We need your nominations for our 2014 Government Pro Bono Award. This award highlights the important (and often overlooked) pro bono contributions made by government attorneys. The deadline for nominations is Friday, October 3.
Type of Pro Bono Service: We define pro bono service broadly, and we don’t limit it to direct legal representation or litigation. Past recipients have demonstrated a commitment to promoting the access to justice for those in need in a variety of ways and in many different substantive practice areas.
A non-exhaustive list includes the following: involvement in establishing or implementing an agency pro bono program, increasing the level of pro bono service by agency attorneys through promotion or facilitation of pro bono opportunities, mentoring or training agency lawyers handling pro bono matters, significant efforts in litigating cases or providing nonlitigation legal services to low income people or entities, or regular and active participation in pro bono clinics.
Information We Need: We welcome nominations in narrative form. Please include for both you and the nominee(s) contact information, including name, position title, agency name and division (if applicable), mailing and email addresses, and phone numbers. For nominations of individuals, please attach a resume if one is available. In addition, please state your relationship to the nominee(s).
Description of Nominee’s Pro Bono Work: Nominations should describe the nominee’s pro bono activities, including: a description of the program or services upon which the nomination is based, the number of attorneys or other staff persons who participated and, if applicable, the clientele served, time period covered by the pro bono activities, and a description of the impact of the work on the client(s), the community or the agency.
How to Submit Nominations: Please send an email to our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez (NALopez@wclawyers.org). Nominations must be received by 5 pm on Friday, October 3.
We’re seeking nominees for our 2014 Legal Services Award. This (all new) award recognizes the outstanding work of the lawyers who serve in the public-interest community: the staff attorneys who represent low-income individuals day in and day out.
They may be rising stars or unsung heroes – either way, they demonstrate a passion for helping people and expanding access to justice. The deadline for nominations is Friday, October 3.
Type of Legal Service: We’re looking for nominees with one or more of the following characteristics:
* A lawyer whose work benefits low-income or otherwise marginalized clients in the DC metro area;
* An individual who supports the DC public interest community in improving access to justice for those who cannot afford a lawyer, or who has worked to unite the public-interest, pro-bono, and government communities around this goal;
* An advocate who has gone above and beyond the normal requirements of their job to assist persons in need or has thought and worked creatively to resolve difficult legal issues.
Information We Need: Nominations should describe the program or services upon which the nomination is based, the number of attorneys or other staff members who participated, and, if applicable, the clientele served, time period covered by the activities, and a description of the impact of the work.
How to Submit Nominations: Please send nominations to Nancy Lopez at email@example.com. The deadline is 5 pm on Friday, October 3.
This summer, we had the privilege to work with a fantastic college student, Mike Mazzella. As Mike’s summer internship with us wraps us, we asked him a few questions:
Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a rising Senior at the University of Arizona Honors College, and I’m majoring in Communication with an emphasis on Pre-Law. I’m also a member of two fraternities, and a former Student Body Senator.
Pre-Law? So you want to be a lawyer?
Yes! I first got interested in law in high school on my debate team. I started following big cases, getting involved with politics, and delivering more public speeches. I found that I had a talent for rhetoric and research. Plus I’ve always wanted to do something that puts me in a position to help other people.
What attracted you to Washington Council of Lawyers?
I think Washington Council of Lawyers is great because we not only want to help those in need of assistance, but we also want to help people improve their standard of living. The legal community can have a monumental impact on the lives of those in need: everything from helping people find jobs, to keeping a roof over their heads, and making sure they have access to affordable and nutritious foods. It feels good to give back, but it feels even better to have a hand in solving an ongoing problem.
What was your favorite part about working for us this summer?
All of the amazing people I’ve met this summer. I was lucky enough to be paired with an amazing boss [editors note: Mike is referring to our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez] who thought it was important to introduce me to as many lawyers and public advocates as possible. I’ve really gotten the inside perspective on public-interest law and what it takes to make it. Their advice and encouragement has set me up perfectly for the next four years.
What exactly did you do for us this summer?
I washed Nancy’s car and walked her dogs…No, I’m just kidding. Mostly I helped to spread the word and set up for events that we hosted. A lot of it was logistics: making name badges, organizing guest lists, setting up the spaces, designing posters, taking notes, and conducting interviews.
