Jump to Navigation | Jump to Content
American Bar Association

News & Developments

July 8, 2013

Superstorm Sandy and the Legal-Aid Community

Even though it’s been over eight months since Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, the residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are still recovering, and with the start of summer and hurricane season, it is vital to see how the legal-aid community is still helping out with the recovery from Superstorm Sandy. The legal-aid community in the states is assisting residents in filing claims for relief. The New York legal-aid and pro bono community is providing direct services to those most affected, including filing for Federal Emergency Management Agency and disaster unemployment insurance benefits, answering immigration-status questions, documenting and filing insurance claims, and addressing many other legal needs of individuals and small businesses. On June 24, 2013, New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo deployed representatives of the Department of Financial Services to locations in Nassau and Suffolk Counties to help homeowners and business owners affected by Superstorm Sandy apply for federal recovery aid.

In New Jersey, the law firm of McCarter & English, LLP, created a handbook for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. The handbook was created as a service by the New Jersey Bar Association and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and is intended to serve as a reference guide to those affected by the storm. Additionally, all Legal Services offices in New Jersey are open. Legal Services will continue to work to help people access benefits, obtain safe affordable housing, and handle other legal issues to help families and communities recover from Hurricane Sandy.

In May, more than $367 million in federal assistance has been approved to help Connecticut with disaster expenses related to Superstorm Sandy. On June 21, 2013, Connecticut’s governor Daniel Malloy signed a measure inspired by the storm that empowers the state’s insurance commissioner to set up a mediation program after any “catastrophic event” that has prompted the governor’s office to declare a state of emergency. The act states that the insurance department “may establish a mediation program for any open claim for loss or damage to personal or real property” arising under either a “personal risk insurance policy” or one involving condominium owners. Automobile policies are exempt, as are contracts of insurance issued under the National Flood Insurance Program. In addition, the act applies only to claims where the amount in dispute is at least $5,000, though the policyholder and the carrier may agree to mediate disputes involving a lesser amount.

With weather patterns resulting in more aggressive storms, the states are pouring more money in legal-aid relief and also adopting new legislation to assist residents who were affected by storms such as Sandy.

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, legal aid, Superstorm Sandy, tri-state area, New York, New Jersey

Kyana Woolridge, The Woolridge Law Firm, Maplewood, NJ


June 10, 2013

Reduced Funding in Legal-Aid Programs Across the Nation

Currently legal-aid programs turn away more than half of the people that seek help from them. In 2011, Congress cut funding for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC) by $15.8 million, which was about four percent of the program's budget in the spring of 2011. Legal Services Corp. is an umbrella, non-profit group that distributes grants to 136 programs on the state level, The House Appropriations Committee has slashed an additional approximately $104 million in 2012, rolling back funding to $300 million—a level not seen since 1999. The number of people eligible, based on income levels, for LSC programs across the country has gone up 27 percent since 2007. Legal-aid program funding has been cut from states such as Massachusetts, Idaho, New York, and New Jersey, to name a few. It is a national issue. Legal-aid programs have been forced to lay off attorneys and support staff in addition to imposing furlough days for the programs.

On May 15, 2013, employees of Legal Services of New York (LSNYC) went on strike for the first time in 20 years. One of the main reasons for the strike was a dispute concerning the direction of LSNYC and the quality of services to the organization’s thousands of clients. LSNYC attorneys and members worried that management’s proposed cuts would undermine the organization’s model of retaining experienced advocates and in turn would diminish the direct legal services provided to clients. New York Legal Services is the nation’s largest legal-service provider. So with legal aid programs across the nation facing drastic cuts to their budgets, where does this leave the millions of people that depend on legal-aid programs?

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, legal aid, cut funding, strike, attorneys, Congress

Kyana Woolridge, The Woolridge Law Firm, Maplewood, NJ


June 4, 2013

ABA President Bellows: Justice System Being Starved by Legislators

ABA President Laurel Bellows emphasized the importance of legal aid and praised the work of the Legal Services Corporation at an event highlighting the release of a 44-page report by its Pro Bono Task Force. The report includes recommendations for serving the rising number of Americans who cannot afford lawyers in the face of sharply reduced resources for legal aid.



