Pro Bono

  • August 31, 2017

    by Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Societyeconomic opportunity

    Tropical storm Harvey has stunned us with devastating images of historic flooding. But for those who are living through the storm and its aftermath, life has forever changed. As one ACS staff member in Houston said, the only thing on her mind was going to a shelter and helping others.

    The fact is all ACS members can help the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. The Texas Supreme Court recently issued an emergency order that even attorneys from outside Texas can provide pro bono legal services to state residents. This created a valuable opportunity for ACS’s members to directly assist those who are most in need. In fact, we have been spreading the word and mobilizing our volunteers to get involved.

    Unfortunately, even after hurricane Harvey dissipates, the disaster will continue to unfold for weeks, months and even years as people rebuild their homes and lives. Although lawyers are probably the last people we think of in the midst of a devastating natural disaster, they play a critical role in helping survivors navigate the legal system on a range of issues including housing, benefits and insurance.

    More than 9,000 people are staying in the city’s main shelter, the George R. Brown Convention Center, according to the Red Cross. News clips show that the place has become a common family room with many people lying on piles of cardboard and blankets. These and many other storm images are disheartening, and many of us want to offer our support.

    ACS is grateful that we can play a part in helping survivors recover from the chaos. I urge all of our members around the country to get involved in this worthy effort and others in or outside Texas to lend a hand.
  • September 3, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nancy Lopez, Executive Director, Washington Council of Lawyers

    Recently, we have been hit by a series of anniversaries that are significant to the legal community: just over 50 years since Gideon v. Wainwright established the right to counsel in criminal cases; 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson founded the war on poverty; 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act; 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law; and 40 years since the President Richard M. Nixon created the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). 

    The LSC has made great strides in providing high quality legal assistance to persons in need who cannot afford a lawyer. However, as funding for LSC fluctuates from year to year, and as the demand for free legal services varies depending on the state of the economy, it becomes clear that LSC-funded legal services are not sufficient to meet the demand for free legal services from those in need.

  • April 8, 2011

    The BLT: Blog of Legal Times provides coverage of the annual ‘40 at 50’ Judicial Pro Bono Recognition Breakfast where several Washington, D.C. law firms were honored for “their commitment to performing pro bono work during the past year.”

    U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth and U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland applauded the work of the attorneys committed to pro bono work, including Philippa Scarlett (pictured), partner at Kirkland & Eillis and an ACS Board member. The BLT has photos of the event, including this one, which shows Scarlett with Thomas Williamson Jr., partner at Covington & Burling, and Judge Lamberth.

    Judge Lamberth told the 30 law firms honored, “You understand that your time and talent can make the difference. We do value your work.” Judge Garland, noting high unemployment and poverty in the District, said, “We are not powerless against these statistics. I ask you to continue your partnerships with area legal service providers,” The BLT reported.

  • April 8, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Rena Steinzor and Robert Kuehn. Professor Steinzor is the former director of the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic and is now president of the Center for Progressive Reform. Professor Kuehn was the director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic when it first came under attack in 1998 and is now president of the Clinical Legal Education Association.

    As any American who has read To Kill a Mockingbird should know, attacking lawyers for representing unpopular clients threatens the heart of an American justice system already weakened to the verge of collapse by the defunding of public defenders and legal aid. The right-wing tirade against the "treasonous" lawyers who represent Guantanamo prisoners was a huge shove in a bad direction. Less sensational, but at least as damaging, are a rising tide of attacks on law school clinics by those powerful interests affronted by law clinic opponents' access to pro bono assistance in any form.

    Liz Cheney's misstep on terrorist lawyers was swatted to oblivion in the blogosphere, ultimately condemned by lawyers across the political spectrum. Too often, the clinics stand vulnerable and alone, leaving their young lawyers-in-training to take intolerable lessons about the limited availability of American justice. As The New York Times reported on Sunday, such attacks are as harsh as Cheney's: "We're going to tell legislators all over the state, if [the Tulane University environmental law clinic] want[s] to play hardball by trying to kneecap industry in Baton Rouge," said the Louisiana Chemical Association president Dan Borné, "then we should play hardball and kneecap them [Tulane University] with their state appropriations." Having gone through the wringer once in 1998 when elected judges supported by the chemical industry set sharp limits on the kinds of clients student attorneys could represent in court, the latest round of abuse includes a pending bill in the state senate that would block any university that receives states funds from suing government agencies, businesses or individuals or raising most constitutional challenges unless exempted in the legislation.

    In Michigan, student attorneys in an innocence clinic were recently threatened with a subpoena to testify against their client in a criminal case; the case against the client was ultimately dropped. And in New Jersey, a real estate developer is trying to use the state's open records law to force a Rutgers clinic to turn over its case files for a community group opposing the developer. A survey of 300 faculty members at law school clinics across the country found that nearly 10 percent said they have been urged by their school's dean to avoid a particular case, and nearly 15 percent reported similar advice from their clinic's director.

  • April 8, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Ann Baddour, Senior Policy Analyst, Texas Appleseed & Steven Schulman, Pro Bono Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

    The U.S. immigration court and detention systems have both acknowledged the need to extend special protections to vulnerable populations, including unaccompanied children. Immigrants with mental disabilities, given their particular inability to navigate these systems and obtain care on their own, should also be regarded as vulnerable and afforded protections in the U.S. immigration system.

    Immigrants with mental disabilities are detained in a system ill-equipped to care for them, and, to make matters worse, are often arbitrarily transferred far away from their family and community supports, denied basic due process in a complex immigration court system, and released from detention or removed from the U.S. without regard to their personal safety.

    Texas Appleseed, one of Appleseed's 16 public interest law centers in the U.S. and Mexico City, and its pro bono counsel, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, document these challenges and recommend specific reforms in a new report, Justice for Immigration's Hidden Population. Based on information from more than 40 interviews with immigration attorneys, immigration detainees, and other stakeholders, along with detailed policy research, the study identifies these troubling trends: