Solidarity through Pro Bono Work for Domestic Violence Survivors

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a period of increased solidarity in the U.S. for victims and survivors of domestic violence. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, The PBEye notes the many ways attorneys utilize their unique skills to provide pro bono legal services to clients impacted by domestic violence.

Support in Court for Protection and Restraining Orders
Many domestic violence survivors seek from the court a protective or restraining order that defines and prohibits their abusers’ interaction with them and their loved ones. Without the assistance of counsel, obtaining an order of protection can be a difficult task.

One study found that domestic violence survivors who received help from an attorney were more than twice as likely to obtain a civil protection order compared to those who pursue civil protection orders pro se. Many attorneys at legal departments and law firms address this need by providing direct assistance to clients in court. For instance, ExxonMobil Corporation and Hunton & Williams LLP*† have teamed up to represent victims of domestic violence to obtain permanent protective orders at domestic relations courts in their “Attorney for a Day” programs.

Clinics to Prep for Court
Other attorneys provide critical information to domestic violence survivors to increase the survivors’ ability to succeed in court. The Bay Area Corporate Pro Bono Co-op, a joint initiative between legal departments, including Cisco Systems, Inc.**, Hewlett-Packard Company**, and Symantec Corporation**, as well as DLA Piper LLP (US)*†, hosts informational clinics for survivors detailing legal remedies for domestic violence cases.  Volunteers walk survivors through the process of filing restraining orders and prepare clients to represent their interests at hearings.

Support at Various Levels for Immigration Status
Another significant legal need involves the intersection of immigration status and domestic violence remedies. The legal departments of Caterpillar, Inc.**, Symantec, and Verizon Communications, Inc.** each assisted domestic violence survivors in obtaining U-Visas, which liberate survivors from their abusive partners by providing them with the right to reside in the U.S. independently. Members of Symantec’s legal department also worked with clients on the completion, review, and processing of their applications to obtain passports from their home country, an important step in obtaining legal residency in the U.S. In addition, McDonald’s Corporation** and Winston & Strawn LLP*† have partnered in the past to assist victims of domestic violence in obtaining asylum relief.

Child Support, Paternity, Guardianship, and Divorce Proceedings
Assisting domestic violence survivors is one of Verizon’s three signature projects. In addition to assisting clients obtain U-Visas, members of its legal department also team with DLA Piper to provide advice to unrepresented clients in New York City Family Court regarding child support, paternity, and guardianship.  Also in New York, CBS Corporation** has represented domestic violence survivors in their divorce proceedings.

Holistic Approach
Allstate Insurance Company**
addresses the issue of domestic violence on several fronts, with efforts from the company, its legal department, and the Allstate Foundation. In 2005, Allstate formed its Economics Against Abuse Program. As part of the program, the foundation has invested more than $30 million toward ending domestic violence through financial empowerment, as well as made contributions to Nicki’s Hope Legal Clinic at Alternatives for Battered Women. Members of the Allstate legal department provide pro bono legal assistance and more than 200 Allstate agency owners and personal financial representatives have volunteered to teach financial literacy courses. Combating domestic violence and assisting those who survive it is truly a team effort at Allstate.

The list above is just a sampling. Unfortunately, the sheer prevalence of domestic violence and its impact on survivors provides a broad arena for pro bono legal services. There is a role for every person, regardless of specialty or practice, to diffuse the impact of domestic violence and increase the likelihood of recovery.

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

Hat tip to PBI intern Lily Liu for her help on this post.