March 28, 2013

Just In! ABA Report on Pro Bono Service in the United States

The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service has issued a report detailing the results of a national survey of attorneys who perform pro bono work. The survey report, Supporting Justice III: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers, quantifies the amount of pro bono work done by U.S. lawyers in 2011, identifies factors that encourage or discourage attorneys from performing pro bono service, and describes the characteristics of recent pro bono service that can help guide new pro bono initiatives. The survey was conducted by the Research Intelligence Group. A few of the results obtained from the survey include:

  • 70 percent of lawyers who were contacted directly by a pro bono program regarding a specific matter took on the matter.
  • 63 percent of survey respondents reported working on matters that address the everyday legal issues faced by people living in poverty.
  • Survey respondents provided 56.5 hours of pro bono work, with a median of 30 hours.
  • Solo practitioners provided an average of 62.7 hours.
  • Lawyers from firms of 51–100 attorneys provided an average of 39.9 hours.

Those who provided 50 or more hours of pro bono service have attributed the following to their success:

  • receiving referrals from an organized pro bono program
  • interest in performing pro bono work during economic downturns
  • interest in performing future pro bono work
  • working for an employer that supports pro bono service
  • seeking out pro bono cases rather than waiting to be called

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, volunteer, Supporting Justice III, service, ABA

Joy B. Tolliver, attorney-at-law and adjunct professor of legal studies


March 26, 2013

Touro Law Center Spearheads National Sandy Pro Bono Relief

The Touro Law Center in Central Islip, New York, has received a $40,000 grant to spearhead the recruitment of law students from across the nation to provide pro bono legal assistance to Long Island’s communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The grant will be used to hire an attorney project coordinator to recruit, organize, and coordinate relief efforts. This grant comes from the Rauch Foundation, a Long-Island based non-profit organization, which invests in programs benefitting children, families, and the environment.

Law students assisting with the relief effort will be assigned to non-profit organizations and government agencies that are already providing disaster relief. Students will have the opportunity to work on a wide range of legal matters including insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, foreclosure, environmental, consumer and rebuilding, landlord-tenant, and employment. Though students may assist other geographic areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, Long Island is the first priority. This project will be modeled after the Student Hurricane Network experience that was developed following Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.

This monumental, pro bono effort coordinated by Touro is not the first that the center has implemented; in fact, just days after Hurricane Sandy, the Touro Law Center opened an emergency hotline in partnership with the Suffolk County Bar Association. The call center still provides referrals and legal advice for Long Island residents and small businesses. Also in response to Hurricane Sandy, the Touro Law Center has implemented curricular changes, established a new disaster-relief clinic, coordinated legal services for regional disaster relief, and now, through the Rauch Foundation’s grant, has coordinated legal services on a national scale.

Other law schools have expressed interest in assisting Touro with this effort, and pro bono assistance from attorneys is welcomed. Touro seeks to fill the six-month attorney project coordinator position immediately, and is also recruiting law students to spend their spring and summer breaks assisting with this project. To extend your support to this exemplary pro bono effort, please contact Thomas Maligno, director of pro bono and public service, at (631) 761-7033, or email.

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, Hurricane Sandy, Touro, Long Island, relief

Joy B. Tolliver, attorney-at-law and adjunct professor of legal studies


February 22, 2013

2013 Equal Justice Conference—Register Now!

This year’s Equal Justice Conference will be held May 9–11, 2013, at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch. The Equal Justice Conference is an annual conference presented by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. The conference unites all components of the legal community to discuss equal-justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to poor and low-income individuals who are in need of legal assistance.

The conference is a great opportunity for all interested in pro bono and/or public interest issues, as it focuses on strengthening the partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. Attendees will receive invaluable insight and gain knowledge through informative plenary sessions, workshops, partnership building, networking opportunities, and special programming designed to refine legal knowledge in a variety of content areas, including substantive law, resource development, research and technology, management and diversity, and others. Conference attendees have included pro bono and legal services program staff, judges, corporate counsel, court administrators, private lawyers, paralegals, bar-association leaders, and many others interested in the legal-services industry. All are invited to attend and will benefit from this remarkable learning experience!

Registration is now open. Early-bird rates end on Friday, March 1, 2013.

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, equal justice

Joy B. Tolliver, attorney-at-law and adjunct professor of legal studies


October 26, 2012

Executive Order Increases Sanctions on Iran

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13628, which authorized the implementations of sanctions in the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA) and additional sanctions regarding Iran. The TRA was signed into law in August 2012, and the order includes amendments, the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), and the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA).

