2023 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award

Capital One Financial Corporation

Pro Bono Institute was pleased to honor Capital One with the 2023 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award. This annual award recognizes an individual’s or organization’s exceptional commitment to pro bono as demonstrated by exemplary engagement in pro bono legal services.

PBI named the award as a tribute to the Honorable Laurie D. Zelon, retired associate justice of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, who was one of the originators of the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative. Justice Zelon served as chair and was a longtime member of the California Access to Justice Commission. She has been active with several statewide judicial committees addressing justice administration issues.

Capital One’s Legal Department joined PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative in 2012. Since its pro bono committee was formed in 2011, Capital One’s roughly 375 legal professionals have donated more than 25,000 hours of pro bono service in local communities from offices in the Washington, D.C., Richmond, New York, and Dallas metropolitan areas, in addition to a growing virtual pro bono presence. Examples of the legal department’s current pro bono initiatives include:

JusticeServer and JusticeServer 2.0
At the inaugural Supreme Court of Virginia Pro Bono Summit in 2010, Capital One’s General Counsel pledged to provide in-kind pro bono contributions from both its Legal and Technology Departments in order to facilitate efforts to bridge the “access to justice gap” in its home state of Virginia and beyond. Over the next two years, Capital One lawyers and technologists worked with lawyers from the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation (GRBF), Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (CVLAS), and the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) to develop JusticeServer, a cloud-based Salesforce application. The case management side of JusticeServer was launched in 2012, when CVLAS and LAJC began using it as their principal case management system, and to date, the system has been used to manage more than 35,000 legal aid cases benefitting more than 81,000 pro bono clients. The volunteer portal of JusticeServer launched in 2013, and since that time, pro bono lawyers in Virginia have used JusticeServer to provide pro bono legal services on more than 9,000 legal aid cases benefitting more than 24,000 pro bono clients on myriad civil legal matters (e.g., domestic relations, consumer law, housing, bankruptcy, employment, immigration). The system has also been used to provide pro bono legal services to hundreds of nonprofit organizations through GRBF’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse program. Today, there are more than 1,500 volunteer attorneys registered to take pro bono cases on JusticeServer.

In 2017, GRBF, CVLAS, LAJC, and Capital One selected TechBridge, a nonprofit technology development organization in Atlanta, to upgrade and enhance JusticeServer so that its portal could be used with more legal aid case management systems and deployed at scale beyond Central Virginia. In the spring of 2019, JusticeServer® 2.0 was launched, and the volunteer portal was connected with all regional legal aid organizations in Virginia. The system has since been adopted in parts of New York, and expansion to legal aid organizations in California, Massachusetts, and other jurisdictions is under consideration.

Pro Bono Clinics
Capital One attorneys and legal professionals regularly donate their time to staff a number of pro bono clinics throughout the company’s footprint, including clinics to:

  • provide estate documents for the terminally ill (Virginia) and for veterans and first responders (Washington, D.C., area; Virginia; and New York);
  • facilitate uncontested divorces (Washington, D.C., area; and Virginia);
  • assist immigrants with renewals of visas and DACA applications (Washington, D.C., area; Virginia; and New York);
  • advise the homeless regarding their legal rights and social services (New York and Virginia);
  • triage clients for local legal aid offices (Dallas; Virginia; and Washington, D.C., area);
  • advise artists and nonprofit organizations with routine legal issues (Virginia, Dallas, and New York); and
  • advise students on the risks of identity theft and how to prevent it (Washington, D.C., area).

Capital One’s Legal Department has also partnered with PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono team to hold four Clinic in a Box®events, most recently in April 2019.

Pro Bono Appellate Work
Over the past several years, members of Capital One’s Legal Department in McLean and Richmond have drafted briefs and argued pro bono cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of prisoners contesting conditions of confinement and undocumented immigrants contesting transfers to out-of-state detention centers, in partnership with LAJC and, more recently, McGuireWoods.

Asylum & Immigration Work
Capital One attorneys and specialists partner with KIND (Kids In Need of Defense), a national non-profit organization that partners with pro bono attorneys to serve immigrant children who face the possibility of deportation from the United States. Capital One volunteers represent and assist refugee or immigrant children who may be eligible for relief from deportation so that they do not face immigration court alone.

Capital One Legal also partners on aslyum work with both Vecina, and Georgia Aslyum & Immigration Network (in partnership with King & Spalding), in preparing applications for humanitarian parole for Afghan refugees seeking asylum. The grant of humanitarian parole allows applicants to enter the United States and begin the asylum process, and is one of the few avenues to safety left for these individuals.  Attorneys provide virtual representation to asylum seekers, including asylum application drafting, affidavit preparation, country conditions research, evidence gathering, and orientation on the asylum interview process.

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project
Capital One attorneys read and consider files from prisoners convicted in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia who are seeking assistance from MAIP to determine whether they merit deeper investigation, especially through the use of new evidence, to prove the prisoner is innocent.  Because of the virtual nature of the program, Capital One’s participation with MAIP soared during the pandemic and continues to thrive.

Legal Volunteerism to Help Shape the Future of the Legal Profession
Seven years ago, Capital One joined forces with Street Law, a nonprofit organization that creates classroom and community programs to teach students about law, democracy, and human rights, and give them the skills and confidence they need to bring about positive change.  Through the Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, Capital One associates visit high school students in their classrooms to educate students about the law and legal careers, and introduce them to the tools and skills necessary to prepare for college and the workforce.

Capital One Legal is also a partner with Just The Beginning, working on pipeline programs aimed at inspiring young students and increasing diversity in the legal profession and judiciary, and helping law students and graduates to build their networks while strengthening their legal, professional, and leadership skills.

Lastly, Capital One Legal professionals partner with the Richmond Forum’s Richmond Region Speech & Debate Initiative, which offers high school students opportunities to gain competitiveness by hosting tournaments, offers camp sponsorships and leadership programs, and raises awareness of the value of speech and debate activities for young scholars.

PBI applauds Capital One for its continuing dedication to pro bono and access to justice.