The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
May 18, 2021

COVID-19 and Housing Insecurity

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, housing insecurity has increased. With over 20 million Americans having lost jobs or experienced pay cuts, access to stable and affordable housing has become increasingly important. Housing insecurity is defined by the Urban Institute as missing or deferring rent or mortgage payments or having little confidence in one’s ability to make rent or mortgage payments. An August 2020 study by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) reported that nearly one in three renters experienced housing insecurity each week from late April 2020 to July 2020. With approximately 3.3 million renters receiving an eviction notice or being threatened with eviction since the beginning of March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic marks what could be the most severe housing eviction crisis in American history. Housing insecurity is not equally distributed across the population, and there is a dire need for local, state, and federal assistance for those living in particularly vulnerable communities. 

In the early stages of the pandemic, the CARES Act required landlords to issue a 30-day notice to renters before eviction and offered temporary federal rental assistance programs for those experiencing wage loss. However, this measure and all other relief initiatives have been temporary and partial in addressing the need for housing assistance. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) initiated an eviction moratorium in September, which temporarily prevents some eligible renters from being evicted. This moratorium, now set to expire in June 2021, has protected about 30 percent of renters as a short-term solution to the national housing eviction crisis. However, it does not prevent eviction proceedings from occurring altogether, nor does it absolve ongoing rent payment obligations of tenants. 

The COVID-19 Relief Bill was signed into law in late December, extending the federal eviction moratorium and providing $25 billion through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) towards emergency rental and utility assistance. Combined, federal and state-specific measures have prevented about 1.6 million evictions since the start of the pandemic. However, only a fraction of the need has been addressed. According to Princeton Eviction lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard, in some states, including South Carolina, Illinois, Texas, and Georgia, many tenants are unaware of their rights under the eviction moratorium, leading to a continuation of proceedings in eviction courts despite the pandemic. There is an estimated $70 billion in back-rent payments owed by renters across the country with limited resources or income. Additionally, 30-40 million Americans now face immediate risk of eviction upon the expiration of the moratorium in June. Thus, there is a pressing need to provide long-term housing assistance to prevent a massive wave of cases overwhelming eviction courts.

Housing Insecurity’s Disproportionate Impact on Vulnerable Communities 
Discriminatory housing practices have consistently targeted communities of color in the United States, and these communities have faced unequal eviction practices long before the pandemic. This global health crisis has continued to exacerbate existing socioeconomic inequalities, particularly those within low-income Black and Latinx communities. Though progress was made with the passage of the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act banning housing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and marital status, advancements have been largely undermined by ongoing inequities in access to affordable and stable housing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although the current economic crisis is universally impacting millions of Americans, there are clear disparities in housing insecurity impacts along racial and ethnic lines. Renters of color have experienced more difficulty with mortgage payments, homelessness, and evictions in comparison to White Americans. When the pandemic first emerged within the United States, an estimated 34 million individuals were already living under the poverty threshold with 3.7 million eviction cases filed each year by landlords. These numbers were disproportionately higher for Black, Latinx, and Native American communities. A September 2020 tracking survey by the  Urban Institute found that nearly 45% of Black and Latinx renters nationwide have experienced housing insecurity since the start of the pandemic—a 13% increase since 2019. Another study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 78% of eviction filings within the first months of the pandemic in Boston occurred in communities of color. While an estimated 3.3 million renters had received an eviction notice by September, Black and Latinx renters were nearly four times more likely to be threatened with eviction or receive an eviction notice in comparison to white renters. 

Housing insecurity and rising unemployment create an ongoing, vicious cycle for renters facing eviction, since job and housing insecurity impact all other aspects of life. Throughout the pandemic, unemployment and housing insecurity have been mutually linked, as renters and mortgage holders who lost jobs and earnings are nearly three times more likely to experience housing insecurity in comparison to job secure households. Housing insecurity also makes it difficult for renters to maintain employment, and lease violations and evictions remain on tenants’ housing records which negatively impacts a renter’s ability to secure housing in the future. Racially disproportionate housing impacts and evictions also translate to profoundly different outcomes and negative consequences for vulnerable communities. Housing insecurity ultimately leads to limited access to education and increased chances of homelessness, lower income levels and homeownership, food insecurity, and poor health outcomes. 