The president’s order expands an already large list of persons and entities targeted by Iran sanctions while closing loopholes and increasing penalties. Those targeted include anyone who works in Iran’s petroleum sectors or provides goods, services, infrastructure, or technology to Iran’s oil and natural gas sector; those who insure or re-insure investments in Iran’s oil sector; and those who transport refined petroleum to Iran. It also targets Iranian and Syrian officials involved in human-rights abuses. The order creates a framework to implement these sanctions and delegates enforcement to the U.S. Secretary of State of Secretary of the Treasury.

Executive Order Sections
The order implements the requirements of Sections 204, 402, and 403 of the TRA.

Section 1 of the order is intended to implement sanctions pursuant to ISA, CISADA, or TRA. Certain ISA sanctions require action by the private sector. The order will further the implementation of those ISA sanctions by providing authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to the Secretary of the Treasury to take certain actions with respect to those sanctions.

Sections 2 and 10 of the order are intended to implement the statutory requirements of CISADA, as amended by section 402 of TRA. Section 402 blocks property or interests in property and suspends entry into the United States of persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with or at the recommendation of the Secretary of State.

Section 4 of the order prohibits foreign subsidiaries of U.S. persons from knowingly violating the Iranian Transactions Regulations, Executive Order 13599, section 5 of Executive Order 13622, or Section 12 of the Executive Order. Section 4 provides for civil penalties on the U.S. parent company for any such violations.

Sections 5, 6, and 7 of the order authorize the Secretary of State to impose, and the Secretary of the Treasury and other agencies to implement, certain sanctions in sections 5(a) and 6 of ISA that were enacted by CISADA, for activity occurring between July 1, 2010, and August 10, 2012.

This order is aimed at stopping Iran from repatriating revenue from oil, further destabilizing Iranian currency, and making more Iranian sanctions mandatory. The order ultimately seeks to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Additional information can be found at:

Executive Order 13628 (Last accessed Oct. 22, 2012)

Letter from President Obama regarding Executive Order 13628 (Last accessed Oct. 22, 2012)

Office of Foreign Asset Control Analysis of Section 4 of Executive Order 13628 (Last accessed Oct. 22, 2012)

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, Iran, sanctions, Executive Order 13628, trade compliance, Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, Iran Sanctions Act, Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010

Jesse Horn, Esq. is an attorney at Holland & Hart LLP in Denver, Colorado.


October 19, 2012

Women in the 2012 Presidential Election

Women’s issues are at the forefront of the upcoming presidential election. A woman’s right to choose; right to contraception; equal pay; the potential outlaw of Roe v. Wade; and the future of Planned Parenthood are all on the table. Women make up a significant percentage of the vote and will likely play an important role in which candidate wins. According to Prudential Financial’s latest biennial study, "Financial Experience & Behavior Among Women", "53 percent of more than 1,400 women surveyed are primary breadwinners, with increasing numbers of women assuming this role as a result of spouses losing jobs during the financial crisis, divorce and women deciding to marry later."

With percentages of women being the primary breadwinner increasing, the election is not just about women’s issues, but family issues—Democrat and Republican. Depending on who wins the election, several of the major issues that deal with women will likely play out in this country’s highest court. The Affordable Care Act, which guarantees that women will not be denied coverage based on their health, or charged higher rates because of their gender, could be repealed no matter who wins the election. Equal pay for equal work is an issue that should be important to every woman, and the Lilly Ledbatter Fair Pay Act helps women fight back.

With women’s rights being on the line in this election, it is not only important that every woman votes, but that every man who stands for women’s rights votes as well.

Keywords: pro bono, public interest, litigation, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, Affordable Care Act, Lilly Ledbatter Fair Pay Act, Prudential Financial

Kyana Woolridge, Esq. is a partner at the Woolridge Law Firm in Newark, New Jersey


October 16, 2012

Pennsylvania Says Voters Can Cast Ballots Without Photo I.D.

A Pennsylvania Court rendered a decision that brought a great sigh of relief to many after national controversy surrounding voter identification laws in battleground states that could potentially impede many citizens’ ability to vote in the 2012 presidential election. During the primaries, a new Pennsylvania law required voters to submit photo identification to cast their ballots, and those without the requisite photo identification were precluded from voting. The effect of this law potentially would preclude young voters, elderly voters, and minority voters from casting their ballots.

