Nourishing Bodies and Communities Through Pro Bono

“Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.” – Jacques Diouf

As we recover from another holiday season full of celebratory meals and parties, many of us are re-committing to healthy eating. Healthy eating, however, isn’t always just a matter of choice (or willpower)! In an era of high food prices and food deserts, sustainable access to nutrition in low-income communities has become a heightened concern. The epidemic of diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity points to the urgent need for food justice and improving access to nutritious food. Although programs such as public assistance benefits exist, many eligible individuals and families do not have access to the limited assistance available or cannot make effective use of them, especially if they live in a rural area or a food desert.

Pro bono lawyers can substantially improve food access by tackling projects at global, national, state, local, or individual levels. There are a range of pro bono opportunities, for litigators and transactional lawyers alike. Potential projects vary in size and complexity, offering options that fit the needs and interests of diverse pro bono lawyers. Moreover, law firms and legal departments may be in a position to align this type of pro bono work with already existing community service projects, such as ones targeted at schools, children, or families.

Increasing access to healthy food and fighting hunger are objectives that enjoy broad support. Because many people – not just foodies – feel strongly about these goals, you may be able to excite and engage attorneys, some of whom may not have previously been the most active pro bono participants.

Pro bono lawyers play a pivotal role in the process of eliminating health disparities in disadvantaged communities and improving access to nutrition in a variety of ways. Examples of pro bono opportunities that increase food accessibility and tackle legal challenges associated with structural food injustice include: providing legal services to organizations and programs that aim to eliminate food inaccessibility, direct advocacy for legislative and policy change, partnering with existing organizations to initiate or expand food-related programs, and more. Although the fight for access to nutrition is often more than a legal battle, there are meaningful pro bono opportunities available.

One entry point of involvement is providing legal services and representation to nonprofit organizations with missions centered on tackling food injustice and promoting nutritious food accessibility. For example, Alston & Bird*† represented FamilyCook Productionsby reviewing the organization’s employment policies and assisting with the structure of their license agreement, enabling the nonprofit to further expand their programs and serve more than 100,000 people.

In addition to their work establishing the Global FoodBanking NetworkDLA Piper*†provides legal services to Feeding America and numerous other food banks. Similarly, Armstrong Teasdale*† represents The Link Market, an organization that operates in prominent food desert St. Louis, Missouri to establish quality grocery stores in accessible locations along the city metro line and works directly with local farmers and gardens to ensure local, fresh, nutritious foods are sold at the grocery markets. Brown Rudnick*†and Greenberg Traurig*† provided pro bono legal services to Community Servings as they constructed their Food Campus, which will allow the organization to triple its production of food for those who are in need of special dietary meals.

Partnering and working directly with already existing organizations whose missions are aligned with food accessibility is another meaningful way lawyers are making a difference. Ballard Spahr*† has worked with The Common Market, a nonprofit organization that aims to manage the supply chain between local, sustainable food producers and inner-city communities, as well as cultivates family farms and markets products to local institutional buyers such as hospitals and schools. Firm lawyers assisted the organization’s expansion by establishing similar programs in other states to promote accessibility to fresh, nutritious, and sustainable food in local institutions and inner-city markets. McDermott Will & Emery*† conducted legal research and worked with The Medical Legal Partnership for Children to publish a reportFood Stamps and Immigrant Families.

A number of legal services organizations and pro bono providers are entering this space and crafting meaningful pro bono opportunities. For example, the Conservation Law Project in Massachusetts created its Legal Food Hub  to connect those involved in the farming and food production industries to pro bono lawyers. With its goal of helping the local, sustainable food system, the Legal Food Hub offers assistance to eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and farm/food-related organizations in New England with legal issues such as land acquisition/transfer, estate issues, taxes, contracts, and corporation formation.

Pro bono lawyers can bring significant changes to low-income communities, ensuring that everyone has the ability to live a healthy life free from hunger. To learn more about opportunities and examples of pro bono work addressing access to nutrition, check out the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s publication, Pro Bono Food for Thought: Improving Access to Nutrition, and our podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour (specifically the episodes featuring Scott Hunt of Armstrong Teasdale and Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, formerly of Ballard Spahr).


Hat tip to PBI intern Hiba Said for her help with this post.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member