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April 2017 - President's Message
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President's Message -APRIL

Stacy Horth-Neubert
WLALA President 2016-2017

 This Spring, Pro Bono Is Right Where You Belong

 

My drought-tolerant backyard is literally exploding with color right now (as these photos attest).  All of those dark, cold days of rain we had this winter in Los Angeles made it possible for this Spring to live up to its promise of transformation and renewal.  As it is apt to do, Spring has reminded me that sometimes it takes dark days to bring about beautiful change.   

This is a message that was driven home for me by a victory achieved just after the start of Spring by my pro bono case team and our public interest co-counsel, the National Immigration Law Center, and the New Orleans Worker's Center.  On March 23, 2017, a federal district court judge held that our client was likely to prevail on his claims that a new Louisiana marriage law unconstitutionally discriminated against foreign-born residents.  The law was passed in an effort to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining marriage licenses in the State.  As if that motive weren't dark enough, the law also prohibited certain foreign-born lawful residents and citizens from obtaining marriage licenses.  Our client is a naturalized U.S. citizen, but because he was born on a refugee camp in Indonesia, he did not have the documents required by the new law to obtain a marriage license.  In issuing a temporary restraining order banning enforcement of the law, the court reaffirmed that the U.S. Constitution protects the fundamental right to marry.[1]  Our client is now eagerly preparing formally to marry his fiancé of two years.  Spring is a lovely time for weddings. 

There is another sort of beauty coming out of what many of us on both sides of the political aisle would agree are pretty dark times in which we are living.  I and many of my fellow pro bono coordinators have seen a huge surge in interest in doing pro bono work in the past few months.[2]  Immigration, voting rights and reproductive rights are just a few of the areas in which pro bono volunteers are actively seeking opportunities and donating at unprecedented levels.[3] 

Interest in pro bono work is not limited to private practice lawyers:  in recent years, in house legal departments have made rapid strides in finding pro bono opportunities for their lawyers.  In 2015, 60 percent of legal departments with at least 50 lawyers reported that they actively encouraged their employees to participate in pro bono.[4]

The need is especially great at this moment when public funding for many public interest law firms is at risk.  The White House's proposed budget, issued last month, eliminates federal funding for the Legal Services Corp., the largest funder of civil legal services in the country. 

"LSC-funded organizations protect the rights of families and communities through a wide range of services, including representation of domestic violence survivors, victims of consumer scams, low-income tenants, veterans and seniors deprived of public benefits, and many others.  Reducing federal funds to LSC would obstruct access to legal services for almost two million of the most vulnerable in our communities each year, hitting low income individuals and families hardest in rural areas and in states like Alabama, where 80 percent of funding for civil legal aid comes from LSC."[5] 

Hundreds of law firms and general counsel have written to Congress to urge that LSC be fully funded so these organizations can continue to serve those in need,[6] further evidencing the wave of activism that is sweeping our profession. 

It is worth noting that although pro bono undoubtedly skews left, opportunities are not limited to liberal causes.  Conservative organizations such as the Federal Society offer pro bono opportunities.[7]  Many law firms also do pro bono work in support of libertarian and conservative causes, such as economic conservativism, free speech, property rights, and religious rights.[8]  The desire to volunteer to advance causes we believe in is non-partisan and deeply engrained in the most noble of our profession.

One aspect of WLALA that is most meaningful to me are the opportunities we provide for our members to engage in pro bono work to benefit those in need here in our community.  WLALA members staff a weekly legal clinic at Sojourn, a domestic violence service provider in Santa Monica.[9]  WLALA has a long-standing and highly valued special relationship with Bet Tzedek, a public interest law firm that has provided free, comprehensive legal services for low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles for more than 40 years.[10]  WLALA offers the Power Lunch Program, in which we collaborate with local state and federal courts to provide education and mentorship for high school students in under-served, high-crime, and ethnically diverse communities.[11]  Finally, it is not too late to get involved in the newly-launched collaboration between WLALA and the Inner City Law Center, in which we are working together to provide additional pro bono services to homeless veterans, including women veterans in Los Angeles.  If you missed the first training, don't worry, we'll hold more![12]   

We as lawyers are taught from our first days in law school that we have a special responsibility to have a positive impact on the lives of others through pro bono work.  Pro bono work offers each of us the opportunity to help others emerge from dark times.  Change a life.  Change the law.  Change the direction of history.  There has never been a better time to use your skills as a lawyer to bring about positive change for a cause in which you believe.  Welcome Spring.



