October 2015

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. Our final spotlight is of Fiona Finlay-Hunt at Davis Polk. She responded to some questions about her pro bono work.
Fiona Finlay-Hunt, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

Fiona Finlay-Hunt is an associate in the New York office of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. She is a member of the Intellectual Property & Technology group and her practice focuses on intellectual property issues arising from corporate transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, securities offerings and credit transactions. Ms. Finlay-Hunt has participated in pro bono work spanning the arts and entrepreneurship, elder law, criminal appeals and corporate governance.

 

Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work? What motivates you?
I feel the importance of pro bono work relates directly to why a functioning society needs lawyers at all. It is my obligation as an attorney to understand and interpret the law and to translate this understanding into action for my clients. Without an advocate to guide clients through the often very complicated legal process, the rights and protections provided by law are rendered almost meaningless. It is important for those who are persecuted, discriminated against, impoverished and otherwise in need to know that they have a recourse in the law and a friend and ally in their attorney.

What do you see as some of the most important area of need? What kind of cases does your firm/company prioritize?

I believe that the most important areas of need for pro bono legal services currently are immigration and refugee services and issues relating to gender and sexuality. The law is evolving to better serve marginalized communities, such as new and undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ community and those that have been displaced by persecution or violence, but without a lawyer these communities may not be able to access the protections afforded by the law, if they are even aware of their rights.

My firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, is heavily involved in serving these communities. For example, we run clinics and long-term projects relating to transgender name change, uncontested divorces, veteran care issues, elder law, and small business. Additionally, we run a number of collaborative projects to serve asylum seekers with Sanctuary for Families and Human Rights First, as well as an asylum workshop that we conduct with Columbia Law School’s Center for Public Interest Law. Davis Polk’s reach in terms of pro bono offerings is truly extraordinary.

So it is obvious that the need is overwhelming, but so is a busy work day: how do you find the time?

I treat my pro bono clients’ needs the same as those of any of the firm’s clients. In many cases, urgent matters that arise in the context of pro bono work may have a disproportionate impact on the client because they relate to an acute personal issue. I try to balance my urgent work so that I can serve my pro bono clients with the same responsiveness, accuracy and care as any of the firm’s clients. The firm encourages as much pro bono work as possible, so my pro bono work and my billable work are one and the same to me.

How do you find cases or issues that interest you? How do individuals at your firm/company find cases?

In certain cases I have been sought out by a senior associate who has an interesting project for a long-standing pro bono client, or someone has referred a matter to me because of my practice area. On the other hand, the firm’s resources and support for pro bono are such that one may easily sign up to participate in any of the workshops and clinics that the firm hosts or sends attorneys to attend. For instance, I have participated multiple times in the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts clinic that the firm hosts every summer.

Another means by which I have become involved in pro bono work is by working closely with a partner with a robust pro bono practice. As a member of Davis Polk’s Intellectual Property and Technology Group, I have been fortunate to become involved with Pro Bono Net through Frank Azzopardi. These client relationships are one of the best ways for junior associates to become essential team members on interesting and impactful pro bono matters, and to get to know the wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to giving underserved communities vital access to justice.

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Pro bono work is a core responsibility of Davis Polk. We are committed to serving the public good and providing legal services to those who cannot otherwise obtain legal representation. Our lawyers work on pro bono matters throughout their careers at the firm, and we champion pro bono work through partner mentoring, training opportunities and the commitment of resources. We consider pro bono work to be of equal stature to billable matters, and our lawyers offer the same caliber of service to our pro bono clients as we do to our paying clients.


 

Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. Today’s spotlight is Heather McDevitt, a Partner at White & Case LLP.
Heather McDevitt, Partner, White & Case
Heather McDevitt, White & Case

 

Heather McDevitt is a litigation partner at White & Case LLP. She is the head of the firm’s Global Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Group, and a member of the Firm’s Partnership Committee. Today’s volunteer feature gives us a very special personal insight into pro bono from a partner perspective at one of the nation’s leading law firms. It provides some useful advice and guidance that we hope will serve as an inspiration for many others to volunteer and join the collective effort to ensure fairness for all in our justice system.

 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My family originally is from New York, but we moved around a bit during my childhood. I spent the first half of my childhood in Burlington, Vermont and moved to Austin, Texas for the second half. I went to college at Wellesley and studied law at Albany Law School. I’ve been with White & Case since 2002 and have been practicing law since 1993. At White & Case, I’m a litigation partner with a focus on representing life sciences and pharma companies. I’m also the head of the Firm’s Global Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Group and a member of the Firm’s Partnership Committee

How did you become interested in pro bono legal work?