With limited access to quarantine and isolation protections, people experiencing housing instability are more at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. A study by UCLA and Johns Hopkins researchers found that an estimated 433,700 additional COVID-19 cases and 10,700 deaths occurred after state eviction protections expired over the summer. The impact of lifting eviction moratoriums does not only cost Americans their homes and savings, but it also may cost them their lives. The long-lasting impact of the eviction process among households of color contributes to enduring racial inequalities in social, economic, and health outcomes. Federal, state, and legal aid assistance is desperately needed to confront these disparities through racially equitable approaches to securing housing stability. 

Pro Bono Opportunities to Address Housing Insecurity
As federal eviction moratorium deadlines are rapidly approaching, there is a critical need for pro bono lawyers to step up and provide access to affordable legal services for low-income renters facing evictions throughout the pandemic. According to the Institute for Research on Poverty by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, approximately 90 percent of landlords have access to adequate legal representation throughout eviction proceedings in comparison to just 10 percent of renters. This lack of representation contributes to an overwhelming majority of renters losing eviction cases in courts, further contributing to the displacement of vulnerable renters.  For example, according to a 2016 study by The New York Times surrounding the legal right to counsel in eviction courts, eviction rates reduce from 90 percent to 50 percent when a renter has adequate legal representation. 

Pro bono attorneys can act in a variety of ways including interviewing clients, negotiating settlements, drafting and settling motions, conducting bench trials, advocating for sealing the client eviction records, and even litigating to prevent a client from reaching eviction courts altogether. For vulnerable renters facing eviction, this assistance can be the critical difference between displacement (and a downward spiral in quality of life) and stability (with an opportunity to build better futures). Linked below is a list of suggested resources and outlets for attorneys looking for ways to get directly involved in the pro bono efforts towards housing stability.

Thank you to PBI interns Nena Burgess and Robin Reikes for writing this blog.

Click here for ways to get involved in addressing housing insecurity through pro bono work.

April 21, 2021

A Holistic Approach to Second Chances

My First Visit to Minnesota Reentry Court
by Grace Dodig, PBI Intern

When imagining a courtroom, one word that comes to mind is intimidating. Even as an observer, I can feel my body stiffen when walking into a court. The security guards seem to watch like hawks, the judge presides above you, the attorneys appear cold and stern, and the courtroom itself feels sterile and detached. This reality can leave those participating in and observing court feeling isolated and nervous.

These preconceived notions about what a courtroom is like are anything but true when it comes to the District of Minnesota’s Reentry Court program. Twice a month the courtroom reconfigures itself into a warm, inviting, and supportive environment where formerly incarcerated individuals join a team of prosecutors, federal defenders, mentors, probation officers, and a judge to try and lessen the likelihood of returning to prison.

For formerly incarcerated individuals, this program serves as an alternative for traditional post-conviction supervision. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism by providing a plethora of resources and people that can aid individuals with their transition back to the community. With 25% of adults in Minnesota returning to prison for a new felony conviction and 50% returning for a technical violation, programs that support successful reentry are much needed.

Pro Bono Institute was introduced to the District of Minnesota Reentry Court program through the Minnesota Collaborative Justice Project (MNCJP), a project of PBI and dozens of organizations in Minnesota to improve the experiences and outcomes of formerly incarcerated individuals in Minnesota, thus enabling them to lead full and productive lives in the community. MNCJP offers pro bono legal assistance on civil matters to participants in Reentry Court and is one of the many programs that engages with and supports Minnesota’s Reentry Court.

