting Gears: Navigating Pro Bono During COVID-19

2020 put the viability of virtual pro bono clinics to the test. The American Bar Association (ABA) hosted its 12th Annual Celebration of Pro Bono October 21 – 31, 2020, also known as Pro Bono Week. Due to the pandemic, the event’s annual theme was “Rising to Meet the Challenge: Pro Bono Response to COVID-19.” Regardless of the remote circumstances, bar associations, legal departments and law firms across the country successfully collaborated to host virtual pro bono clinics during or around the time of Pro Bono Week. 

We checked in with several in-house pro bono leaders to hear their insights on the challenges and successes of navigating pro bono services in a virtual setting. 

Renee Garcia, Managing Senior Counsel of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (PNC)**, and the chair of the PNC Legal pro bono program, spoke about the overall success of their virtual pro bono clinics despite initial challenges with technology.

What event(s) did your institution organize for Pro Bono Week?

RG: Working with Blank Rome*, Dinsmore & Shohl, and Reed Smith*, we were able to offer the following virtual clinics during the last two weeks of October:

  • Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – Voter Protection Hotline
  • Prairie State Legal Services – Hotline
  • Neighborhood Legal Services – Protection From Abuse
  • Cancer Caring Center – Wills Clinic
  • Transgender Legal Defense Fund- Name Change Clinic
  • Ohio Justice Policy Center – Beyond Guilt
  • The Veteran’s Consortium Advice and Referral Pro Bono Legal Clinics
  • The Veteran’s Consortium Military Discharge Upgrade Clinic
  • Duquesne University School of Law Wills and Healthcare Decisions Clinic

What was the biggest challenge about hosting a pro bono event virtually versus in-person? 

RG: Certainly the technology was a challenge for us, our nonprofit partners and our clients, but, after a few test runs, everything ran pretty smoothly. Working with translators was a bit trickier. Finally, we also recognize that our nonprofit and law firm partners were generally overwhelmed, and we very much appreciate that they took the time and resources to set up these clinics. 

Did you see any benefits in hosting an event virtually instead of in-person? If so, what were they? For example, were you able to reach more people or a wider range of people through a virtual event? 

RG: Yes, there were some opportunities that we could open up to attorneys in all of our locations, so teams could participate together. Likely there were some attorneys that found it easier to join virtually, even if the clinic was taking place in their home city.

What is something that made your event successful? In terms of pro bono service, how are you defining the success of your event? 

RG: Overall, PNC logged over 100 engagements during Pro Bono Week, including 25 lawyers staffing 50 shifts on the voter protection hotline. We estimate the contribution to be over 1,000 hours to pro bono during the event. Additionally, our partners and clients seemed pleased, so that’s a success, too!

Do you think hosting virtual pro bono events is something that is sustainable and would be worth replicating even after the pandemic? Or, do you feel that hosting a virtual event was something that your institution will only use as a solution for this circumstance? 

RG: Yes, I do think some of the clinics worked very well remotely, and we would like to offer both virtual and in-person clinics in the future.


Kyle Luebke, Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel of U.S. Bank**, and Co-Chair of the U.S. Bank Law Division Pro Bono Committee, described the increased accessibility and efficiency of hosting virtual pro bono services. Meanwhile, he mentioned the loss of “human contact” as a downside to the remote format, due to only being able to engage with clients through a screen. 

What event(s) did your institution organize for Pro Bono Week? 

KL: We held two remote social events, a remote clinic and two CLEs for our U.S. Bank pro bono community. For our clinic, we worked with McGuireWoods* and the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center to organize a Driver License Restoration Clinic in the Charlotte office. We also collaborated on the creation and presentation of two CLEs. Racial Disparity and Pro Bono in MN with Volunteer Lawyers Network (credit pending) and Navigating Ethical Duties During Remote Pro Bono Service with McGuireWoods and the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

What was the biggest challenge about hosting a pro bono event virtually versus in-person? 

KL: As members of the law division are located around the country, we have historically hosted many events virtually. That being said, we have never done a clinic virtually – so that was a new and interesting experience for all of us this year. Probably the biggest challenge for the Driver License Restoration Clinic was technology. Each of our institutions have different security metrics regarding virtual software like Zoom or WebEx. Having to organize an event with these differences in mind required a lot of flexibility on everyone’s part.

Did you see any benefits in hosting an event virtually instead of in-person? If so, what were they? For example, were you able to reach more people or a wider range of people through a virtual event? 

KL: Absolutely. So I think there are two main benefits of a virtual event. One is that people who are not located *in* a particular area can participate. For the Driver License Restoration Clinic we not only had lawyers in Charlotte, but also in Ashville and Minneapolis. Second, it is easier to get people engaged from a time perspective. I think we discount how much time it takes to get to the actual site where pro bono services are provided. In the virtual setting, your “commute” to the pro bono site is the walk to your computer, which I think makes pro bono much more accessible to a broader audience.

What is something that made your event successful? In terms of pro bono service, how are you defining the success of your event? 

KL: I think success for an event can be measured in three distinct ways, both on a pro bono level and a professional level. 

First, does the event make pro bono accessible? Our clinic was easy to access. The team from the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center made the work to be done for our clients non-threatening and made it clear that we did not need a background in driver license restoration work. Too often, we think of pro bono as something that we *need* to be experts in, and I think that turns a lot of people off. 

