In-House Pro Bono Efforts Aiding Our Nation’s Youth

November 20 is Universal Children’s Day! Established by the United Nations to promote the welfare of children worldwide, this day commemorates the Assembly’s 1959 adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In honor of Universal Children’s Day, The PBEye notes the many ways in-house attorneys improve the lives of children by providing them with quality pro bono legal services.

Providing Legal Services for Immigrant Children
Unaccompanied immigrant children in the U.S. often face unimaginably dire situations, regardless of whether they fled here or were coerced for forced labor.  Unlike most Western industrialized nations, the U.S. does not provide appointed counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. Instead, these children, often with little to no formal education, English skills, or resources, are left to navigate the highly complex procedure of obtaining asylum alone.

Founded by Angelina Jolie and the Microsoft Corporation**, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) strives to provide representation for these children.  A national non-profit, KIND offers exciting and innovative ways to assist unaccompanied children, and currently partners with more than 60 law firms and corporationsOne example of such a partnership is that between AT&T Inc.** and Paul Hastings LLP*†, who’ve teamed up to provide legal expertise through KIND’s Los Angeles office.

Additionally, Marathon Oil Corporation** Assistant General Counsel Richard Horstman goes above and beyond in working with law firms and in-house counsel to assist these otherwise unrepresented children.  Currently, Horstman commits approximately 230 hours of pro bono work a year representing unaccompanied children, helping them find safety and permanent homes.

Legal Aid for Low-Income Parents with Sick or Disabled Children
As if having a chronically sick or disabled child wasn’t scary enough, low-income families are often faced with the additional problem of not having the time or means to find and hire quality legal assistance needed to help families thrive.

Understanding these unnecessary tribulations, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.** has partnered with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Legal Aid of Arkansas to launch a medical-legal partnership (MLP) project.   The MLP trains Arkansas Children’s Hospital staff to identify potential low-income patients in need of legal assistance.  Staff from Legal Aid of Arkansas and members of Walmart’s legal department then help those families with a range of critical legal issues.

Families with disabled children  may also require legal help to obtain special education services for their children from schools or health clinics.  However, low-income families often do not have the resources to secure such representation. General Electric Company** and Arnold & Porter LLP*† partnered in summer 2010 with the Children’s Law Center (CLC) to address these issues and help disabled children in the Washington D.C. area obtain special education services. Their innovative program assigns children an attorney from each organization, and a CLC staff member monitors each case.  Verizon Communications, Inc.** also created the Equip for Equality Hotline to service families with disabled children throughout Illinois in need of special education resources.  Volunteers field questions from parents, and inform them of their rights under Illinois and federal education laws.

Abused and Neglected Children
In 1994, CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award Recipient Aetna Inc.** helped develop Lawyers for Children America (LFCA), a nonprofit organization that recruits volunteer lawyers to represent abused and neglected children.  Since then, LFCA has become an independent, national nonprofit. Aetna continues to support the organization as LFCA works with volunteer attorneys around the country to assist child victims of abuse.

This list only represents a small sample of those committing themselves to the aid and defense of children and of the ways in which attorneys can make a difference in a child’s life by using their legal skills. Unfortunately, children around the world are regularly taken advantage of, neglected, or otherwise harmed, and there is a substantial need for pro bono legal services. Thankfully, approximately 60 percent of all legal departments that responded to CPBO’s 2010 benchmarking survey said they offer pro bono services for children’s issues, and with trendsetters as innovative and committed as those above, this number is sure to rise. The PBEye applauds the efforts of these attorneys in ensuring such!

* 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 Ben Gloger for his assistance with this blog.