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“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
—Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court
We mourn the unconscionable and senseless killing of George Floyd, and so many other Black lives this year, and every year, at the hands of those professing to protect and serve. We acknowledge the brutality and racism that too many of our brothers, sisters, and siblings have had to endure all our lives. We all grieve the loss and feel the pain, anger, frustration, and worry as our country faces a crossroads of despair and determination, of darkness and light. We must join together now to address and defeat systemic and institutional racism.
I can’t breathe is a literal and figurative cry of suffering that so many unheard, unseen American people and communities of color have had to swallow – their needs, their dignity, their very breath – in order to survive in a world that devalues their minds and souls, and their very lives.
In this era of COVID-19, which had already laid bare the systemic racial inequality in the U.S. and around the world, we felt we were almost at the breaking point. Then we realized that the pandemic, as horrendous as it continues to be, is only another tangible manifestation of the injustices that Black and Brown Americans are forced to endure.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
So we at PBI join with you as you rededicate yourselves to intensify the fight for justice for George Floyd, for breath for underserved and marginalized people everywhere, and for access to justice and equality for all.
Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, PBI could not hold its 2020 Annual Conference in March. In response to the rising need for legal aid and pro bono services, and knowing that our conference content provides important guidance and information, we developed a month-long Virtual Conference, held from June 8 – July 2. The first week was a stellar line-up of pre-recorded webinars and live sessions for the pro bono legal community as a whole, and tracked sessions specifically designed to develop and strengthen pro bono at law firms, in-house law departments, and public interest organizations. Knowing how valuable conferences are for meeting new colleagues, discovering new programs, and learning first-hand knowledge and advice, we added educational and interactive networking opportunities.
Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison
Wednesday, June 24th (NEW DATE)
3:00 PM EDT
RSVP by Monday, June 22
(If you previously RSVP’d for the original date, please RSVP again for the new date.)
SAVE TO YOUR CALENDAR
Keith Ellison is Minnesota’s 30th attorney general. As the People’s Lawyer, Attorney General Ellison’s job is to help Minnesotans afford their lives and live with dignity, safety, and respect. Ellison will address PBI conference attendees and guests virtually to discuss racial justice.
He will follow his keynote address with a short Q & A.
From 2007 to 2019, Keith Ellison represented Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he championed consumer, worker, environmental, and civil- and human-rights protections for Minnesotans.
Before being elected to Congress, Attorney General Ellison served four years in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Prior to entering elective office, he spent 16 years as an attorney specializing in civil-rights and defense law, including five years as executive director of the Legal Rights Center, a public-interest law firm. There he oversaw a team of attorneys focused on delivering justice for Minnesotans who had nowhere else to turn. He was also a noted community activist.
Stacey Abrams is a New York Times bestselling author, serial entrepreneur, nonprofit CEO, and political leader. She served for 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, seven as Democratic Leader. In 2018, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, winning more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. Abrams will address PBI conference attendees and guests virtually to discuss racial justice and voter suppression. She will follow her keynote address with a brief Q & A.
Abrams was the first Black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States, and she was the first Black woman and first Georgian to deliver a Response to the State of the Union. After witnessing the gross mismanagement of the 2018 election by the Secretary of State’s office, Abrams launched Fair Fight, an initiative to fund and train voter protection teams in 20 battleground states, to ensure every American has a voice in our election system. Over the course of her career, Abrams has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels. In 2019, she launched Fair Count to ensure accuracy in the 2020 Census and greater participation in civic engagement, and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South. Find out more about Fair Fight.
Just a few months ago, pro bono legal services typically were delivered in clinics and courts. Amid the continually changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed nearly all facets of daily life transition to virtual formats. Pro bono efforts are no different, as many law firms, legal departments, state bar associations, legal services organizations, and other groups have adapted their services to continue remotely during these unpredictable times. For many individuals, pro bono services are more important than ever, as the pandemic has both caused and exacerbated a variety of hardships for people around the world. Now, the racial justice protests sweeping the U.S. and the globe are further mobilizing volunteers. Here, the Wire takes a brief look at how COVID-19 has impacted legal services and the field of pro bono in the U.S. as a whole, and highlights organizations around the country that are coordinating remote pro bono services during this time.