Second, how do we impact our clients? Though our particular clinic only was a drop in the bucket for the need for driver license restoration, such restoration is something that changes lives and allows people to break out of cycles of poverty. Contributing to the success of people in our community is a hallmark of effectiveness. 

Third, does this deepen relationships between partners? This clinic allowed U.S. Bank lawyers to interact with McGuireWoods lawyers. Many of these connections were new and would never have been made without a clinic bringing us together.

Do you think hosting virtual pro bono events is something that is sustainable and would be worth replicating even after the pandemic? Or, do you feel that hosting a virtual event was something that your institution will only use as a solution for this circumstance? 

KL: I think this is a question that is up in the air. I think that there are absolute positives as noted above when it comes to virtual pro bono and I think that there will be a place for such programs in the future. But I also think that a big part of pro bono service is engaging on a human level with our clients. That human contact is lost in the virtual setting. So, we shall see.


Similar to Garcia and Luebke, Anna Burns, Assistant General Counsel and Legal Day of Service Chair at JPMorgan Chase, spoke about concerns of technology and the loss of in-person engagement with clients. However, she highlighted the wide reach of the virtual pro bono projects and increased collaborations made possible in a virtual space. 

What event(s) did your institution organize for Pro Bono Week?  

AB:
When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the JPMorgan Chase Legal Pro Bono Program was faced with the conundrum about what to do for its sixth annual Legal Day of Service. As the pandemic escalated, it became clear that many communities needed access to legal services, so the team transitioned its annual in-person, day-long event into a week-long virtual program. Held November 9-13, the week included more than 40 projects across the globe covering areas from civil liberties (e.g., racial inequality, gender/sexual orientation, immigration), elder care and family law, to the arts, mentoring/education, financial health and small business development.

What was the biggest challenge about hosting a pro bono event virtually versus in-person? 

AB: We expected the biggest challenge would be technology, particularly making sure that our partner organizations and their clients had access to the right tools to make the events possible. Luckily, in most cases that did not end up being a problem. We found that we engaged in different events than we might have with in-person options, but it was an opportunity to engage with new pro bono partners or find new ways to engage with our previous partners.  

Did you see any benefits in hosting an event virtually instead of in-person? If so, what were they? For example, were you able to reach more people or a wider range of people through a virtual event? 

AB: In many ways, the virtual events made hosting and organizing much easier – our volunteers were able to participate from their homes and still make a meaningful impact on clients and project beneficiaries. Likewise, clients were able to obtain counsel, advice, and mentoring from their own homes. Hosting virtual clinics and projects also meant that a colleague in California could participate in an event hosted by an organization in New York City and so on, opening the doors to build new relationships and partnerships.

What is something that made your event successful? In terms of pro bono service, how are you defining the success of your event? 

AB: For us, success was still being able to host over 40 global events and provide assistance to clients in need. We also had over 500 members of our firm serve as volunteers, which was great to see, as a result of encouraging our business and functional partners across the firm to join us.

Do you think hosting virtual pro bono events is something that is sustainable and would be worth replicating even after the pandemic? Or do you feel that hosting a virtual event was something that your institution will only use as a solution for this circumstance?

AB: Hosting virtual events is certainly something that is sustainable, but we wouldn’t want to limit ourselves to only one method of participation exclusively. It’s very meaningful to meet with a client in person, at the same table, to discuss what are sometimes very personal matters. That power doesn’t go away in a virtual environment, but it can’t exactly be replicated. Having the flexibility to execute events in both styles will definitely be beneficial for our department going forward.

***

We congratulate PNC, U.S. Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and the many other departments, firms, and organizations that organized virtual clinics and other pro bono opportunities in 2020. Since the beginning of the pandemic, lawyers have quickly adapted to virtual settings in order to meet increased levels of need. While offering pro bono services virtually has allowed for greater accessibility, a wider reach, and new collaborations, it also removes the personal aspect of engaging with clients face-to-face at a clinic. Nonetheless, virtual pro bono services have proven to be impactful, and will likely be a sustained feature of pro bono programs beyond the pandemic. 

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Hat tip to PBI intern Angie Sohn for her assistance drafting this blog. 

December 8, 2020

Serving Immigrants Through Pro Bono in a Pandemic

As the pandemic and election results continue to headline newspapers and networks, pressing humanitarian issues remain at the Southern U.S.-Mexico border. In 2018, approximately 2,800 families were separated under the “zero-tolerance” policy. Separated children are treated by the immigration system as unaccompanied children[1] while their parents were deported awaiting their claims pending in the US. Although the family separation policy was rescindedagencies including the Office of Refugee Settlement (ORR), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have failed to establish a successful reunification system. 

Recent news reported that lawyers are unable to identify parents of 545 children, two-thirds of whom have already been deported to Central America. Although the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations have been trying to reunify these children with their families, language barriers, travel restrictions, and difficulties in reaching remote villages have hindered efforts. These difficulties are exacerbated due to the pandemic with containment measures across much of Central America. 

Since the pandemic, certain immigration courts have begun resuming non-detained hearings. However, as of November 30, non-detained cases without an announced date are generally postponed through December 18, 2020, a date that has been repeatedly extended this year (and likely will continue to be pushed back). Also as of November 30, the current number of active court cases backlogged is 1,273,885, with cases that may not be heard until 2024. Also as of November 24, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that there are 16,614 individuals detained, including adults and juveniles, of whom 350 are currently under isolation or monitoring for COVID-19.[2] Data updated as of November 27 shows there have been 7,476COVID-19 positive cases among ICE detainees and 8 detainee deaths overall.[3] Freedom for Immigrants also provides a Detention Map that shows reports of COVID-19 cases and conditions in ICE detention. It’s dire. There have been reports of no social distancing, not enough hand sanitizer, and protective gear – or even medical staff and quarantine space in case of outbreaks.  