As an intern at PBI, I had the opportunity to observe Reentry Court and witness firsthand the comfort and help this program provides its participants. Normally, the Reentry Court team and the program participants would join the judge in the courtroom. They all would convene around one table to establish a feeling of equality, rather than the typical superiority afforded to the judge when they are elevated and presiding over the courtroom. However, due to the pandemic, the meetings are now virtual and, like so many others, the leaders of Reentry Court have made a nearly flawless transition to life online. Instead of gathering around a table, participants and the Reentry Court team meet in gallery view via Zoom.

My visit began with a pre-meeting that the court holds prior to participants joining the Zoom call. For 50 minutes, I listened as the probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders, health professionals, and judges discussed the progress many participants had made, as well as the setbacks some had experienced in the two weeks since the last session. With every bit of good news, there was a celebratory feeling that was tangible, even through the computer screen. With every challenge faced by a participant, there was immediate brainstorming about what to do moving forward. It was clear how important the participants’ success was to those involved with the program. Once Judge Nelson, one of the two judges who spearheaded this program, had been updated on the status of the participants, the mentors joined the call.

Reentry Court mentors are trained members of the community who are there to provide additional support to the participants. Some of the mentors have served time in prison and struggled to adjust once released. Being able to rely on someone who has been where you are is a type of support that cannot be replaced. For the next 10 minutes, the mentors contributed thoughts or updates they had regarding the participants. Once the mentors finished their discussion, the judge admitted the participants onto the Zoom call.

Reentry Court is all about collaboration, which means that all of the participants listen to one another. At one point, a participant was expressing frustration over something they were having trouble with and were wondering what they could do to address the issue. Without a beat, another participant quickly unmuted themself and offered advice. This type of transparent engagement has fostered a feeling of community that is strong. One participant even remarked that the communal aspect of the program helped them realize that they “were not the only one trying to make it.”

Reentry Court consists of four phases, completed over 12-18 months. During the session I attended, the program promoted a participant to the next phase. The look on that person’s face, as well as the faces of their peers and the team, was reason enough to support this program. Another reason is that participants in Reentry Court have a 40 percent lower rate of recidivism in comparison to formerly incarcerated individuals who do not participate in the program.

For far too many years, our justice system has focused on punishment, with the overarching mantra of being “tough on crime.”  But the District of Minnesota’s Reentry Court program is a step in the right direction and should serve as a model for other states moving forward.

Minnesota’s Reentry Court helps formerly incarcerated individuals adjust back into society by addressing not only the direct consequences of imprisonment, but the collateral consequences as well. Collateral consequences are the informal social and civil restrictions people face when returning to the community. Reentry Court aims to provide participants with the support and safety net they need to be successful. The program emphasizes honesty and accountability. In exchange, the program offers substantial resources. The program’s approach is holistic. It does not target one specific difficulty with regards to reentering society. The team makes it their mission to address all the difficulties individuals may face. They offer help with employment, obtention of identification, substance abuse, housing issues, mental health, and general guidance. The Reentry Court team treats participants like human beings that are worthy of a good life; while this may seem like the bare minimum, many aspects of our justice system have dehumanized those with criminal records.

Observing Reentry Court reminded me that everyone shares fundamental desires and struggles, and those who have a criminal record are facing the same issues the rest of us are, but for them, the stakes are higher. I am a second semester senior in college: all of my friends and peers are concerned about job prospects. Many of the participants of Reentry Court were also concerned about job prospects. However, if my friends don’t secure a job, most of them will be okay. They have families and networks to support them. If an individual on parole does not find a job, they may lose their parole eligibility and end up back in prison.

There are many seemingly simple and mundane tasks that many of us complete as a matter of course and with a boatload of help. We take for granted the small things in life, and we never take the time to think about those who are not offered constant help and assistance. Observing Reentry Court, I realized one big difference between myself and the participants is privilege. When you have privilege, a bad day or an unfortunate occurrence is just that. It is one small event in a lifetime of ease. When you don’t have privilege, a broken-down car leads to missing work, which leads to losing your job, which leads to you unable to support yourself, and can often land the formerly incarcerated right back in jail.