What is the most important project you’ve worked on this summer?
That would have to be the East of the River Blog. For about the past month I’ve sat on a committee designed to create a blog with the goal of inspiring lawyers in DC to do more pro bono work east of the Anacostia River. Our plan is to demonstrate the benefits of doing that kind of work by showcasing some success stories and interviewing the people who made them possible. You’ll see the results of our efforts beginning this fall.
Sounds like you’ve been pretty busy. What do you do in your spare time?
Here? Sleep! Or I hang out with my friends in the dorm where I’m staying. I’m also taking two classes right now, so that takes up a lot of my time as well. When I’m back home, I perform every week with my improv comedy troupe, and that keeps me going until the weekend. Do you see a future for yourself here in DC? Absolutely, I love this city. I could completely see myself going to school here and then staying to pursue my career. I’ve figured out the subway system, so by now I’m practically a native.
Thanks, Mike, and thanks for all of your help this summer! We can’t wait to welcome you back to the DC legal community!
Three Superior Court judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment.
Tuesday, June 24 | 11:00 am – 1:00 pm Legal Advocacy for People With Intellectual Disabilities – DC Department on Disability Services, Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, and Project Action
Arent Fox LLP (1717 K Street, NW; Red Line: Farragut North)
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
An interactive brown bag discussion of: practice tips, ethical obligations, reasonable accommodations, advocacy support, and more.
Wednesday, June 25 | 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Lunch and Law: Bullying – Children’s Law Center
Conference Call: Dial 605–562–3000 and use passcode 964021#
Three Court of Appeals judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment.
Wednesday, July 9 | 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Fellowships 101: An Introduction to Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowships – Washington Council of Lawyers
Georgetown Law (600 New Jersey Avenue, NW – Hart Auditorium; Red Line: Union Station)
A panel discussion of the ins and outs of project-based fellowship programs. Expert panelists will offer tips and insights about how to craft the best fellowship proposals while in law school.
Thursday, July 10 | 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm An Evening at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Arent Fox LLP
Holocaust Memorial Museum (100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW; Orange/Blue Line: Smithsonian)
For more information, contact Emily.Dorsey@arentfox.com
Gerard Leval, General Counsel of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and a partner at Arent Fox LLP, will discuss legal issues relating to the development of the museum and those affecting the museum’s operations since its opening in 1993.
Wednesday, July 16 | 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Public Interest Happy Hour – Washington Council of Lawyers
Thomas Foolery (2029 P Street, NW; Red Line: Dupont Circle)
Celebrity guest bartenders pour your drink: Jim Sandman (Legal Services Corporation), Paul Smith (Jenner & Block), Virginia Sloan (The Constitution Project), and William Treanor (Georgetown University Law Center).
Friday, July 18 | 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm Practicing Public Interest Law East of the Anacostia River: 4th Annual Summer Panel Discussion with the East of the River Casehandlers
To register, contact Heather Hodges at 202.269.5100 or email@example.com
A discussion about student internships and pro bono opportunities east of the river, the DC Bar Foundation’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program for public interest lawyers in DC, and the DC legal services providers that serve the low-income residents of the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods east of the river.
Thursday, July 24 | 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm Perspectives on Poverty Law from the Bench: Office of Administrative Hearings – Washington Council of Lawyers
Arnold & Porter LLP (555 12th Street, NW; Orange/Blue/Red Line: Metro Center)
Three DC Office of Administrative Hearings judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment.
Wednesday, July 30 | 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm Perspectives on Poverty Law from the Bench: US District Court for the District of Columbia – Washington Council of Lawyers
McDermott Will & Emery (500 North Capitol Street, NW; Red Line: Union Station)
Three DC District Court judges will discuss how poverty impacts the justice system, the critical role that pro bono and public interest attorneys play in securing access to justice, and how a public interest career path can lead to a judicial appointment.
Monday, August 18 – Friday, August 22 13th Annual Human Rights on the Hill – University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law
To join the list for more information, including a session schedule, write to JFL@udc.edu
The course features presentations from a wide range of human rights lawyers, activists and governmental agency leaders. No credit is offered, no tuition is charged, donations are accepted, and you can go to one or all of the classes.