In a recent decision, however, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. upheld the law requiring voters to have photo identification, but blocked it from taking effect until after the November 6 election. The court found that authorities had not done enough to ensure that voters had “liberal access” to photo identification cards.

The effect of this ruling affords Pennsylvania voters without state-approved photo identification the opportunity to cast their ballots on Election Day and without provisional ballots. Other states that have also relaxed their voter identification laws include Texas and Wisconsin, and the U.S. Department of Justice has blocked a similar law in South Carolina. Like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire has a similar voter identification law that allows voters without a photo I.D. to cast their ballots on Election Day, but voters must submit proof of their identity within one month of casting their ballot. Strict voter I.D. laws remain in Kansas, Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee; less concern, however, has been voiced over these laws, as they are not battleground states.

While Judge Simpson’s ruling is deemed a great victory for many, it is still unclear whether his decision is the “final say” on Pennsylvania’s voter identification laws, which may be appealed. Despite the uncertainty of the law’s permanency, Pennsylvania has already issued 13,000 photo identification cards—solely for the purpose of voting.

Keywords: pro bono, public interest, litigation, Election Day, voter identification, voter I.D.

Joy B. Tolliver, Esq. is an attorney and adjunct professor in New Jersey.


October 5, 2012

Women, Children, and International Human Rights

This month, on October 18 and 19, the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice will host its third annual conference on international human rights issues affecting women and children. Last year, the Avon Center partnered with Jindal Global Law School to host a conference in New Delhi, India, focusing on gender-based violence and justice in South Asia. This year’s conference will address sexual violence against girls in southern Africa. This topic is also the focus of a study and report conducted by the Avon Center, the Cornell Law School International Human Rights Clinic, and Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust. The report will be launched at the conference and its findings be discussed at the conference events.

Research for this report was conducted by faculty and students from Cornell Law School, who traveled to Zambia to interview government officials, school teachers, administrators, and children. Focusing on sexual violence in schools, one of many settings for sexual violence throughout Southern Africa, the researchers found that in Southern Africa, girls are raped, sexually abused, assaulted, and harassed by strangers, teachers, and peers while attending school. The researchers also found that many of these incidences of sexual violence are unaddressed because the victims are ignored by school and government officials. They also found that many girls do not report sexual violence because they fear further victimization. These findings, along with a study of Zambian law, were complied by authors in the report, which highlights their concerns and makes recommendations about how to address and reduce this violence. The conference will be held at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY, where the Avon Center is located.

UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, will be giving the keynote address on Thursday, October 18. A report launch and consultationfeaturing the report on sexual violence against girls in schools in Zambia will also be held on Thursday. This event is cosponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Zambia and will be open to the public. While the event is taking place in Ithaca, the U.S. Embassy will host a simultaneous event in Lusaka, Zambia, and connect participants in the two countries via video conference. This parallel conference will allow participants to begin a dialogue with Zambian policy makers regarding the concerns and recommendations raised in the report. In Ithaca, members of the panel will include judges from the United States and Africa. In Lusaka, participants will include Zambian government officials, including the Ministry of Education, police, and judiciary, as well as representatives of civil society organizations. For more information visit the Avon Center or contact Leigh Blomgren.

Keywords: pro bono, public interest, litigation, family law litigation

Alison Bain-Lucey is an associate with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in New York, NY.


September 24, 2012

Giving for a Living: The Benefits of Pro Bono Litigation

For a young lawyer and new solo practitioner, valuable experience can be hard to come by. It was my search for this kind of experience that led me to the great benefits of pro bono work.

After working as an assistant public defender for several years, the increasingly overwhelming caseloads, lack of resources, and low pay began to take its toll. It was then that I decided to hang out a shingle. Leaving the stability of a government position to ride out the unpredictable waves of entrepreneurship was something of a gutsy move, but it’s a move that, for me, has a worth far greater than any potential risk. The success that I have found in my practice is due, in great part, to pro bono work.

Although I was well versed in criminal law and practice when I left the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, I had no other significant legal experience. I was looking for a way to gain experience in another area of practice when I found a local law clinic where the cost of membership was simply accepting one pro bono case from its resource center. From my first case, I not only found the experience I was looking for, I felt the reward of serving an underprivileged client. Additionally—as is the case with many pro bono programs—there was mentoring, malpractice insurance, sample forms and more.