People are quick to avoid what is difficult. Sitting in on Reentry Court reminded me of how many people are left behind without a second thought and without help. I think this program forces those in positions of power to look into the eyes of those who have been caught in of our justice system, and I think this country would be a better place if everybody had to look, instead of turning a blind eye.

Grace Dodig is a senior at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, who will attend Suffolk University Law School beginning in August 2021.

April 12, 2021

Two Decades of Exceptional In-House Pro Bono

In 2020, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), the global in-house project of Pro Bono Institute (PBI), celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and published the 2020 Benchmarking Report, the sixth biannual report on the state of in-house pro bono. When CPBO was first founded, in-house pro bono was far less common than it is today. Within a decade, in-house pro bono programs had multiplied and expanded. To track and measure pro bono engagement, CPBO began surveying in-house pro bono leaders about their legal departments’ pro bono programs in 2010, and every other year thereafter. Many of the Benchmarking Survey respondents are signatories of the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, while others are departments with robust programs that participate in CPBO and PBI programming, including the PBI Annual Conference. These reports capture the growth, development, and expansion in in-house pro bono environments.

Over a decade of CPBO Benchmarking Surveys, in-house pro bono leaders have shared important information about their pro bono programs, on issues including program administration, policies, insurance, engagements, communications, budgets, global pro bono, and more. As CPBO looks back on the past decade of pro bono, we congratulate and recognize all Benchmarking Survey respondents.  We especially thank the following departments who participated in three or more surveys for their consistency and dedication: American International Group, Inc. (AIG)**, Boston Scientific Corporation**, Cargill, Incorporated**, Comcast NBCUniversal**, Deere & Company**, Discover Financial Services**, General Mills, Inc.**, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company**, MetLife, Inc.**, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company**, The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.**, Shell Oil Company**, Target Corporation**, U.S. Bancorp**, United Airlines Holdings, Inc.**, Verizon Communications Inc.**, and Walmart Inc.**

Pro Bono Engagements
It’s thanks to the many pro bono volunteers that legal departments collectively devote tremendous amounts of time offering aid to low-income individuals, families, nonprofits, and small businesses through pro bono work. Looking over the six Benchmarking Reports, the top five areas of law in which legal departments have concentrated their pro bono efforts over the years are the following: Corporate Law (including representation of nonprofits), Contracts or Commercial Law, Family Law, Immigration Law, and Real Estate (including Landlord/Tenant cases). The top five client populations served are low-income/minority groups, children/organizations assisting children, nonprofits generally, immigrants, and veterans/emergency responders.

Devoting Time and Funding
CPBO is proud to highlight that from 2010 to 2020, consistently 95% or more of responding legal departments were permitted to engage in pro bono service during normal work hours. This demonstrates the generous amounts of work that these departments do to give back to the community. Companies have also supported pro bono no matter the amount of their budget allocation; they have successfully supported pro bono programs with both large and shoestring budgets. In addition, a majority of the legal department respondents have allowed their staff to exceed the budgeted amount for pro bono if necessary, with approval. 

As demonstrated on Graph 1, the trend of partnerships between legal departments and law firms stayed strong throughout the decade. Similarly, Graph 2 shows that partnerships between departments and legal services providers have maintained strength after 2010. Lastly, Graph 3 displays that the partnerships between responding legal departments and their in-house peers in other departments have risen over the decade. 

Graph 1:

Graph 2:

Graph 3: 

Celebrating Pro Bono Volunteers 
Although most legal departments do not consider pro bono work in their evaluations, they celebrate participants for their wonderful work! Some of the ways that volunteers have been acknowledged are through recognition at department meetings, awards, newsletters, ceremonies, and in annual reports.