On June 12, we held our annual Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum. We were joined at Arnold & Porter by over two hundred eager lawyers, summer associates, and legal interns—eager to learn about how to make public service and pro bono work an integral part of their legal careers.
Our Executive Director Nancy Lopez got things underway by sharing a line from “For Good”—from the musical Wicked—describing how we can be changed for the better by the people who come into our lives. Nancy drew not only the obvious conclusion—that clients in need can have their lives changed by lawyers who care—but also the converse: that clients can change their lawyers for the better too.
Then it was on the keynote speech, delivered by Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation. After urging everyone to join Washington Council of Lawyers, Jim shared some words of encouragement and advice for new lawyers. Among other things, lawyers shouldn’t feel the need to devise a master plan: “You shouldn’t have a plan,” Sandman said, because “opportunities for change are around every corner and you should welcome them and follow those that prove promising to bigger and better accomplishments.” He urged young lawyers to get involved in their communities, retain flexibility by living beneath their means—“I drove over here today in my 2003 Honda Civic. With a smile on my face, because I love what I do”—and to work hard on time management.
The rousing and humorous speech concluded with Sandman telling the crowd to “find and collect as many mentors as possible. They can even be younger then you, but find people who inspire and motivate you and don’t let them go.”
Attendees then broke out into one of five sessions. Each featured panels of experienced lawyers and advocates with experience in a particular field of public-interest or pro bono work. Attendees learned (among many other things) about the diverse career paths of civil-rights lawyers; coping with the intense emotional demands of criminal litigation; the complicated legal and humanitarian issues involved in immigration cases; the unique skills that new lawyers can develop working on pro bono transactional matters, and the desperate need for representation of parties in DC family court.
It was a ton of information and inspiration packed into just over two hours. And we can’t wait for next year’s event!
On May 28, we cosponsored (along with the Constitution Project, the Innocence Project, and Steptoe and Johnson) a panel on the recent exoneration of Sabein Burgess. Burgess spent nearly twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aleta Sprague has this report on the panel.
At age 24, Sabein Burgess was convicted of murdering his girlfriend at their Baltimore home. His defense attorney called no witnesses during the two-day trial. Burgess was sentenced to life in prison; he remained incarcerated until this year – despite the emergence of contradictory eyewitness testimony and another man’s confession. Eventually, a team of attorneys demonstrated that he was convicted based on faulty forensic evidence. On February 21, 2014, Burgess, now 43, was finally able to return home.
The panel featured attorneys from both Steptoe and Johnson and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), which worked together on behalf of Burgess. The panelists explained how the justice system failed Burgess by providing an ineffective defense attorney and repeatedly disregarding evidence of his innocence after his conviction – particularly the confession of Charles Dorsey, who today is considered the primary suspect.
The conviction of Burgess rested almost entirely on questionable gunshot residue evidence – the validity of which was formally reassessed by the FBI in 2005. Gunshot residue evidence has a high risk of contamination; today, the FBI has stopped using this type of evidence.
Unfortunately, the Burgess story is not unique. A 2012 study found that more than 2000 individuals had been convicted and then exonerated of serious crimes since 1989. Mere weeks before Burgess’ release, another study found that exonerations in the U.S. have reached a record high—though an increasing number are linked to false confessions induced by plea bargains, rather than DNA evidence.
Attorneys who worked on the case urged audience members to find ways to become involved with exoneration work (or with any pro bono cause that speaks to their passions). To learn more about the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and identify opportunities to volunteer, click here.
Yesterday we submitted comments to the DC Court of Appeals regarding its proposed amendments to Appellate Rule 49, governing pro bono work by lawyers not admitted in the District of Columbia. The text of our comments is below:
Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals 430 E Street, N.W. Suite 209 Washington, DC 20001
Re: Proposed Revisions to D.C. App. R. 49, Legal Assistance by Internal Counsel
Dear Chief Judge Washington:
Washington Council of Lawyers writes in response to the D.C. Court of Appeals’ request for comments regarding the proposed revisions to D.C. Court of Appeals Rule 49. Although we strongly support the goal of increasing access to justice by allowing internal counsel who are not admitted to the D.C. Bar to perform pro bono work, we are concerned that the supervisory language of the proposed revisions imposes greater burdens on attorneys who supervise pro bono work performed by internal counsel than are required when supervising similarly-situated government lawyers. To avoid this anomaly, and to ensure that internal counsel do not face unduly restrictive requirements for performing pro bono service, we urge the Court to revise the proposed rule to make it consistent with the rules governing pro bono service by government lawyers.