I’ve always been interested in the aspects of our justice system that don’t work as well, or as fairly, as they should. I have seen firsthand how the system doesn’t work for some individuals, and sometimes creates results that are unfair and arbitrary. I really wanted to see what I could do as a private practitioner to help chip away at that, even if the immediate impact of my efforts was only at an individual level.

I started working on pro bono matters as a very young associate. I was a member of a team representing a man who was on death row in Alabama. I worked on the case for about 13 years, starting at the state level post-conviction phase until its conclusion. In some respects I felt like I grew up working on that case; over time I became one of our client’s two lead lawyers and served as a primary point of support for him throughout that time. Over the years I worked closely with Bryan Stevenson and Randy Susskind of the Equal Justice Initiative – two people who have had a tremendous impact on my professional development – and they asked me to lead the Eighth Amendment challenge to Alabama’s method of execution by lethal injection in addition to the work we were doing for our longstanding client.

Ultimately our client was executed in 2007, and I took a break from working on pro bono cases for a time. Recently though, I am leading a team representing Mark Schand, a man who spent nearly 27 years in prison after being convicted of a murder that he did not commit. He was exonerated, and we have filed a civil rights lawsuit on his behalf to compensate him and his family for the decades he lost as a result of his wrongful conviction.

What would you advise someone who is thinking about volunteering?

My best advice would be to stop thinking about it and just do it. As lawyers we may become very concerned about how pro bono work will best fit into our practice and how it lines up with our experience, but these should not always be the deciding factors. You could find a type of dispute or other pro bono engagement that really interests you or that you have prior experience in. Or you can work on a matter that is different from your everyday practice, but that would nevertheless benefit from your judgment and acumen. Both types of engagements are truly beneficial.

There are so many needs in both the criminal and civil justice systems that are going unfulfilled. For example, a significant percentage of our population has no access to our civil justice system due to the cost of that access – they are in a bind because while they don’t qualify for legal aid, they certainly cannot afford a lawyer. That is not a sustainable state of affairs when it comes to the legitimacy of our system of justice. We just need smart, capable and willing lawyers to devote some time to these matters. I think the rewards manifest themselves pretty quickly for people who are on the fence about taking on pro bono work, as they realize they can really make a difference, even on a micro-level.

To me, this actually is part of a much larger issue that we as a profession need to come to grips with in the near term. It seems like now, more than ever, the US public is very cynical about our institutions. Having a strong, fair, and accessible system of justice is really important for the public’s confidence. I believe that, perhaps different from other professions, legal professionals have an obligation to maintain our system and to uphold its trustworthiness and stature. Pro bono work is a significant way in which we can do this.

Did you learn any new skills during your experience?

Yes, from both an in-court and out-of-court perspective, I learned that you need to sometimes adapt your style and strategy to the circumstances you are facing. In pro bono cases, you may find yourself in an unfamiliar jurisdiction – away from home or even just a local court in which you do not often practice. To go back to my first pro bono experiences, Alabama courts can be different than New York courts, and you need to be sensitive to those issues in order to get the best result for your client.

This could mean moderating or adjusting how you present your case in court by being more or less aggressive, for just one example. This is one of the reasons why I think pro bono is such a terrific training ground for junior lawyers who are still trying to figure out how to approach each matter strategically. And for more senior lawyers, I think it is a good reminder that one size doesn’t fit all in the way we approach the work we do for all of our clients.

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Learn more about pro bono at White & Case.


Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

 

 

 

Author: Abigail Krusemark, Immigrant Youth Resources Coordinator (AmeriCorps VISTA), Immigration Advocates Network

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is excited to announce its fourth annual e-conference fundraiser, “Cutting Edge Issues in Immigration Law,” from November 2 to November 6, 2015. In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, we are spotlighting one of our expert panelists for this year’s e-conference, Fried Frank’s Karen Grisez.
Karen Grisez, Special Counsel, Public Service Counsel Litigation
Karen Grisez, Special Counsel

 

Karen T. Grisez is a member of the Litigation Department and is resident in Fried Frank’s Washington, DC office. In her role as Public Service Counsel, Ms. Grisez manages the intake and placement of pro bono matters, acts as liaison to national and local bar associations and legal services providers and provides substantive advice and assistance to other attorneys who are working on pro bono cases. She has experience with issues of political asylum and other immigration matters, veterans’ benefits, family law, landlord/tenant law and general civil litigation.