Both recent policies and the pandemic have contributed to the tremendous need for pro bono legal assistance for immigrants in the United States, who are not appointed counsel in their immigration court proceedings (unlike criminal defendants). If your firm or legal department is interested in getting involved with pro bono work serving immigrants during COVID-19, there are many resources and opportunities for remote pro bono work available, including the following:

  • The American Bar Association’s national Immigration Justice Project (IJP) provides insurance and training for lawyers interested in getting involved. They are encouraging release work through bond and parole representation, which can help to limit or shorten detention, alleviating risk of contracting COVID-19. They are looking for individuals to collect sponsor documents and petition to ICE through mail and email. Bond requires appearance before a judge but there is a COVID-19 standing order for telephonic representation. To volunteer, click here
  • Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition ensures equal justice for immigrant adult and children at risk of detention and deportation in Virginia and Maryland. During the pandemic, they are prioritizing certain services such as telephonic and video legal services, advocating for humanitarian release of detained immigrants through bond and parole, and working on ongoing legislation and advocacy efforts. They provide a mentorship program with CAIR Coalition attorneys supporting pro bono volunteers. To volunteer, click here
  • South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) serves immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley border region with a particular focus on the legal needs of adults and unaccompanied children in federal custody. They are looking for individuals to write parole requests, start habeas cases, write appeals, represent clients, and/or research actual conditions of home countries. To volunteer, click here.
  • Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA) is a legal resource centered created by the ABA that provides training and resources to support individuals representing children in immigration-related proceedings. In Texas, they provide more technical assistance and Texas-specific resources. CILA’s Pro Bono Portal is a national platform with varying options to do pro bono work among the youth. 
  • OneJustice provides skills, training, resources, and support to organizations to resolve legal problems for at-risk low-income people. Their Immigration Pro Bono Network provides a Training Calendar to connect attorneys, law students, and legal advocates to free immigration law trainings.
  • Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has opportunities for volunteers to assist children in need of protection by taking on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) cases, filing asylum applications, representing children in hearings, and more. KIND has been working closely with separated families affected by the “zero-tolerance” policy. No immigration experience is necessary. KIND provides training, mentoring and resources to represent children.

These are some recent examples of firms and organizations engaging in immigration pro bono work. 

  • PBI’s 2020 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award recipients, Amazon**, in partnership with KIND, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP*, and Bet Tzedek, represent unaccompanied migrant children seeking to remain in the U.S. due to conditions in their home countries. They represent more than 28 immigrant children from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in hopes of obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) or asylum. So far, they have successful obtained SIJS status for 19 children and are continuing to make progress in other cases.
  • Freddie Mac’s** pro bono program has worked with CAIR Coalition to obtain court orders for individuals and families granting asylum and/or special visa in immigration-related proceedings in Virginia. The pro bono team fought for immigrants from El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  • Kirkland & Ellis*, in partnership with Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), has worked to provide pro bono counsel to immigrant families in need. Through Project Corazon, lawyers have been active in various levels of the immigration hearing process. Kirkland & Ellis has also provided immediate relief to families by advocating for asylum seekers in their credible fear interview (CFI), the first assessment of claims of immigrants seeking asylum in the US.  
  • Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo*, in partnership with the Political Asylum Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project, has provided extensive immigration work representing asylum seekers and children classified as Special Immigrant Juveniles. In addition, Mintz filed and won a lawsuit on behalf of immigrants who were jailed due to flawed detention hearings.

Are you working on an immigration pro bono project? Let us know at pbi@probonoinst.org.

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Hat tip to PBI intern Emily Tran for drafting this blog. 

Interested in learning more about pro bono and immigration? Join us at PBI’s Annual Conference in March. Details coming soon!


[1] Unaccompanied children are screened and detained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). If they pass certain conditions, they are placed under Human and Health Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)’s custody while their case is processed in immigration court. ORR manages the children until they can be released to family members or other individuals or organizations (sponsor). 

[2] ICE’s Average Daily Population in 2019 was 50,165.

[3] Deaths include detainees who have died after testing positive for COVID-19 while in ICE custody; COVID-19 may not be the official cause.

November 16, 2020

Advancing Environmental Justice Through Pro Bono

“Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color in urban ghettos, in rural ‘poverty pockets,’ or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations face some of the worst environmental devastation in the nation.” 
Dr. Robert Bullard

The coronavirus has laid bare the urgent need for environmental justice and its relevance in combating institutional racism. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other people of color and low-income communities. The institutional and structural inequalities in this country have put certain communities at a disadvantage to combat this virus.[1]

What is Environmental Justice?

During the 1980s, grassroots environmental organizations recognized disparities in the location of pollution and toxic wastes. Policymakers and corporations, choosing certain geographical areas to place polluting and waste disposal facilities, made decisions that prioritized their economic benefit to the detriment of communities of color and low-income communities. These intentional decisions were facilitated by discriminatory practices and policies, such as housing segregationracist zoning practices, and infrastructure development (or the lack thereof) that marginalized and oppressed Black and Brown people. Although racially discriminatory environmental practices are currently addressed through a patchwork of  federal laws and policies, including the Fair Housing ActTitle VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964Executive Order 12898 (February, 1994)National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and 42 U.S. Code § 4332, the legacy of discriminatory policies continue and still affect communities of color today. 