Global Pro Bono
Legal departments had the highest engagement in global pro bono participation when it came to their attorneys and legal staff abroad working on matters in their jurisdiction. The most common types of global projects that members of legal departments participated in were educational/training programs, research, document drafting, assisting with applications, transactional work serving nonprofits, and clinics. Overall, Graph 4 shows engagement in global pro bono since 2012.

Graph 4: 

* The 2010 Benchmarking Report did not ask about global pro bono.

Moving Forward
Despite the barriers that COVID-19 continues to place, CPBO is confident that departments will continue to participate in pro bono work in the decade ahead! In the future, we look forward to a high level of participation in our 2022 CBPO Benchmarking Survey. We commend all volunteers who continuously dedicate their time to pro bono, and the leaders of in-house pro bono programs for their efforts and commitment. 

Interested in learning more about how in-house pro bono programs have developed over the years?  Check out the prior Benchmarking Reports here:

2010 Benchmarking Report

2012 Benchmarking Report

2014 Benchmarking Report 

2016 Benchmarking Report

2018 Benchmarking Report

(Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatories, 2020 Benchmarking Report respondents, and Law Firm Pro Bono Project members receive a free copy of the 2020 Benchmarking Report. Others can purchase the report by contacting

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Thank you to PBI intern Cynthia Yepez for drafting this blog.

March 10, 2021

Providing Pro Bono Out-of-State During the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted how and where we work. This has raised ethical questions for attorneys working remotely, but also has presented new opportunities to engage in pro bono work in local communities.

Checking the Ethics Rules
Attorneys in the U.S. must be licensed to practice law by a state agency, or receive a limited authorization to serve as in-house counsel for an employer.  (See ABA Model Rule 5.5 and the rules that govern registered in-house counsel).    

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many lawyers are practicing law at home, but home may not be in the state in which they are licensed.  For instance, lawyers living in Washington, D.C. may be members of the bar of, and employed in, Maryland or Virginia, while lawyers living in New Jersey or Connecticut may be members of the bar of, and employed in, New York.  

These circumstances raise the question whether lawyers practicing law at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic were engaged in unauthorized practice of law. A number of jurisdictions have sought to address this. For example, on March 23, 2020, just a week or two after many lawyers began working from home fulltime, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law issued Opinion 24-20: Teleworking from Home and the COVID-19 Pandemic, stating that “In light of the widespread use of telework occasioned by the need to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, …persons who are not District of Columbia bar members may practice law from personal residences or other locations within the boundaries of the District of Columbia under Rule 49(c)(13) (“Incidental and Temporary Practice”)” in limited circumstances.

The American Bar Association (ABA) and state bar associations have also issued guidance on issues such as the security of client data, protecting client confidentiality, supervision, and other issues that arose due to COVID-related teleworking.  

On December 16, 2020, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 495 on “Lawyers Working Remotely,” confirming that attorneys “may remotely practice the law of the jurisdictions in which they are licensed while physically present in” another jurisdiction, so long as the attorneys do not hold themselves out as licensed to practice in the jurisdiction in which they are physically present, and the local jurisdiction does not consider the attorneys’ conduct to be unlicensed or unauthorized practice of law. On March 10, 2021, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 498 on “Virtual Practice,” to provide long-awaited guidance on other aspects of the virtual practice of law, including the duties of technological competence, diligence, communication, confidentiality, and supervision, under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

How Does This Impact Pro Bono?
With many attorneys working from home in states where they may not be licensed, we encourage attorneys to consider whether they can engage in pro bono services in their local communities in accordance with local rules. 

A number of jurisdictions permit non-locally licensed attorneys, who are active and in good standing in another state, to provide pro bono legal services. These rules may require the out-of-state attorney to apply for authorization before delivering the pro bono services, and they typically impose restrictions, including that the attorney be “associated with” or “affiliated with” approved legal services organizations, work under supervision of a locally licensed attorney, and, in some instances, abide by limits on the time period in which the attorney can practice pro bono under the rule. However, they offer a pathway to non-locally licensed lawyers to engage in pro bono.