 

Karen Grisez celebrates National Pro Bono Week all year long in her role as Public Service Counsel for the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. The upcoming celebration (October 25 – 31) and the Immigration Advocates e-Conference (November 2 – 6) provide an opportunity to recognize those in our community who approach pro bono in traditional and nontraditional ways. In addition to managing a pro bono caseload, Karen engages in advocacy and education to support access to justice. In this capacity, she regularly joins the Immigration Advocates Network as an expert panelist.

Karen started at Fried Frank in part because of its strong pro bono program. She worked as a Litigation Associate for six years, when Fried Frank agreed to her proposal to create a full time Public Service Counsel position. Today, her colleagues benefit from Karen’s training and supervision on pro bono projects and her extensive advocacy experience. In addition, Karen mentors the wider community of pro bono and nonprofit lawyers in the American Bar Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Immigration Advocates Network.

During the first week of November Karen joins the Immigration Advocates Network  e-Conference, on the panel of “Improving Your Appeal to the BIA.” According to Karen, webinars are “a highly efficient way of introducing a lot of lawyers to this practice area and getting them to volunteer for cases.” She notes that “an unrepresented respondent, almost always very limited in English and lacking legal training, sometimes also with the impediments that go with being detained, has virtually no chance of writing an adequate brief to the Board on appeal.”

We hope that you will join Karen and the Immigration Advocates Network for Celebrate Pro Bono Week by signing up for an e-Conference session. Your support helps us provide free resources to pro bono attorneys at the Pro Bono Resource Center.

Fried Frank has a genuine commitment to pro bono work and a strong sense of philanthropic responsibility.  Illustrated not by our words but by our work, we go well beyond the base requirements to develop and nurture strong ties with our local communities.

 


The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is excited to announce its fourth annual e-conference fundraiser, “Cutting Edge Issues in Immigration Law,” from November 2 to November 6, 2015. Join us for a week-long series of interactive online trainings with national experts on BIA Appeals, U Visas & VAWA, entry & admission, prosecutorial discretion, and working with clients who have diminished capacity. We explore the issues through the lens of current events and the latest legal developments.
IAN logo
E-Conference Features

  • Listen to nationally-recognized experts from the comfort of your own office;
  • Participate in “ask the expert” sessions during each interactive training;
  • Access presentations and handouts before the training session;
  • Take interactive quizzes and polls before and during conference sessions; and
  • Obtain exclusive access to recorded trainings after the conference.

To Register:

The cost of each two-hour training session is $25. Your support helps IAN offer free trainings and resources throughout the year. For more information and to register, visit http://www.immigrationadvocates.org/econference.

 

 

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section.
Today’s feature is authored by the Legal Aid Society and describes the recent success of class action lawsuit, Nunez v New York. The article speaks to a partnership between the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and Pro Bono Counsel, Ropes & Gray, which was led by our featured volunteer, Bill Sussman, a business and securities litigation partner.  The piece reflects on 30,000 hours of pro bono work over a 3 year period and a continued and deepened commitment to pro bono by Ropes & Gray following the success of the case.
Bill Sussman, Ropes & Gray

 

For over 30 years, Bill has represented private equity and corporate clients, and their partners, officers and directors, in M&A and corporate governance disputes, antitrust matters, and complex business tort and contract disputes. Bill is co-chair of Ropes & Gray’s Pro Bono Committee, and is active in pro bono representations.

 

 

 

The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, together with pro bono co-counsel Ropes & Gray LLP are proud to announce the settlement of Nunez v. New York, a class action lawsuit, brought along with Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and later joined by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), to redress systematic excessive force in the jails in New York City.

On Oct. 21, Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval of the settlement, which outlines a comprehensive set of reform measures to be implemented by the Department of Correction.  Judge Swain called the settlement “groundbreaking” and noted that it “provides an important example for other correctional systems around the country.

The reform measures include:

  • A new use of force policy providing clear directions on when force may be used, and expressly limiting certain categories of force;
  • Revamped training to teach staff to defuse conflicts without force and avoid unnecessary injury to anyone when force is necessary;
  • Robust accountability measures, including requiring staff to report force honestly and completely, ensuring fair and professional investigations of use of force, and requiring fair and timely discipline of staff who misuse force;
  • Vastly expanded video surveillance, through stationary, handheld and body-worn cameras.