Due to increased exposure to toxins, communities of color and low-income communities experience adverse health outcomes with less access to care. These concerns led to the development of the term, “environmental justice,” and the rise of the environmental justice movement to better protect marginalized communities.  

The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment[2] and meaningful involvement[3] of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  

Examples of environmental issues relating to environmental justice include “any environmental pollutant, hazard or disadvantage that compromises the health of a community or its residents.” Frequent environmental issues relate to: 

Pro Bono & Environmental Justice

Several law firms have become active in environmental justice pro bono work and have made a significant impact on communities of color and low-income communities. Below are some victories achieved by pro bono lawyers:

  • Housing: Proskauer’s* pro bono team, contributed to the attainment of the federal order that required the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) to “implement enhanced procedures to ensure the effective and timely remediation of mold and excessive moisture.” This order impacts more than 400,000 New Yorkers who live in the NYCHA apartments, the largest public housing authority in the country – 150,000 of whom live in areas that experience the highest rates of asthma in NYC.
  • Waste: Hughes Hubbard & Reed*, co-counsel for several local New York communities, successfully defended New York City’s “waste equity law” against a challenge from the waste industry by filing an amicus brief. The city ignored environmental reviews to pass a law that would increase traffic and air pollution.
  • Water: White & Case* successfully reached a settlement for students in Flint, Michigan. The children have been exposed to lead in their drinking water for 18 months during the Flint Water Crisis. 

Examples of Partner Organizations

Sample organizations that directly work on environmental justice pro bono matters:

  • Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment (CRPE) is a national environmental justice organization providing legal, organizing, and technical assistance to grassroots groups in low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest environmental law organization working to protect people’s health, preserve places and wildlife, advance clean energy, and combat climate change.
  • Green Pro Bono offers pro bono legal help for green social entrepreneurs. They connect attorneys with different climate change NGOs based on their preferred area of law.
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) is a non-profit organization fighting for racial justice through litigation, advocacy, and public education. 
  • New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) is a non-profit organization that helps eliminate the unfair burden of environmental hazards in low-income communities and communities of color. 

Sample organizations that do not provide legal services, but work to further equity in the environment:

  • MN350’s mission is to unite Minnesotans to bring about sustainable energy and create “a just and healthy future for all.” Their vision also seeks to dismantle “systems of racism, gender oppression, the dispossession of indigenous people, and predatory capitalism.”
  • OPAL works to advance environmental justice in areas such as transportation, air quality, energy, and housing in Oregon. 
  • Urban Sprouts provides safe, low-barrier pathways to improving the health of San Francisco communities.
  • Louisiana Bucket Brigade fights to free neighborhoods from industrial pollution and advance the transition towards clean energy. 
  • Community to Community works to empower under-represented people and restore justice to food, land, and cultural practices.

For more information about advancing environmental justice through pro bono, please contact PBI at pbi@probonoinst.org

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

** The information contained within is for informational purposes only. The organizations listed have not been vetted or endorsed by Pro Bono Institute.

Hat tip to PBI intern Emily Tran for her significant assistance.


[1] For example, low-income communities and communities of color are often located in areas with heavy industry, coal-fired power plants, and highly trafficked roads, which tend to have lower air quality, including higher concentrations of small particulates (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns across or PM2.5). Science has shown that exposure to higher PM 2.5 levels contribute to higher incidences of asthma, heart disease, and other health conditions that increase a person’s COVID-19 mortality rate. Thus, it is not surprising that there is a strong correlation between higher COVID-19 higher mortality rates and those exposed relatively high levels of PM2.5. Studies have shown that those in poverty had a 1.35 times higher burden from the emissions than the overall population. Health disparities for Blacks revealed a 1.54 times higher burden than the overall population.

[2] Fair treatment means “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”

[3] Meaningful involvement means:

  • “People have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health.
  • The public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decision.
  • Community concerns will be considered in the decision-making process.”
October 13, 2020

Get Ready to Celebrate a Virtual Pro Bono Week

This year marks the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 12th Annual Celebration of Pro Bono. This event is meant to encourage local communities to plan events that focus on pro bono work and celebrate the lawyers who have donated their time to provide legal services to those unfortunate. During these pressing times of COVID-19, it is even more important to highlight the pro bono work individuals and organizations are doing. This year’s theme, aligning with current events, is “Rising to Meet the Challenge: Pro Bono Response to COVID-19”. This event will last from October 21 – 31, 2020, with many bar associations, legal departments, law firms, and other groups hosting their own Pro Bono Week events throughout the country. This is a unique opportunity to explore events across the country. Some of the virtual events include:

  • panel on the history of voting rights in San Diego, CA that touches on topics such as the 15th Amendment, current barriers for citizens to vote, and how COVID-19 challenges affect elections.
  • legal advice hotline in Houston, TX where individuals could receive legal advice from a volunteer attorney at no cost. 
  • webinar on the best practices representing immigrant clients in Bismarck, ND.
  • An expungement training seminar in Woodbury, NJ, organized by South Jersey Legal Services. 

Check out this map or this calendar provided by the ABA for events available to you.

