Pro Bono Gives Second Chances

What is life like for ex-offenders when they are released back into society after serving their sentences?  The PBEye recently saw a documentary which answers this question.  Graduate film students at The George Washington University Documentary Center explored this issue in the film “Released to Life”, which was named “Washington’s Best Film” in D.C.’s inaugural documentary competition.  The filmmakers shed some light on programs that are helping convicts rehabilitate and which services are sorely lacking for those leaving prison without a job, home, and everyday life skills to aid the transition.

Ex-offenders face a myriad of obstacles including legal barriers, such as a lack of identification, suspension of driver’s license, child support payments, problems receiving government benefits, and other civil legal issues.  Aside from sparking a debate about opportunities for rehabilitation in U.S. prisons, this documentary prompts us to think about the role of the legal community in addressing this issue, which benefits both individuals and society at large.  There are many pro bono opportunities dedicated to assisting eligible individuals who are trying to improve their lives, as the following examples reflect:

  • McCarter & English, LLP *† sponsors a project out of its Newark, N.J. office called the Reentry Legal Services (“ReLeSe”) ProgramReLeSe is a project run by Volunteer Lawyers for Justice that matches clients with attorneys who work to expunge ex-offenders’ criminal records, thereby increasing access to employment.  McCarter & English attorneys have handled approximately 100 expungement matters since they began their relationship with ReLeSe.
  • Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP* participates in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Clean Slate Program which helps individuals expunge their records of past criminal arrests and convictions.  Through working with the Clean Slate Program, Coblentz Patch attorneys help San Francisco area residents remove barriers to obtaining employment, housing, education, and public benefits.
  • Saul Ewing LLP*† partners with the Homeless Persons Representation Project to expunge the criminal records of people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.  This important work increases the ability of clients served by the Project to find employment and then housing as a result.
  • Many Chicago firms, including McDermott Will & Emery*†, Jenner & Block LLP *†, and Kirkland & Ellis LLP*† among others, help staff the Expungement Help Desk at Cabrini Green Legal Aid in Chicago.  In addition to advising low-income individuals about their eligibility to have their criminal records expunged or sealed, pro bono volunteers may also aid them with the preparation and submission of the necessary court petitions.

Last year at our Annual Conference, we discussed how law firms and legal departments can assist ex-offenders in a session, “Pro Bono in Practice:  After Prison: Roadblocks to Re-Entry,” which featured ReLeSe and the Legal Action CenterWe’ll be exploring other cutting-edge pro bono topics at this year’s Conference on March 28-30 at the Grand Hyatt Washington.  For more information, please call 202.973.8720.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project