With the final court approval, the agreement becomes an enforceable federal consent decree, monitored by correctional expert Steve J. Martin of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It requires the Department of Correction to implement new policies and practices to curb the rampant misuse of force and end the culture of violence which emboldens staff to abuse prisoners and lie about such abuse with impunity.
“We are proud of the work of our team of lawyers and other professionals on the Rikers Island case, which led to a landmark agreement to enact much-needed reform measures,” said David Chapin, managing partner of Ropes & Gray.  Ropes & Gray lawyers worked over 30,000 hours on the case over a three-year period on a pro bono basis. 

The firm will use the court awarded attorneys’ fees to fund public service initiatives, including:

  • Establishing the “Ropes & Gray Prison Reform Counsel” at Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project (PRP). Funding the senior-level counsel position will allow the PRP to help ensure the City’s compliance with the Nunez agreement over its lifetime, and to fund its other public service projects.
  • Contributing funds to The Legal Aid Society to help that organization with its many and varied public service projects that help New Yorkers.
  • Funding an ongoing Ropes & Gray Fellowship in New York through Equal Justice Works, a public interest law program, for 10 years.
  • Financing expenses— which do not include cost of lawyers’ time—the firm incurred over the years its lawyers and other professionals worked on the Nunez case. Those include expert fees and expenses, the costs to set up a discovery database, expenses involved in taking depositions, and other case-related costs.
  • Dedicating the remaining fees to a special fund at Ropes & Gray, separate from the firm’s general budget, to be used exclusively for future pro bono expenses.

“It is all the more gratifying to put the attorney fees to good use to help ensure that the reform measures become reality and that other worthy public service projects can move forward. Our protocol is that any fees awarded to Ropes & Gray for its work on pro bono matters are used only for pro bono purposes —either at public service organizations or at the firm,” said Chapin.

“This agreement requires the City to make deeply important changes to the supervision of staff on Rikers Island, and reflects our view of the best path to reform,” said Jonathan Chasan, a supervising attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project. Staff Attorney Mary Lynne Werlwas added,  “These reforms will make the jails safer for inmates and staff, and reduce the number of serious injuries New Yorkers sustain while incarcerated.”

The New York-based Ropes & Gray team has been led by business & securities litigation partner Bill Sussman, government enforcement partner and Legal Aid Society Board member Chris Conniff, and former government enforcement associate Anna Friedberg.

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Ropes & Gray’s public service commitment is a hallmark of the firm, rooted in the example set by the firm’s founders nearly a century and a half ago. From securing asylum for endangered immigrants, to helping people keep their homes, to winning the release of the wrongly convicted, Ropes & Gray strives to provide the highest level of pro bono legal advice and support to those who need it most. Learn more here  If you want to learn more about the Rikers Island Pro Bono Case, watch this 5 minute video.
The Legal Aid Society is a private, not-for-profit legal services organization, the oldest and largest in the nation, dedicated since 1876 to providing quality legal representation to low-income New Yorkers. It is dedicated to one simple but powerful belief: that no New Yorker should be denied access to justice because of poverty.The Prisoners Rights Project featured in this article protects and enforces the legal rights of New York City and New York State prisoners through litigation, advice, and assistance to individual prisoners.

 

Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. Our third profile spotlights the work of Rebecca E. Algie, an associate at Seward & Kissel LLP, and volunteer with Her Justice.
Rebecca E. Algie, Litigation Associate
Rebecca E. Algie, Litigation Associate

 

Rebecca E. Algie is a litigation associate at Seward & Kissel LLP.  As a summer associate, she first volunteered 5 years ago, in 2010, on a case referred to by Her Justice, a non-profit organization based in New York.  This volunteer article recognizes the ongoing commitment and dedication of Rebecca to providing low-income women with access to justice, and highlights her work on a litigated divorce case for a mother of four children, her advocacy of which ensured her client’s long term economic security and the right to safely remain in her home. 

 

 

Her Justice is proud to recognize the outstanding pro bono work of Rebecca E. Algie, Esq., a litigation associate at Seward & Kissel LLP.  Ms. Algie is a 2011 graduate of Boston University School of Law. She first volunteered on a case referred by Her Justice in the summer of 2010, while she was a summer associate at Seward. Since then, she has continued to work on litigated cases and she remains a dedicated and highly effective advocate for Her Justice clients. Litigated cases, especially litigated divorces, always present a challenge in recruiting pro bono attorneys, yet Ms. Algie continues to rise to the challenge, not daunted by challenging material facts or the potential of prolonged time commitment.