Here in Washington, D.C., the Washington Council of Lawyers is presenting DC Pro Bono Week (Oct 25-31) with clinics, webinars, luncheons, and more, including:

  • Coding Justice, a collaborative event that explores creative solutions to traditional legal problems. This year, there will be a group o professional outside the legal sector that will lead a discussion on serving clients remotely.
  • Pro Bono Goes Green, hosted by the Environmental Law Institute and featuring a panel to discuss opportunities for involvement in environmental and climate change initiatives.
  • Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic, allows current and small business owners to speak with an attorney about their legal problems. Volunteers can shadow veteran volunteers during their first consultations. 
  • Advancing Racial Justice and Equity, a webinar with experts in the field and attorneys who work on these issues.

With most of this year’s events online, you can find many opportunities to kickstart or further develop your pro bono work. How are you participating in Pro Bono Week? Let us know at pbi@probonoinst.org.

September 30, 2020

Pro Bono Fairs Then and Now: Don’t Let Distance Interfere with Your Fair!

PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO) has worked with legal departments and Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) chapters over the years to host in-house pro bono fairs.  Pro bono fairs are a great opportunity to introduce in-house attorneys and legal department staff to local legal services organizations that offer pro bono opportunities.  In-house attorneys and staff interested in pro bono participate in presentations by local legal services organizations about pro bono opportunities, and networking with pro bono peers.  Historically, coffee and croissants were on the menu, too.

For example, in December 2019, CPBO partnered with Bank of America* to host an in-house pro bono fair for the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) region.  At the pro bono fair, held in Bank of America’s D.C. office, representatives from the following organizations participated to share information about their organizations and available pro bono opportunities: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), Legal Services of Northern Virginia, and Wills for Heroes.  The event included a networking breakfast for local in-house pro bono leaders; a program featuring brief presentations by in-house volunteers who discussed their work, and by representatives of local legal services organizations; and then an opportunity for volunteers to connect with organization representatives at a networking fair.  

Similarly, earlier last year, CPBO was one of many participating organizations in an In-House Pro Bono Breakfast & Fair coordinated by the ACC National Capital Region (NCR) chapter, held at the D.C. Bar’s offices.

However, as we all know, 2020 looks very different than 2019!  What’s a department to do?  One solution is to have a virtual pro bono fair.  (Attendees just have to provide their own caffeine and snacks.)  

Inviting local organizations to call in to a pro bono fair or participate in a fair through video-conferencing can be an effective way to learn about pro bono service opportunities in a particular location or on particular issues.  

Additionally, many organizations have already created the raw materials needed for a virtual fair. For example, the DC Virtual Pro Bono Fair is an online video directory of legal services providers in the Washington metropolitan area hosted by Pro Bono Net.  This allows organizations to reach a wide audience at any time convenient for the attendees.  

Live virtual fairs are also an option! On September 23, 2020, CPBO, along with ACC NCR, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, and Washington Council of Lawyers (WCL), co-sponsored the In-House Pro Bono in the Time of Covid-19 virtual pro bono event. Pat McGlone, general counsel of Ullico*, and former DC bar president, moderated the virtual fair. Representatives from D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and Maryland Legal Services each pitched their pro bono opportunities. Many also provided a volunteer’s perspective on key issues like training, mentoring, time commitment, and why the work is meaningful. 

Attorneys from law firms, public interest organizations, and in-house counsel from around the region attended the one-hour Zoom webinar. The panel highlighted a wealth of manageable pro bono legal services opportunities for attorneys to provide during the COVID‑19 public health crisis. Transactional work, litigation, wills, voting rights, immigration, and brief advice clinical opportunities were among the types of opportunities shared. 

In-House Pro Bono in the Time of COVID-19 proved to be successful and effective, even though the format was different than a traditional in-person pro bono fair. To learn more about this virtual pro bono fair, check out Washington Council of Lawyers’ blog recapping the webinar. 

Don’t let social distancing interfere with your fair!  If your legal department needs help coordinating a virtual pro bono fair, please reach out to CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org

*Indicates Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory

September 24, 2020

THINKING LONG-TERM IN THE AGE OF COVID-19: IMPLEMENTING A DEFERRED ASSOCIATE PROGRAM

Anyone following pro bono is well aware that COVID-19 has created a perfect storm for access to justice. Just as during the Great Recession (December 2007 through 2009), millions of Americans, who would otherwise have jobs, find themselves unemployed. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly twice as many Americans found themselves out of work after the first three months of the pandemic as were unemployed after three years of the Great Recession. (20.5 million Americans were out of work at the end of May 2020 compared to 6.2 million in February of 2020 — an increase of 14.3 million, whereas the Great Recession increased joblessness by 8.8 million.[1])  This alone creates a one-two punch to the gut of access to justice by increasing the need for legal services and reducing the public’s ability to pay for such services. 

However, COVID-19 complicates matters another two-fold. First, it has produced a novel situation accompanied by new legal rights and obligations (e.g., laws and regulations providing compensation related to the pandemic and proscribing various actions by landlords, lenders, and employers), which result in a new legal maze that those affected are forced to navigate. Second, it raises many hurdles to the provision of legal services (e.g., closed courts and other forums, the inability to meet directly with clients, an increased reliance on technology). Those wishing to better understand the challenges to access to justice during the pandemic are encouraged to listen to the Pro Bono Institute (PBI)[2] podcast series:  The Challenge of COVID-19:  Legal Community in Action

Those following the legal industry will also know that many law firms have seen a substantial reduction in business. A large number of law firms took swift action to rebalance staffing to match reduced demand, and even more firms adjusted attorney compensation to account for the reduced productivity of lawyers. According to our review of information published by Law360[3] regarding 142 of the largest firms in the U.S.:

  • Fifteen percent of firms have engaged in layoffs.
  • Twenty-five percent of firms have furloughed employees.
  • Fifty-two percent of firms have imposed pay cuts (about one-sixth of which have been subsequently moderated).
  • Forty-five percent of firms either dropped or shortened their summer associate programs.