Since our founding as a voluntary bar association in 1971, Washington Council of Lawyers has promoted pro bono service and the public interest practice of law. Today, we continue to seek and recommend strategies for all lawyers to engage in meaningful ways to provide legal services to low-income people in our community. We encourage attorneys in all practices to make pro bono service a regular part of their careers, and we promote solutions that increase the availability of high-quality legal representation for persons in need in the District of Columbia.
The proposed amendment to Rule 49 permits internal counsel, who are not admitted in D.C., to perform pro bono work in the District, if in good standing of the highest court of a state or territory and supervised by a D.C. Bar member. In addition, the proposed rule change would require that the work the counsel is doing be assigned or referred by an organization that provides pro bono legal services to the public without fee.
We support allowing internal counsel to perform pro bono work, even if they are not admitted in the District of Columbia. First, we recognize the need for more pro bono counsel in the District to promote the access to justice for the significant population of economically disadvantaged and vulnerable persons in need of legal help. Second, it has been our experience that a similar provision applicable to government attorneys Rule 49(c)(9)(C) has been very effective in making available additional quality legal representation to persons who otherwise could not afford an attorney. Finally, it is our understanding that the legal services community is willing and able to make the additional referrals of cases upon which the success of this amendment depends.
We have significant concerns, however, regarding the amendment’s language addressing supervision by a D.C. Bar member. We recommend that this language be modified to track the parallel provision governing pro bono service by govermnent attorneys. The proposed language in Rule 49 for internal counsel not admitted in D.C. providing pro bono services differs from the parallel language governing government lawyers who are not admitted in D.C., but provide pro bono legal services pursuant to Rule 49. The proposed amendment provides that internal counsel may provide pro bono services when, among other conditions, the “individual is supervised by an active member of the District of Columbia Bar who takes responsibility for the quality of the work and complaints concerning the services, and that the practitioner or the District of Columbia Bar member gives notice to the public of the member’s supervision and the practitioner’s bar status.” In contrast, the supervisory language in the current Rule 49(c)(9)(C), covering government attorneys, requires that, among other things, the attorney “is supervised by an enrolled, active member of the District of Columbia Bar.”
We are especially concerned that the differing language might be interpreted to suggest that distinct standards apply to the two categories of similarly-situated lawyers, and that the perception of a higher standard of supervision required for internal counsel could have a chilling effect on the willingness of some D.C. Bar members to supervise pro bono cases. To avoid unduly deterring lawyers from supervising pro bono work by internal counsel, the Court should apply the existing language of Rule 49(c)(9)(C) to internal counsel, so that the provisions will be uniform. See also Opinion 12-2 of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law (September 16, 2002) (“The same standard governs the supervision requirement in Rule 49 as in the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct … to make reasonable efforts to ensure conformity with, among other Rules, Rule 1.1 requiring competent representation and Rule 1.3 requiring zealous and diligent representation within the bounds of the law.”).
We commend everyone involved in the process of drafting the proposed changes to Rule 49, and we appreciate the opportunity to submit comments on this important issue.
Elizabeth L. Howe President Washington Council of Lawyers
If you are a policy wonk, or if you spend more time working with lawmakers than duking it out opposing counsel, joining Washington Council of Lawyers will help you stay connected with the broader legal community and other lawyers committed to public service.
We are the only bar association in DC devoted to the promotion of pro bono and public-interest law. We sponsor a mentoring program for new attorneys, forums on recent developments in the law, and events focusing on policy issues surroundingpoverty and access to justice. Through our monthly happy hours, annual awards reception, and other events, we also offer lots of networking opportunities with like-minded attorneys from local law firms, government agencies, and advocacy organizations. And we provide a variety of opportunities to volunteer to help those in need.
Members receive discounted prices to paid events, and your dues will ensure we can continue to promote the access to justice in our community. Click here to join today!
Washington Council of Lawyers provides a welcoming community for lawyers who are new to the profession – or new to DC – and have a strong interest in pro bono and public-interest law.