The following case illustrates the outstanding work and dedication shown by Ms. Algie to Her Justice clients:

“Ms. Algie served as the main attorney on a litigated divorce case working under the supervision of a senior attorney at the firm. The client was a mother of four children; the youngest two were from her then- husband. The parties’ youngest daughter has several medical conditions which required open heart surgeries. The child needs a wheelchair whenever she is being transported long distances; she also needs regular feeding tubes and is severely developmentally delayed. The marital residence was a single family home in Staten Island, New York which was on the brink of foreclosure proceedings.

Ms. Algie fought relentlessly to secure a favorable financial and custodial settlement for the client; particularly given her concern of the father’s being able to meet the child’s special needs during parenting time.  The client obtained primary residential custody with terms that both allowed the father time with the youngest daughter while protecting her special needs. The client received exclusive occupancy of the marital residence, with the protection of shared liabilities and the client retaining 100% of any sale proceeds should a foreclosure sale occur. In addition to child support, the client received spousal maintenance for eight years, thereby carrying her into retirement at 65 years of age. Ms. Algie’s zealous advocacy on behalf of this client ensured her long term economic security and the right to safely remain in her home.”

Ms. Algie’s commitment to providing women with access to justice is evident in her continued representation of Her Justice clients on litigated cases and in her strongly encouraging other associates to take these challenging cases as well. At a recent Her Justice litigated divorce training, Ms. Algie elaborated on the skills she has learned from Her Justice volunteer cases including oral argument, motion practice and negotiations – learning opportunities that only come much later to young associates in large firms. She also spoke of the personal satisfaction of helping women with difficult legal cases in such vulnerable and critical aspects of their lives.  We are honored to work with Ms. Algie and thank her for her tireless advocacy and effort on behalf of our clients and her commitment to the mission of Her Justice.

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Her Justice engages the talent and resources of New York City’s law firms, bringing together committed lawyers and determined women to secure life-changing results.   What makes Her Justice unique is that it is based on a “pro bono first” model.  Her Justice specializes in offering pro bono assistance—connecting volunteer lawyers from premier law firms in New York City with low-income women. Her Justice brings the power of the legal profession to those who need it most, giving low-income women, many of whom are victims of domestic violence, and their children a real chance to obtain the legal protections they need to overcome poverty and abuse.


Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. As our second profile, we are spotlighting a piece on Christopher Mendez, a former volunteer at Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) NY, written by Bill Lienhard, its Executive Director.

Fifty Hour Pro Bono Requirement Prods Former Marine to Help Bronx Health Organization

Author: Bill Lienhard, Executive Director, Volunteers of Legal Service NY

Chris Mendez, Former Marine and Pro Bono Volunteer
Chris Mendez, Former Marine and Pro Bono Volunteer

 

 

Bill Lienhard, Executive Director of Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), shares this very special story about Christopher Mendez, a Senior Compliance Officer for Invesco Ltd, and a former Marine. This piece speaks to Chris’ journey through NY’s 50 hour pro bono requirement, his passions and time as a volunteer in VOLS Microenterprise Project, and the important work of his client, Community Health Worker Connections. 

 

 

 

 

With nearly 1,000 volunteer lawyers serving 3,000 clients each year, it’s not possible for me to get to know every client and volunteer and to take the time to understand the impact of pro bono legal assistance in particular cases.   Every so often, however, my feet get itchy, and I have to get out of the office, meet the people involved, and see what my organization, Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) is actually doing.

I was in this mood when, in response to a mass email to VOLS’ Microenterprise Project participants, I received this concise and enthusiastic email from Chris Mendez, a volunteer in the project:

“I believe you’ve been briefed on the pro bono work that I’m doing with Community Health Workers through SoBRO [South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation] to satisfy NY’s pro bono requirement for admission. The project is moving along nicely. I thought perhaps we can grab lunch or coffee in the coming weeks so that I may formally introduce myself and give you an update on the work that I’ve done and what I’ll be doing with them going forward.”

Here was my opportunity to get out there and see VOLS in action! Although VOLS focuses on recruiting lawyers from large law firms, and not on individual volunteers, I was curious to see, first hand, the impact of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s requirement that people applying to become lawyers in New York State first complete 50 hours of pro bono service.   Who was Chris?  What was the impact of the 50 hour rule? Why was Chris volunteering? What was he doing? Who was he volunteering for and what impact was it having?  I decided to go and find out the story. I am very glad that I did.

Chris and I met for lunch near Bryant Park, and then again at his office at Invesco, where he works as a Senior Compliance Officer. Chris grew up in Mt. Holly, NJ, as the eldest of five children.  His father emigrated here from Guatemala in 1981 and his mother is from Florida.