These statistics understate the true over-capacity situation, as some firms view mandatory reductions in force (RIFs) as purely a reaction to under productivity of some of their employees and do not associate such RIFs with COVID-19. Still other firms have offered lawyers voluntary packages (e.g., reduced hours for reduced pay) that are not counted in these numbers.  

            With regard to start dates for spring 2020 law school graduates, a survey by the National Association for Law Placement[4] found that 62 percent of law firms with established start dates have pushed such dates back from the fall of 2020 to January 2021, and 50 percent of all firms had yet to set a start date as of the time of the survey. While we have heard reports of numerous firms rolling back pay reductions, there has not been a similar flurry of reports of firms pushing start dates back up. It seems safe to conclude that we are still more than three months away from most firms’ anticipated new attorney start dates, and, as the pandemic rolls on, many firms may be looking for ways to postpone back start dates even further.

In response to the Great Recession, 44 of the country’s 50 most profitable firms offered or imposed delayed start dates for the would-be fall of 2009 class of associates. About 60 percent of those firms delayed start dates until 2010, with a few pushing back start dates a full year or later.[5]  About half of these firms provided their deferred associates with stipends, and the stipends offered by firms with the lengthier delays were largely tied to the deferred associates accepting some form of pro bono work during the deferral period (i.e., “Deferred Associates Programs”). For its part, PBI issued a paper titled: Law Firm Attorneys Displaced by the Economic Downturn: Best Practices and Guidance for Effective Pro Bono Engagement, which provided guidance and direction to firms developing and implementing Deferred Associate Programs.  

One consistent element of the Great Recession-era Deferred Associates Program was program duration. In that instance, firms adopting Deferred Associates Programs frequently delayed attorney start dates for a full year. Today, the uncertainty of the duration of pandemic-related impacts on law firms and the ability of firms to properly integrate new hires are complicating factors in relaunching a Deferred Associates Program. However, law firms are gaining a longer-term perspective after having dealt with the initiation pandemic shock, as evidenced by 1) numerous firms announcing roll backs of some of the austerity measures initiated in the spring, and 2) some firms returning a portion of their employees to in-office based work, at least part time. This should help with program planning, though considerable uncertainty remains.  

Further, there is general recognition that a return to some form of normalcy cannot be expected with a high degree of confidence before 2021. As a result, there is sufficient time for firms who promptly take up the Deferred Associates Program mantle to implement and complete a successful program before business demands create a scarcity in available associate resources.

Needs of Legal Service and Public Defender Organizations 

With law firms paring back associate hours in a variety of ways while the need for pro bono legal assistance is growing, the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project® initiative launched an investigation as to whether the time is ripe for revival of deferred and loaned associates programs. Such loaned talent would remain on the lending law firm’s payroll but be committed at a mutually agreed upon level (normally full time) to assisting a specific legal services or other public interest organization (collectively, Public Interest Organizations or PIOs).  To understand the Public Interest Organization point of view, we collaborated with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) to poll legal services organizations and public defenders (collectively, Legal Services Providers or LSPs) regarding (1) their interest in a Deferred Associates Program, and (2) how such a program would need to be structured to make a positive contribution to their programs. (PBI is grateful to LSC and NLADA for their irreplaceable assistance with our polling.) 

 A few key facts developed from our poll evidence a convincing case for law firms to consider implementing a Deferred Associate Program that fits their current circumstances:

  • Program Duration. There was significant interest in programs that lend associates to LSPs for periods consistent with the likely remaining duration of the pandemic’s greatest impacts.
    • About 33 percent of the LSPs were open to programs as short as three months.
    • Interest jumps to over 80 percent for programs running for at least six months.
  • Location. Work-from-home policies would not be an impediment to successful Deferred Associate Programs. 
    • Less than 40 percent of LSPs would prefer the borrowed associates to be physically placed in their offices.  
    • Twenty-five percent of the LSPs expressed a preference that the borrowed associates work from outside the LSP’s offices.
  • Bar Admission. Many LSPs would welcome deferred associates regardless of bar admission status. 
    •  More than 40 percent of LSPs would welcome assistance from lawyers that are either (1) not admitted in the state where the LSP (or the LSP’s client) is located, or (2) have yet to be admitted anywhere (i.e., newly graduated law students who have yet to gain bar admission).
  • Value of Program. Deferred associates were judged to be very useful overall.
    • Sixty percent of respondents rated usefulness as a five on a scale of one to five.
    • Another 30 percent rated usefulness as a four, with the remaining 10 percent rating usefulness at three.

Access PBI’s Deferred Associates Survey Response Summary.

Recommendations

Based on these key findings and the other findings from our survey, PBI believes Deferred Associate Programs would be beneficial and practicable for law firms to implement and a valuable tool for enhancing access to justice at a time of particular need. One of our LSP survey respondents noted:  “It was great for us last time around.” And with the experience gained from firms that adopted Deferred Associate Programs in response to the Great Recession and the greater sophistication of today’s law firm pro bono programs and PIOs, law firms can be confident that they will reap the benefits of such programs. As one survey respondent said: “I will be willing to make this work in any form possible.”