[1]       Vo v. Gee, Case No. 2:16-cv-15639-ILRL-MBN (E.D. La. March 23, 2017).

[2]       Susan Beck¸ Trump's Election Sparks New Interest in Pro Bono, The American Lawyer (Jan. 19, 2017), available at http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=1202775031948/Trumps-Election-Sparks-New-Interest-in-Pro-Bono?slreturn=20170302175316 (subscription required); Marcia Tavares Maack, A Pro Bono Groundswell After Trump’s Immigration Order (Perspective), Bloomberg Law, Big Law Business (Feb. 28, 2017) (pro bono director at Mayer Brown), available at https://bol.bna.com/a-pro-bono-groundswell-after-trumps-immigration-order-perspective/.

[3]       See Beck, supra n.2; Maack, supra n.2; Scott Flaherty, Christine Simmons, Meredith Hobbs and Roy Strom, Big Law Mans the Phones for National Election Protection Efforts, The American Lawyer (Nov. 8, 2016), available at http://www.americanlawyer.com/top-stories/id=1202771863346/Big-Law-Mans-the-Phones-for-National-Election-Protection-Efforts?mcode=1202615731542&curindex=632 (subscription required); Joanna Walters, Progressive causes see 'unprecedented' upswing in donations after US election, The Guardian (Dec. 25, 2016), available at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/25/progressive-donations-us-election-planned-parenthood-aclu.

[4]       Melissa Maleske, How To Make In-House Pro Bono Work, Law360 (Mar. 30, 2017), available at https://www.law360.com/articles/907435/how-to-make-in-house-pro-bono-work.

[5]       Eve Runyon, Opinion: Legal Service Corp. Funding is Critical to Justice for All, Law.com (Mar. 31, 2017), available at http://www.probonoinst.org/wpps/wp-content/uploads/03.31.17-Opinion_-Legal-Service-Corp.-Funding-is-Critical-to-Justice-for-All-_-Law.pdf; see also David A. Lash, Want To Help The Economy? Then Don’t Cut Legal Aid., Above the Law, available at http://abovethelaw.com/2017/03/want-to-help-the-economy-then-dont-cut-legal-aid/

[6]       Runyon, supra n.4; Marcia Coyle, 185 Corporate Counsel Urge Congress to Fund LSC, National Law Journal (Mar. 28, 2017), available at http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202782257144/185-Corporate-Counsel-Urge-Congress-to-Fund-LSC?slreturn=20170302182944; Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, More Than 150 Law Firm Leaders Urge Govt to Continue Funding of Legal Services, The American Lawyer (Mar. 9, 2017), available at http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=1202780975573/More-Than-150-Law-Firm-Leaders-Urge-Govt-to-Continue-Funding-of-Legal-Services?cmp=share_twitter (subscription required).

[7]       The Federalist Society, Pro Bono Center, http://www.probonocenter.org/News.aspx?newsid=3.

[8]       Vivia Chen, Shhh! Pro Bono's Not Just for Liberals Anymore, The American Lawyer (July 9, 2007), available at http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=900005556130/Shhh-Pro-Bonos-Not-Just-for-Liberals-Anymore?slreturn=20170303010522 (subscription required); Vivia Chen, Want To Do Conservative Pro Bono? Good Luck., The American Lawyer (June 29, 2016) (despite the title, providing examples of big firms doing pro bono for conservative causes), available at http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=1202760647726/Want-To-Do-Conservative-Pro-Bono-Good-Luck?slreturn=20170303131820 (subscription required); Nell Gluckman, Weil Prevails in Five-Year Hamptons Pro Bono Battle, The American Lawyer (June 2, 2016), available at http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=1202759178459?keywords=Pro+Bono&publication=The+American+Lawyer (subscription required).

[9]       Learn more on the WLALA website:  http://www.wlala.org/?page=17.

[10]     Click here for volunteer opportunities:  http://www.bettzedek.org/get-involved/.

[11]     Volunteer opportunities are circulated by email to WLALA members when available.

[12]     Learn more on the WLALA website:  https://wlala.site-ym.com/?page=ICLCVolunteer&hhSearchTerms=%22iclc%22.

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