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Volunteers of Legal Service is a New York based organization. It leverages the good will, resources, and talents of New York City’s leading law firms to provide pro bono legal assistance to the city’s neediest residents.  Through their projects, their attorneys provide pro bono assistance that helps reunite families, stave off evictions, resolve immigration issues, win vital government benefits, and start small businesses.

VOLS logo

 

 

 


Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. To kick off the week, we are starting with Alicia A. Handy of Latham & Watkins in Houston, TX.

 

Alicia A. Handy is an Associate at the Houston Office of Latham & Watkins LLP. She is a member of the Environmental Transactions Practice and her practice focuses primarily on environmental, land and regulatory matters within the oil and gas industry. Ms. Handy has maintained an active pro bono practice that has included landlord-tenant and immigration matters, and a criminal appeal before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work? What motivates you?

I think it is important to do pro bono work because people should not be denied access to an attorney simply because they lack financial resources. The U.S. legal system is complicated enough for those of us who have attended law school, and the complexities often make it insurmountable for those who are trying to go it alone.

In addition to the ethical aspects of pro bono engagement, my personal experiences have shaped my views and understanding of the role of race and poverty on a person’s every day experience. I have spent countless hours listening and talking to family members about what it means to be black (or any minority) and/or poor in the U.S. I also went to school in one of the most segregated school districts in New York, which also had a high rate of student poverty. I have lost family, friends, classmates to drugs, prison, HIV/AIDS, and violence, some of whom were honor students, from “good” families, and seemed to have everything going for them. My experiences have shaped my perspective and have motivated me since the start of my legal career to do pro bono work.

What do you see as some of the most important area of need? What kind of cases does your firm/company prioritize?

The justice gap is wide and it’s hard to say where the need is greatest.

My firm works on matters across the public interest spectrum. In Houston, where I am based, we handle a number of immigration, estate planning, transactional, and veterans matters. We are also starting to handle more clemency and criminal justice matters.

So it is obvious that the need is overwhelming, but so is a busy work day: how do you find the time?

There’s no easy answer to this one. For me, pro bono engagement is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a lawyer – it is important to me, it is important to my practice and it is important to this profession. If it is important enough to you, you find the time.


Latham & Watkins has a long-standing commitment to providing pro bono legal services, financial support and volunteer time to those most in need within our communities.Latham’s dedication to pro bono work is a source of pride and reflects a fundamental part of the firm’s culture. Each year, our lawyers and professional staff take on matters in nearly every area of public interest law, including veterans’ rights, asylum and immigration, domestic violence, Holocaust reparations, anti-human trafficking, prisoners’ rights, microfinance and social entrepreneurialism, children and civil rights.

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Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

 

Jillian Theil has been the Training and Field Support Coordinator for Pro Bono Net since 2011. She manages the LSNTAP/PBN Community Training series. 

Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP held a special webinar on “Virtual and Remote Pro Bono Legal Services Models.” The training, moderated by Liz Keith of Pro Bono Net, highlighted examples of how virtual and remote legal services models are enabling new forms of pro bono participation and expanding the reach of servicers to underserved communities. It covered new and emerging projects, resources and considerations for replication, as well as the staffing, technology and partnerships involved.

Liz Keith kicked off the call by exploring the benefits of virtual and remote pro bono legal services models legal aid programs, pro bono lawyers, and clients. Debra Jennings of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc then discussed her organization’s LiveHelp project to connect those persons with legal assistance to address their legal needs. She covered the goals, project nuts and bolts and also outcomes. Liz then talked about a LiveHelp/LiveChat initiative to assess and pilot a new live chat platform for LiveHelp initiatives using the LivePerson Pro software.

Claudia Johnson of Pro Bono Net then discussed LHI-Connect, a new way to share and create documents between lawyers and clients remotely and asynchronously. The project is a new capacity in LawHelp Interactive that allows lawyers to co-produce documents with their clients from a secure site.

Finally, Phong Wong of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles presented on the LAFLA/library video conferencing project, which serves to enhance client accessibility and work productivity by bridging geographic barriers between LAFLA’s offices, community libraries and other partners. She also talked about the rollout of the Pro Bono Training Institute, which leverages technology to connect pro bono attorneys to pro bono opportunities through interactive trainings.

The training ended with great discussion and question, so be sure to view the resources available at LSNTAP.org.

A staggering number of Americans experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Domestic Violence Awareness Month (each October) shines light on this issue and provides information to victims as well as the public about tools and resources available.