In designing Deferred Associate Programs, law firms should consider the number of associates they are willing to lend, how long they are willing to commit associates to legal services organizations, the level of training the associates will have, the bar admission status of those associates, and what additional support the law firm can provide beyond providing a stipend to the participating associates.[6]  Such details are crucial to determining whether they are truly prepared to implement a Deferred Associates Program and finding the right PIO with which to partner.

Of course, the more attorneys a law firm can spare, the longer each lawyer is available, the more flexibility lawyers have as to working location, and the more focus given on PIOs located in the jurisdictions where the lawyers are admitted, the easier it will be to find opportunities. However, the range of needs of PIOs spans a broad gamut. For example, a few LSPs were only looking for help from one attorney, but about five percent could use the assistance of 10 or more loaned associates. As a general matter, many good matches should exist for firms willing to loan two associates for six months, particularly where such associates are based in markets where numerous LSPs are located.  With regard to the latter consideration, public defenders tend to find it particularly important for loaned associates to be able to be physically present. On the other hand, they expressed much greater openness to working with recent law school graduates who have yet to be admitted to any bar compared to legal services organizations.

In addition, law firms should consider the following considerations:

  • Cultural compatibility between the PIO and the loaned associate(s) is essential.
  • To that end, best practices would include providing partner PIOs an opportunity to screen candidates.
  • Provide PIOs with meaningful assurances of commitment to the agreed upon length of the loan and take steps to shield loaned attorneys from requests to prioritize billable firm work whenever partners might find it expedient to “recall’ associates.
  • Create robust pathways between the firm, loaned lawyers, and the PIO for coordination, communications, and reporting.
  • Clearly establish whether attorney travel or on-site work is contemplated and under what conditions travel or on-site work may be added or subtracted to account for change.

PBI encourages law firms to adopt Deferred Associate Programs tailored to their needs and the needs of participating PIOs. One recent example is Ropes & Gray,[7] which announced that it is stepping forward with a current, timely and committed Deferred Associate Program that offers an optional deferral year to incoming and existing associates. Under the Ropes & Gray program, associates can choose to work for a nonprofit, public interest organization or approved government entity for a year and will receive a pre-tax stipend of $80,000 from the firm and eligibility for the firm’s health insurance.[8]  

As PBI continues to work on its Deferred Associate Program initiative, we invite law firms and interested PIOs to express their interest in such programs by emailing us at pbi@probonoinst.org. PBI staff stands ready to assist firms and PIOs develop programs tailored to their individual circumstances. 


[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/. The unemployment rate has fallen each month since May, but, as of August, still stood at twice as high as pre-pandemic levels.  https://www.statista.com/statistics/273909/seasonally-adjusted-monthly-unemployment-rate-in-the-us/. These unemployment statistics do not include individuals looking for jobs and an increasing portion of the jobless that have stopped looking for employment.

[2] Pro Bono Institute® and PBI® are registered trademarks of Pro Bono Institute.

[3] https://www.law360.com/articles/1264699/coronavirus-how-law-firms-are-handling-the-downturn.  (Note: this page is updated periodically. Current statistics are likely to vary slightly from those set forth in this PBI article.)

[4] https://www.nalp.org/uploads/Research/NALP_Pulse2_Report.pdf

[5] https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2020/04/16/what-to-do-about-the-first-year-class-of-2020/

[6] For example, some survey respondents indicated that it would be helpful for law firms to provide laptops and technical support required for loaned associates to work remotely.

[7] Ropes & Gray LLP is a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member and a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory.

[8] https://www.law360.com/articles/1309002/ropes-gray-is-letting-incoming-associates-take-a-year-off?nl_pk=4c729451-4dfe-424f-86ea-d8f39e83f241&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=special


September 22, 2020

NY COVID-19 Pro Bono Task Force Channels the Spirit of Volunteerism

PBI recently spoke with former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, of counsel at Latham & Watkins and chair of the NYC Covid-19 Recovery Task Force, to hear more about what the task force has been up to since its establishment in April and his debut on PBI’s podcast in July.

The NYC COVID-19 Pro Bono Recovery Task Force was created by Chief Judge Janet DiFiori and Hank Greenberg, president of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA).  Members include leaders from major NYC law firms, legal service organizations, corporations, courts, and law schools.  This partnership with the New York State Court System is charged with overseeing the pro bono network of lawyers and organizations assisting in immediate and long-term recovery pro bono efforts to effectively and efficiently meet the surging legal demands of the pandemic.

The following are updates from Judge Lippman and Latham about the work of the Task Force:

What has the task force been focused on since we last spoke in April? 

Lots! Since April, the Task Force has created sub-groups, or modules, for each of the major areas of substantive legal work being affected by the pandemic. These groups have or are in the process of identifying pro bono projects that can help alleviate the burden on legal services organizations and operational improvements to make providers and client’s lives easier. 

A few success stories include helping well over 1,000 people with unemployment insurance issues, the launch of a surrogate’s court initiative to help process small estates of people who died from COVID-19, the launch of a project to assist with guardianship/adoption issues for children of parents who died of COVID-19, a training series on diversity and cultural humility geared towards pro bono volunteers, a report to the Chief Judge regarding procedural and administrative changes to help alleviate the surge of eviction and housing cases (some of which have already been adopted), and an initiative to second (extern) law firm associates to legal services organizations for 3-6 month periods that is getting off the ground now. 