You can find cites to these rules in the updated Guide to Multijurisdictional Practice in the U.S. and the interactive map on the CPBO website, which present rules that authorize non-locally-licensed in-house pro bono practice. 

If you find yourself working remotely in a state in which you are not licensed to practice law, or are interested in potential opportunities to provide pro bono out-of-state, take a look at the rules in your jurisdiction and see whether there are opportunities to provide pro bono legal services that you may not have considered previously!  The need for pro bono legal services is tremendous, with the Legal Services Corporation reporting that “the pandemic has both increased the numbers of Americans falling into poverty and caused a surge in the[ir] legal needs,… particularly for low-income families facing job losses, evictions and other problems stemming from the pandemic.”  We ask you to join us, regardless of where you are located, in increasing access to justice through pro bono legal services.

*The information provided in this article, and all articles on the PBEye blog, does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.

February 24, 2021

Global Pro Bono: Resources, Projects, and Partnerships

In recent decades, there has been an uptick of interest among law firms and legal departments to expand pro bono engagement by lawyers and legal staff in countries across the globe.[1]  A variety of factors have led to this, including growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility, globalization of the legal profession, greater international emphasis on human rights and access to justice, increasing awareness of economic and social inequities, newly emerging democracies, and newly formed entities that support pro bono engagement.  According to the 2020 Benchmarking Survey from the PBI® Corporate Pro Bono project, 35 percent of in-house legal departments indicated that they already engage in global pro bono work, and law firms around the globe are engaging their volunteers in pro bono. While pro bono services are well developed in many places, there are also many countries around the world where pro bono work is either nonexistent or in a nascent stage. Utilizing appropriate resources and learning from past or current global projects is beneficial to the success of increased pro bono engagement.

Global Pro Bono Survey

Pro Bono Institute, in partnership with Latham & Watkins*, published the latest edition of the Global Pro Bono Survey in early 2020, with the goal of stimulating the growth and expansion of pro bono initiatives around the world. For law firms, in-house legal departments, and individual lawyers, the Global Pro Bono Survey is valuable guidance for how to engage in pro bono work in different countries. One useful aspect of the Global Pro Bono Survey is the Survey Summary Chart, which outlines pro bono requirements in 86 worldwide jurisdictions. This chart provides answers to questions regarding minimum pro bono requirements, specific pro bono licenses, legal practice regulations, professional indemnity insurance, pro bono advertising rules, and receiving “Continuing Legal Education” for pro bono services. For lawyers, firms, or organizations interested in additional information about the pro bono practices and culture in a given country, the survey also includes detailed, country-specific reports. Without an informative resource like this, it can be difficult for lawyers new to pro bono within a region to navigate the varying policies, qualifications, and practices for pro bono involvement.   

Numerous Law Firm Pro Bono Project® members provide important pro bono legal services throughout their global footprints. Firms such as DLA Piper*and White & Case*, as well as many others, have expanded their pro bono services beyond the United States.  The same is true for many large corporations with global reach, such as the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY)**.  The following examples, discussing pro bono programs in, Zambia, Greece, and the United Kingdom, only begin to illustrate the breadth of global pro bono. 

 DLA Piper and New Perimeter’s ZIALE project

DLA Piper, a leader in the global pro bono, provides assistance to many underserved regions of the world through their “New Perimeter” initiative. DLA Piper founded New Perimeter, a non-profit organization, in 2005 with the vision of harnessing the skills of DLA Piper’s lawyers to provide a more just world for all. New Perimeter’s projects center around four categories: access to justice, social and economic development, sound legal institutions, and women’s advancement.  

