Good corporate citizenship is a top priority at Ford Motor Company. It’s with that in mind that Ford encourages its employees to spend up to 16 hours of regularly scheduled work time each year participating in volunteer activities. Within the legal department, the Ford Pro Bono Committee, with the support of Group Vice President and General Counsel David Leitch, ensures that Ford attorneys and other legal department staff have access to a variety of pro bono opportunities. These engagements include time-limited clinics as well as longer term projects. Ford volunteers participate in the following pro bono clinics:
- Legal Aid and Defender Association Expungement Clinics. During these clinics, Ford’s attorneys help participants prepare documentation needed to begin the process of having a prior criminal conviction expunged. Referrals come through the Wayne County, Michigan, Second Chance Through Expungement Program. Michigan law allows a single criminal conviction to be expunged at the discretion of the judge if certain conditions are met, including that the conviction is more than five years old and there have been no other convictions. By expunging convictions, Ford volunteers help remove some of the barriers to basic functions, such as renting an apartment, and, in turn, help participants live normal lives.
- Legal Aid and Defender Association Food Stamp Clinic. This program offers assistance to low-income families in neighborhoods around public elementary schools in Detroit and allows Ford volunteers to help families navigate the food stamp process so that the families are better able to meet their basic needs. In proportion to the number of low-income families, the federal government has identified Michigan as having a low food stamp participation rate. Ford attorneys assist participants in identifying the appropriate amount of food stamp benefits for which the families qualify.
- Community Legal Resources Nonprofit Economic Crisis Clinic. This clinic provides Ford volunteers the opportunity to meet with nonprofit organizations to identify legal issues that may have arisen as a result of the economic downturn. These nonprofit programs are hosted by Dykema Gossett, PLLC*. During the clinic, Ford attorneys review a checklist of common legal issues with the nonprofit organizations and produce a short written report that highlights areas of concern identified during the clinic. Community Legal Resources then works with the nonprofit organizations to address the legal concerns.
In addition to these programs, individual Ford attorneys provide a variety of pro bono services to meet the needs of low-income people in Michigan, including:
- Unaccompanied Alien Children Cases. There are two organizations in Michigan that provide foster care to children taken into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These children have entered the country illegally, usually to escape situations of neglect, abandonment and abuse in their home country. Ford attorneys work with the Michigan Poverty Law Program to assist unaccompanied immigrant children through the process of determining whether the children qualify for a form of relief called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. If successful, the process results in the child being removed from deportation proceedings and being able to pursue lawful permanent resident status. The process takes approximately two years and requires about 40 hours of attorney time.
- Violence Against Women Act Cases. Ford attorneys also assist battered immigrant women, who are the spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, petition for immigration status to keep them from being dependent on an abusive partner. This is an important benefit because the abusers commonly use the threat of deportation to maintain power over battered immigrants and their children. The process requires between 10 to 20 hours of attorney time depending on the level of complexity.
- Veteran Benefits. Project Salute, run by the University of Detroit Mercy Law School, gives Ford volunteers the opportunity to represent veterans with Federal Disability and Pension Benefits claims. Through Project Salute, attorneys receive training to handle preparation of an appeal of a denial of benefits to a veteran.
- Expungement. In addition to the expungement clinics referenced above, Ford attorneys handle the pleadings and hearings involved in obtaining an expungement on behalf of qualifying individuals. Expungement relief is discretionary, so having pro bono representation is critical to the resolution of these cases for clients.
* Denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®