What are some notable updates that the task force has discovered on the type of legal demands and/or challenges that are arising now and demands and/or challenges that are expected to increase in the future? 

Working with clients and the courts remotely as a result of social distancing practices and general health concerns has been and will continue to be a significant challenge. Several of our modules are identifying ways to better connect pro bono attorneys with their clients remotely. For example, the report I mentioned earlier to the Chief Judge regarding procedural and administrative changes to help alleviate the surge of eviction cases included recommendations to have mandatory adjournment periods when the parties are both represented by counsel during which the parties can assess housing assistance options and pursue settlement in order to avoid going to the courthouse. We are also looking to find ways to leverage the remote working trends by connecting clients in so-called legal “deserts” with pro bono attorneys from more populous areas (in particular from NYC).

What are some collaborations or partnership efforts that have come out the task force formation? 

Each module is a fully collaborative effort that is led by a task force member, in most cases supported by a law firm team, and the modules typically meet with legal services organizations, law schools, in house counsel, local bar association leadership, etc. to get their input into the projects they are creating. 

How can attorneys get involved now, either through pro bono, or to help prepare for the increased demand in legal services? 

Individual attorneys are encouraged to volunteer on the Network’s website.

If you are part of an organization that is interested in getting involved, you can reach out to probono.lwteam@lw.com and our team will try to help connect you with projects you might be interested in.

How well is the NY court system doing with its reopening?  How has the reopening of the courts affected the need for pro bono assistance? 

I think the courts themselves are better positioned than I to assess how the reopening is going. That being said, we do expect and to some extent are already seeing, that the reopening of the courts will to lead to a significant surge in civil cases in a range of substantive areas. Legal services organizations that provide free legal services to those in need are working tirelessly to help meet this need, but with limited resources. This is where pro bono attorneys can provide important support. However, the capacity for pro bono attorneys to contribute varies for each substantive area. For example, housing cases require a significant amount of time, substantive expertise, and in-person court appearances that have historically made it a challenge for pro bon counsel to provide these services. This is why we have developed the module approach to address the unique issues for each major substantive area. 

Has learning to overcome COVID-19’s impact on the justice system had any sort of silver lining that can contribute to combatting racial injustice or is COVID-19 just one more hurdle to be dealt with in seeking to promote racial justice? 

Sadly, COVID-19 as both a disease and societal problem has had a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minority groups. This is resulting in disproportionate legal issues as well. I don’t think that we can say we’ve learned to overcome COVID-19’s impact on the justice system yet, but I do think that this pandemic and events that have occurred during the pandemic have brought much needed attention to the disproportionate impacts on racial and ethnic minority groups that I hope will bring about significant positive change in the future.

To hear what Judge Lippman had to share on PBI’s podcast, listen and subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsiHeartRadioSpotifyStitcherYouTube, and wherever you get your podcasts.

Thank you to Katie Marren, associate at Latham, for her contributions in this update. 

September 10, 2020

A Second Chance through Expungement

With the pro bono legal community’s recent increased focus on racial justice and criminal justice, Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and its Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO) have seen a growing interest in pro bono work related to criminal expungement. Pro bono work includes both direct legal services to low-income individuals with criminal records and advancing progressive policy reform.  

A criminal record — including an arrest record that did not result in conviction, an old conviction, and a conviction for a misdemeanor – is often a barrier to obtaining employment, housing, education, public benefits, and other necessities, and can have collateral damage  that impact communities, including children.  Expungement, or removal, of arrests or convictions from a person’s criminal record, and sealing criminal records from public view, can help people who have been in the criminal justice system to get a second chance. 

There is systemic racial bias resulting in disproportionate representation of Black and Brown people in the criminal justice system. Working on expungement policy reform and helping people of color to seek expungement of their criminal records is a way to contribute to advancement of racial justice.

If your firm or legal department is interested in getting involved with expungement pro bono work, there are many helpful resources to learn more about the issue, including the following:

  • The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has many excellent resources related to expungement, including legal analyses, model laws, and practice guides. CCRC recently published a National Survey of Restoration Laws regarding the laws aimed at restoring rights and opportunities after arrest or conviction. CCRC, working with lawyers, judges, lawmakers, academics, policy experts, and advocates, produced a Model Law on Non-Conviction Records with the objective of limiting access to and use of criminal records from arrests and criminal prosecutions that do not result in conviction. 
  • CCRC also houses the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP), in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, National HIRE Network, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. The RRP has analyses of the law and policy in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restoration of rights following arrest or conviction. This provides a 50-state comparison of policies on expungement, sealing and other record relief. Most states provide for expungement or sealing of some certain types of criminal records, though the federal government does not.
  • The Clean Slate Initiative is a national bipartisan coalition advancing policies to automatically clear all eligible criminal records across the United States.  They provide in-kind policy, technical, and advocacy assistance to state and local partners.
  • The National Record Clearing Project, launched by Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, is working to increase and improve record clearing around the country, to close the second chance gap.  Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law made it the first state in the nation to seal records by automation, without the need to file a petition in court.  This rule change has increased momentum for a federal clean slate bill.
  • The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) produced a webinar about expungement reform and the real-world impact these reforms have on formerly convicted individuals who received a second chance through expungement.

PBI and CPBO see tremendous potential for firms and legal departments to have an impact on this critical issue. By working together, we can help effect change on this systemic criminal justice issue. If you’re interested in getting involved in criminal expungement representation or in policy reform, please let us know at probono@probonoinst.orgor cpbo@probonoinst.org