Too often it is difficult for victims to access the justice system to get the help they need. Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is a useful tool for advocates providing assistance to victims filing protection orders. LHI is an award-winning online legal document assembly platform, which allows low-income individuals without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. This past August, LHI put together a program to spotlight our partners who are using our technology in new and exciting ways that expand access to justice for victims seeking to file family offense petitions in Family Court.  Sara Sheikh from Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA), and Sun Kim from the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program discussed their respective programs

The Domestic Abuse Self Help (DASH) program is run by NLSLA in Los Angeles County, CA. Sara Sheikh is a staff attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). She works at NLSLA’s Van Nuys Self-Help Legal Access Center located at the Van Nuys Courthouse. She began working as the Domestic Abuse Self-Help (DASH) attorney in early 2014. Her previous experience with assisting domestic violence (DV) victims was as a volunteer at these same DASH clinics. We were fortunate enough not only to hear from Sara and Sun during the LHI call, but also to ask them questions about their work.

Domestic Abuse Self-Help (DASH)

In 2006 the Neighborhood Legal Services of LA County began assisting litigants in filing protection orders in instances of domestic violence. It began with a series of clinics in which a volunteer could assist multiple litigants as they fill out the necessary documentation to file a petition. This included manually double checking that all of the relevant information was provided on the forms, which would then need to be physically printed and faxed to an outside volunteer attorney for edits and approvals. This process was time consuming and costly in manpower as well as physical materials. With the use of LHI, these forms are now more consistent and accurate and a volunteer lawyer is able to make edits, ask further questions, and provide suggestions digitally saving time, hassle, and money. We asked Sara to tell us a bit more about her role in the project:

What do you do in your current role?

As the DASH attorney, I train volunteers and supervise them in our DASH clinics, reviewing the paperwork they help prepare and answering questions they may run into while helping our DV litigants. On those days that we may not have enough volunteers, I also assist DV litigants in filling out their paperwork.

What do you think is most important for people to understand about domestic violence and the work you do?

People need to understand what is domestic violence, and that it covers more than just physical abuse. People also need to be informed on what options they have to find safety. We help DV victims protect themselves by petitioning for restraining orders, and we can only do the work we do because students and members of the community give their time at the clinics as volunteers to assist the public.

Tell me a little about the needs of the audience you are serving and maybe how many people you serve in day, week, year?

At the DASH clinic we help litigants fill out paperwork for DV restraining orders. Litigants who are suffering from domestic abuse, in whatever form it may take, come to us for legal help. Litigants look to our clinics to help them get the protection they need from their abuser. Volunteers and staff screen these litigants and then help them fill out petitions for restraining orders. In one month, on average, NLSLA’s three DASH clinics assist 200 people with their paperwork. This number does not include litigants who come in with questions to be answered, who just need the paperwork or who need referrals for further assistance.

How can technology play a vital role in connecting those in need to resources?

Technology is vital in making the information for those resources easily available online. People in need of help need to know how to define their situation, and what resources are available for DV victims to get to a place of safety. They need to be able to see that our clinics are there to help people fill out their legal paperwork. And that information has to be easy to find, which is something that I believe that court websites like the LA Court website succeed in doing.

The Domestic Abuse Self Help (DASH) program now has four separate locations that provide one-on-one guidance while completing the forms in the morning, and provide guide packets for those filling out the forms in the afternoons. They are well on their way to having a volunteer attorney devoted to each location both for assistance as well as performing the final reviews for all of the forms before they are submitted. A recent expansion of the program has made it possible for volunteers and attorneys to access information from various locations at the same time, allowing them to work more efficiently. The expansion was facilitation through additional volunteer recruitment and involvement from partners including Los Angeles county shelters and shelter advocates, and pro bono attorneys. The NLSLA clinics exist now in Lancaster, San Fernando, Van Nuys, and Pamona, with additional clinics being held at shelter partners in Santa Clarita Valley. Additional after hours clinics are held in Van Nuys, Topanga, and Devonshire Police Stations. All final documents are submitted directly to NLSLA from off site locations for a last review before being approved for filing to the courts, thus ensuring that all documents are fully completed and ready to be submitted even from off site locations and volunteers.

 

Advocate Family Offense Petition Program (NY)

The Advocate Family Offense Petition Program provides trained domestic violence advocates throughout NY with access to an online document assembly interview to help litigants complete petitions.  The petition information is then electronically transferred into the Family Court’s Universal Case Management System (UCMS). Launched as a statewide initiative in early 2014, following a successful pilot in Bronx Family Court, the Advocate Family Offense Petition Program is reducing barriers for individuals seeking protection from abuse. Additionally, the project is improving courthouse efficiency. The project demonstrates how technology can increase access to justice, streamline court processes, and create a better experience for litigants.