We bring together lawyers old and new, who work together to advance our mission. Our programs provide opportunities to meet legal legends and our mentoring program for new attorneys is one-of-a-kind.
Through our monthly happy hours, annual awards reception, and other events, we integrate like-minded attorneys from local law firms, government agencies, and advocacy organizations. We offer reasonably-priced, top-notch skills trainings; past programs have focused on opening statements, expert witnesses, impeachment, and moving documents into evidence. And we offer a variety of volunteer opportunities so that you can provide direct service to those who need representation.
Members receive discounted prices to paid events, and your dues will ensure that we can continue to promote access to justice in Washington, DC. Click here to join today!
Law students can sometimes feel isolated from the reasons that brought them to law school. Public-interest students may feel like the path to becoming a public interest lawyer is unclear and full of obstacles. Other students may be interested in private practice, but lack role models who have managed to integrate pro bono work into their legal practice. If you share these concerns, consider joining Washington Council of Lawyers.
We are the only bar association in Washington, DC devoted to the promotion of pro bono and public-interest law. We are committed to creating the next generation of public-interest lawyers and pro bono practitioners by supporting current law students. We integrate law students into the DC legal community by offering networking opportunities and happy hours, educating law students about positions for aspiring public-interest lawyers, and exposing students to areas of law where advocacy is sorely needed.
During this spring semester, we have hosted monthly happy hours, offered law students the opportunity to meet current and former public-interest fellows, and organized a panel discussion on global pro bono opportunities for lawyers and law students.
As a member, you’ll be the first to hear about our upcoming programs and trainings, you will receive discounted prices to paid events, and your dues will ensure continued city-wide support for free and low-cost programming for students pursuing public-interest and pro bono goals.
Please consider joining other law students who are dedicated to using their skills to help close the access-to-justice gap. Click here to join today!
As a legal services attorney, you are dedicating yourself to closing the access-to-justice gap. Your work is difficult. So you deserve to have emotional support, camaraderie with like-minded lawyers, and mentoring. You can find those things by joining Washington Council of Lawyers.
We are the only bar association in Washington, DC devoted to the promotion of pro bono and public-interest law. We bring public-interest lawyers together to create community through monthly happy hours and receptions. Our mentoring program pairs new public-interest lawyers with more seasoned counterparts. We host programs to address topics such as burnout among public-interest lawyers. And we provide skills trainings to ensure that public-interest lawyers are able to provide their clients with the best possible representation.
Please consider joining other legal services attorneys who are dedicated to building support within and for the DC legal-services community. As a member, you’ll be the first to hear about our upcoming programs and trainings; you’ll receive discounted prices to paid events; and your dues will ensure we can continue to provide a wide variety of free or low-cost programs designed to support legal-services attorneys.
For those in private practice, maintaining an active pro-bono practice can be challenging. It really helps to have support – not only within your firm, but from other like-minded lawyers elsewhere.
We can help get you that support – as well as training and connections to pro bono work. We are the only bar association in DC that is devoted to the promotion of pro bono and public-interest law. We also offer the chance to meet like-minded attorneys from other firms, government agencies, advocacy organizations, and corporate-law offices, including monthly happy hours and an annual awards reception.
As a member, you’ll be the first to hear about our upcoming programs and trainings; you’ll receive discounted prices to paid events; and your dues will ensure we can continue to support pro bono work by lawyers in private practice.
Please consider joining with other law-firm attorneys who are dedicated to making pro-bono service a part of their professional life, and become a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers. Click here to join!
As a dues-paying member, you’ll demonstrate your support for programs and trainings aimed at government attorneys interested in pro-bono work.
You’ll also be the first to hear about our upcoming programs and trainings; receive discounts on our paid events, such as skills trainings; and receive our monthly Public Interest Jobs Clearinghouse, a digest of public-interest job listings from Washington, DC and around the country.
Plus, your dues will ensure we can continue to promote and support pro-bono work by government lawyers.
We are eager to support candidates who are committed to protecting the rights of all litigants before the courts. In the past, we’ve submitted letters of support on behalf of applicants with one or more of the following types of experiences and characteristics:
** Personal involvement in the provision of pro bono and public-interest legal services;
** Significant efforts to promote equal access to justice and effective representation for all litigants; and
** A strong commitment to the District of Columbia community and equal justice under law.