The need for legal services as a result of the pandemic continues to mount in the face of various economic, social, and health-related strains. Around the U.S., disaster response-related legal matters such as insurance, health law, and the protection of basic human needs (i.e. protection of food, shelter, employment benefits, criminal justice, civil rights and social justice, protection against interpersonal violence, etc.) have arisen for many during the pandemic, further exacerbated by other widespread factors like job loss, inability to pay rent or other monthly bills, heightened medical expenses, etc. While traditional face-to-face legal services may not resume in many circumstances, many legal services organizations have taken steps to both adapt operations to abide by the CDC’s social distancing guidelines and even increase access to pro bono services for COVID-related hardships.
The American Bar Association is a prime example of this, as its “COVID-19 and Pro Bono” webpage offers numerous virtual resources for those in legal professions regarding pro bono opportunities during the pandemic. Some of these resources include a multi-part webinar series on Civil Rights and Social Justice during COVID-19 and a Disaster Relief Pro Bono Opportunity Portal where attorneys can browse and sign up to volunteer on various COVID-19 relief projectsaround the country. Additionally, the ABA has also created a nationwide COVID-19 task force of volunteer attorneys and judges to, “identify the legal needs arising from the pandemic, make recommendations to address those needs, and help mobilize volunteer lawyers and legal professionals to assist people who need help.” Another new opportunity is the Lawyers for Good Government Small Business Clinics, for pro bono volunteers to provide remote consultations to help small businesses navigate the economic crisis.
Many other regional and national groups have adapted and expanded their pro bono services and resources in the wake of COVID-19. Some organizations are adapting existing pro bono services for those of limited means. For example, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, which provides free civil legal aid for low-income people in the metro Atlanta area, assists with a variety of pro bono matters such as landlord-tenant disputes, family law, bankruptcy, small claims, guardianship, domestic violence, and general civil litigation. During COVID-19, Atlanta Legal Aid has transitioned to remote work and while the main intake lines remain open, the organization has developed an online intake system for remote operations. Another example of a legal services organization expanding existing pro bono services is Washington State’s Unemployment Law Project. It has responded to the massive unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding its pro bono efforts, seeking attorney volunteers to represent claimants at phone hearings and non-attorney volunteers to assist with intake interviews. Bay Area Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm providing free civil legal services to low-income Tampa Bay area residents, has created new remote pro bono opportunities for attorneys fluent in both English and Spanish to provide assistance on issues including family law, bankruptcy and debt, employment, housing, consumer & finance matters.
Additionally, since protests began in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black people around the country, there has been heightened interest in ways to get involved in racial justice initiatives. One way many legal professionals are getting involved is by organizing individual lawyers to offer pro bono services for people arrested at Black Lives Matter protests. Many of these efforts are organized online and have tapped into social media to mobilize quickly. For example, a small insurance defense and business litigation firm in New Orleans recently compiled a directory of pro bono attorneys for protestors on their website, and provided information on bail assistance. Similarly, as many individual attorneys and larger firms have been offering pro bono services via Twitter and Facebook, many social media users have compiled lists and spreadsheets of their own. Examples include: the “Resistance Resource Hub” spreadsheet that lists over 150 firms around the U.S. offering pro bono legal services and other resistance and anti-racism resources; this spreadsheet of over 100 firms, legal service organizations, and individual attorneys offering pro bono services in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, and New York City; and this list of attorneys and firms around the state of Texas offering free legal services for protestors, among many others. The Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers’ Guild (NLG) is offering legal help such as conducting “know your rights” trainings and workshops, meeting with organizers about protests, setting up jail and bail support programs, serving as Legal Observers® at protests, and representation in cases of protest arrests.
In addition to these nationwide initiatives, there are a variety of local pro bono opportunities to assist protestors supporting racial justice. A recent Washingtonian article highlighted D.C. lawyers and legal groups offering pro bono legal services to “demonstrators facing criminal charges, or those who believe police violated their civil rights,” such as the National Lawyers Guild, and Law 4 Black Lives DC. Additionally, the ACLU of the District of Columbia and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs are offering legal services for protestors who believe they suffered excessive force by law enforcement. Pro bono attorneys regularly support the litigation efforts of the both the ACLU-DC and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.
In addition to aiding protestors, there are opportunities to use pro bono for advancing systemic change in support of racial justice. This work can be in many categories, ranging from housing to voting rights to criminal justice reform to economic empowerment to education to anti-hate work. Following are just a few examples.