Sun Kim works for the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program and is the Special Counsel for Technology Initiatives.  According to Sun they like to call her an attorney-technologist. We asked Sun a few questions about work:

What do you do in your current role?

I do a lot of different things but mainly I program and maintain the court’s advocate assisted Hotdocs templates and the DIY Form programs (that’s what we branded our A2J Author/HotDocs templates for unrepresented litigants). I also maintain and code CourtHelp, the court’s website for unrepresented litigants.

How can technology play a vital role in connecting those in need to resources?

The great thing about the internet is that no matter what time it is or where they are located a litigant can get information and help. That help can be customized for the individual and their situation.

Similarly how can technology help you and your colleagues as you look to help clients?

Technology is a very cost effective way to help a lot of litigants, but it improves court efficiency and saves clerks time so that they can assist litigants who really need it.

During the LHI August call, Sun explained how this system works.

Advocates and volunteers must become members of both LawHelp Interactive and probono.net and request to be approved before being able to access the e-filing petition program. The program itself can be accessed from any computer via the internet by going into the Family Justice/DV practice area on probono.net/ny. At the moment, there are 140 Domestic Violence Advocacy agencies that have been approved for this program and litigants can go to their local court for referrals to local agencies.

Advocates access the program and walk the litigants through a series of questions required for the filing of the form. Once all of the relevant questions have been answered a word document is generated for the litigant and advocate to review before e-filing the information with the Family Court’s UCMS. The litigant will still need to go to the court clerk and file the official petition, where it is reviewed by the clerk, cross referenced to check for any other open cases involving the litigant, and officially activated. The litigant will be able to see the judge and receive an Emergency Order of Protection the same day.

The benefits of this program are clear. Forms are complete and accurate, and it save hours of time and energy for the court clerks. Advocates and volunteer attorneys provide assistance and walk litigants through filing the petitions from their own offices. Litigants are provided guidance as they file for their petition and are provided additional questions only when their answers require additional follow up. They are also able to receive their protection orders much faster as they are already in the system when they formally submit their petition. This project has been so successful that the New York Courts received the Legal Tech News Innovation Award for the Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project category.

Leaving an abuser can be an extremely dangerous time for litigants. With these tools advocates can help litigants prepare their documents more quickly, accurately and efficiently. Pro Bono Net will continue to work with partners to utilize technology in order to increase access to justice for the victims of domestic violence.

Follow these links for more information:

Petition Programs:

LawHelp Interactive

NLSLA Domestic Violence Self Help Program

New York Court Family Offense E-filing Program

More Information on Domestic Violence:

Domestic Violence Hotline

United States Department of Justice

Sanctuary for Families

Her Justice

Safe Horizons

There has been a lot of interest in involving the talented cadre of in-house counsel into the pro bono volunteering world, and in recent years, tremendous momentum has been gathering.  In the spirit of the upcoming 7th Annual National Pro Bono Week, please join this one-hour briefing to learn more about the art of making the match.

Click here to register now!

Topics to be addressed in this free briefing include:

  • The experience of in-house counsel compared to law firm attorneys, and strategies to overcome concerns like time constraints, or lack of experience and resources;
  • Insight about the rewards of engaging in pro bono work and examples of successful in-house counsel volunteering programs and experiences;
  • A legal services organizational insight into engaging this community; and
  • Pathways to pro bono – volunteer opportunities and the tools available to help identify the right opportunity for you and to help you sustain your pro bono momentum.

We welcome all in-house counsel interested in pro bono.  Whether you are part of a small or large in-house department, with or without a formal pro bono program, a novice or experienced volunteer, we encourage you to attend.  Legal services organizations that are interested in engaging this important group of volunteers are also welcome.

Panelists:

  • Beth Henderson, Attorney and Chair of Pro Bono Steering Committee, Microsoft Corporation
  • Rachel Epps Spears, Executive Director, Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta
  • Carol H. Bockner, Director, Pro Bono Initiatives, City Bar Justice Center, NYC Bar Association

Moderator:

  • Niki De Mel, Pro Bono and Special Initiatives Coordinator, Pro Bono Net

 


Practising Law InstitutePLI is a Bronze level sponsor of Pro Bono Net. For more information or to register for the event follow Click Here, or copy and paste into your browser: http://bit.ly/1LCwISP 

 

This seminar/webcast will be hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information.