DLA Piper and New Perimeter do extensive pro bono work on the African continent, and for the past five years have been conducting legal trainings on negotiation and drafting skills to graduate law students at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE). This project is an example of how global pro bono services can work to build sound legal institutions. On this project, lawyers from DLA Piper, General Electric**, and DLA Piper’s African Member Firm Chibesakunda & Co. worked together to build the capacity and skills of Zambian lawyers by introducing new methodologies, materials, and information to students at ZIALE. These trainings have been part of the ZIALE curriculum since 2016 and are a great example of law firms and corporations working together on a global pro bono initiative. Additionally, this project exemplifies how global pro bono work can act as a bridge between a firm’s worldwide offices, as the DLA Piper and General Electric lawyers came from Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Tanzania, and Australia. 

White & Case in Lesvos, Greece

White & Case, an international law firm with approximately 44 offices (most outside of the U.S.), has been undertaking a large-scale global pro bono project in Lesvos, Greece since 2019. In collaboration with five other law firms through European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) and Refugee Legal Support (RLS), White & Case is helping asylum seekers prepare for interviews as they seek a new life in Europe. These asylum seekers are stationed at the Moria refugee camp, which is known for its dehumanizing and unsafe conditions. White & Case has committed to having volunteer lawyers in Lesvos year round, on two weeks rotations. The lawyers are provided a 15-hour online self-study program, in person and remote training sessions, and a half day session at ELIL upon arrival. Collectively, White & Case lawyers help 15 to 20 clients per week on their asylum applications. The impact of their pro bono services is clear; according to ELIL, 75 percent of asylum seekers receiving aid from ELIL lawyers are granted international protection, compared to just under 50 percent for asylum seekers in Greece overall. Several participating White & Case lawyers expressed the sentiment that it is their duty, as lawyers, to use their legal skills and services to confront humanitarian crises and aid affected individuals.

In-House Feature: Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon** 

BNY Mellon, a U.S.-based bank, is leveraging its impressive legal department resources to provide crucial pro bono services to those in need around the world. In 2019, BNY Mellon engaged in several international pro bono efforts in the U.K. and Africa. In partnership with Linklaters*, a global law firm with offices in 20 countries, BNY Mellon gave free housing law advice in London via the Mary Ward Legal Centre. BNY Mellon lawyers also provided assistance at the Free Legal Advice Centre in London, with the goal of addressing legal issues in disadvantaged communities. In Africa, BNY Mellon lawyers worked as part of a transnational team to support the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. Alongside the Vance Center, BNY Mellon monitored and reported on human rights to produce “Women in Prison,” a report on the disproportionately high and increasing number of women in prisons across Africa. These are just a few examples of BNY Mellon’s international pro bono efforts evidencing that in-house departments can deploy their legal skills on a global scale.

Partnerships and Global Pro Bono Success

With the help of resources, guidance and global pro bono examples, more legal departments and firms can become involved in global pro bono work. Many are already extending their pro bono services to various countries, and their projects can help inform those eager to participate on how to become involved. A major theme across the various pro bono projects mentioned in this blog is partnership. The law firms or in-house legal departments partnered with organizations or other law firms in the country receiving assistance. Establishing these transnational partnerships creates meaningful and well-assessed opportunities for global pro bono work. Lawyers at law firms, corporations, and legal aid organizations alike are eager to engage in global pro bono work, and luckily there are great resources and examples out there to help lead the way. 

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project member

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

[1] For purposes of this blog, global pro bono refers to law firms and legal departments based in a country with an established pro bono tradition (such as the U.S.) supporting pro bono in countries with little or no independent pro bono culture and law firm and legal departments in countries around the globe growing their own pro bono cultures from within.  Thus, global pro bono can involve U.S. attorneys (and legal staff) sitting in the U.S. working on matters outside of the U.S., attorneys (and legal staff) based in and outside of the U.S. collaborating on non-U.S. matters, non-U.S. attorneys (and legal staff) working on matters outside of their own local jurisdiction(s), or non-U.S. attorneys (and legal staff) working on matters where they are admitted. 

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 If you missed the recent program and would like to view a recording, please contact

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?  

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

*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

*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.”