How are you getting involved in pro bono now? Let us know at email@example.com.
The 2020 PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Report is out, and it was another healthy year for pro bono programs. The 2020 Challenge Report examines the pro bono performance of firms that are signatories to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge initiative during the 2019 calendar year. Signatories have committed to contribute 3 or 5 percent of their annual billable hours (or, at a few firms, 60 or 100 hours per attorney) to pro bono activities as defined by the Challenge, and report their performance to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project each year.
Firms reported performing a total of 4,993,398 hours of pro bono work in 2019. A result on par with record-breaking 2018, despite one less firm reporting this year. This is only the second time signatories have collectively hit the 5 million hours mark since the implementation of the Challenge in 1995.
The overall participation rate of attorneys remained essentially steady in 2018 at 76.3 percent. The percentage of partners participating in pro bono was 67.6 percent, compared to 67.4 percent in 2018. Additionally, the percentage of associates participating in pro bono hit a record high, climbing to 90.1 percent, compared to 85.1 percent in 2018. In 2019, firms reported 71.4 percent of all pro bono time was devoted to those limited means and organizations serving them, up 3 percent from 2018.
More Key Facts
We thank and congratulate the Challenge signatories whose commitment to pro bono is positively reflected in this Report, and we look forward to a renewed and expanded level of commitment in 2020 as the legal industry responds to unprecedented crises. Read the full report here. Interested in your firm becoming a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge signatory? Find out how.
As the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) gears up to secure funding for FY2021, Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), the global in-house project of PBI, along with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), have invited general counsels and chief legal officers to add their name to a letter in support of federal funding of LSC for FY2021. PBI thanks all of the GCs and CLOs who are supporting this important effort.
Last year, over 260 general counsel and chief legal officers joined a letter to Congress to encourage the continued funding of LSC when the proposed budget sought to eliminate all funding. Following advocacy efforts, Congress and the President ultimately approved a new spending package that increased LSC funding for FY2020. Nevertheless, for the fourth year in a row, the administration has proposed to defund LSC in the budget for FY2021.
This year’s letter already has more than 200 signatories and new signatories continue to join.
LSC, as the largest funder of civil legal aid in the U.S., is the cornerstone of ensuring access to justice in the U.S. LSC provides resources and financial support to legal aid organizations around the country that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as structure and resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments.
Funding of LSC’s services for FY2021 will also be especially important this year, as the pandemic has caused devastating legal issues for low-income people across the country. LSC recently received $50 million in the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by the Senate to help LSC grantees assist low-income clients facing unemployment, eviction, and other legal needs resulting from the pandemic. There is Senate bipartisan support for LSC’s request for an additional $50 million to aid LSC grantees in addressing the challenges of COVID-19. Among other things, LSC is funding the telework capacity building efforts of grantees to support remote delivery of legal services to low-income Americans during the pandemic.
“The biggest problem you’ve probably never heard of affects over 10 million people in the United States.” Millions of Americans are entangled in a little-publicized, economic and legal catch-22 that impedes their ability to earn a living and meet basic family and personal needs. The problem? Over 11 million driver’s license suspensions across the nation due to unpaid “court debt” (e.g., fines and fees). Read our latest blog to find out more.
PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono worked with the legal department of Verizon Communications** in Basking Ridge, New Jersey and Thompson Hine to organize a virtual pro bono Clinic in a Box program to serve New Jersey nonprofits needing legal advice in the wake of COVID-19. Topics included administering FMLA, EFMLA, and paid sick leave during COVID-19, unemployment and other considerations for reductions in force, and Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
The Clinic was held on June 3 via WebEx, which included a dial-in option for any clients who could not access video-conferencing.
More than a dozen volunteers signed up to assist nonprofits, and dozens more attorneys from Verizon and Thompson Hine participated in the CLE training. Three New Jersey nonprofits met with teams of volunteer attorneys on the day of the clinic, and volunteers are trained and prepared to serve additional nonprofits in the coming weeks.
Corporate Pro Bono has run many Clinic in a Box® programs over the years for the legal department of Verizon, and the team was hard at work planning a program for April 2020 in Verizon’s Basking Ridge, New Jersey office, when the pandemic hit. The creativity and dedication of the pro bono team at Verizon and its partners resulted in a successful pivot to a virtual program.
* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member