Ultimately, I learned as Winston Churchill said: “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

Working with the pro bono program helped me realize my obligation to help in the equal justice mission. Pursuing that obligation has proven more and more rewarding—so much so, that pro bono work is now a part of my practice.

Keywords: pro bono, public interest, litigation, solo practitioner, law clinic

Sabrina Richardson, Esq. is the principal of the Law Office of Sabrina C. Richardson in Largo, Maryland.


September 10, 2012

Attorneys Ad Litem Essential Aid for Foster Children

Children are our nation’s future, and also the most vulnerable and underserved population in our legal system—especially children in foster care. Many foster children are awaiting permanent placement in homes and desperately need pro bono attorneys ad litem (AAL) to represent them.

When children receive assistance from AAL, their chances of achieving permanency and stability in their homes and their education increase substantially. The Jacksonville, Florida bar is one legal community that has taken great strides to address this urgent need by recruiting and training pro bono attorneys. The tremendous collaborative efforts of the Jacksonville Bar Association’s (JBA) Protecting Our Children Section, Legal Needs of Children Committee, AAL Sub-Committee, and Pro Bono Committee, along with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Fourth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee, have provided worthy and deserving children with an opportunity to have their voices heard, their needs met, and for some, the miracle of a home and loving family.

New pro bono AAL are given a 30-day preparation period during which they are provided CLE courses that they can take at their convenience. After the preparation period, a Dependency Court Judge appoints AAL, and the attorneys are provided with regular lunch and learning opportunities, where they can meet with other AAL and receive recent court decisions, legislative updates, and dependency practice tips. Pro Bono AAL may also request experienced mentors to guide them throughout their cases, while Jacksonville Area Legal Aid provides professional liability coverage, additional CLE training, and meeting space.

As attorneys, we have an ethical duty to provide legal services to those in the greatest need. Becoming one of the AAL is one of the greatest pro bono opportunities we can take on behalf of children in foster care. To get involved, check your state bar for more information. For those in Florida, go to www.floridaschildrenfirst.org for more information.

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, ad litem, foster care

Joy B. Tolliver, Esq. is an attorney and adjunct professor in New Jersey.


August 31, 2012

Deferred Action Plan Gives Hope to the Undocumented

Hundreds of attorneys across America have offered pro bono services to assist young, undocumented individuals with applications for consideration of deferred action. Formerly known as “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” President Barack Obama used executive order to create this deferral of prosecution program in June 2012. The target population for this program is those who came to America as children and have lived, worked, and been educated in America, just as those born in this country.

Approval of the application by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security affords eligible, undocumented young adults a work permit and the opportunity to remain in the United States for an additional two years without fear of deportation. The application, which is subject to renewal, costs $465 and funds the administrative costs of the program, including a biometric check and the issuance of a secure work-authorization.

Those eligible to request consideration for deferred action include the following:

  1. Those under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday;
  3. have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  4. were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or their lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

While those granted deferred action may remain in the United States for another two years and not accrue unlawful presence, they also do not have lawful status or public benefits. Additionally, applicants seeking deferred action have been assured that their information is protected from disclosure to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This new immigration policy also aids the Department of Homeland Security in identifying those who pose a risk to national security, or are a risk to public safety—including those who have committed violent crimes or are repeat offenders. The Department has noted that its prosecutorial discretion is used to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as those who came to the United States as children and have been law-abiding members of their communities.

The November 2012 presidential election, however, will have a great impact on the effectiveness and the future of the deferred action program, as it was enacted by executive order, which can be replaced by another president. In the meantime, thousands of young adult immigrants can continue to enjoy the freedom that comes with living and working in America—the only place many of them know as home.

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, public interest, immigration, deferred action, deportation, customs enforcement, Obama, Department of Homeland Security

—Joy B. Tolliver, Eeq. is an attorney and adjunct professor in New Jersey.


June 22, 2012

Federal Court Finds DOMA Unconstitutional

This month, in Windsor v. The United States, the Southern District of New York held that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee. The case challenged DOMA based on the Act’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages and the resultant disparate treatment of same-sex couples in the context of estate taxes. The plaintiff, Edith Windsor, filed suit following the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. After more than 40 years together, Windsor and Spyer married in Canada in 2007. When Spyer passed away in 2009, Windsor inherited from her wife, but was forced to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes because she did not qualify for the unlimited marital deduction under 26 U.S.C. 2056 (a) due to DOMA’s failure to recognize her marriage.

Ms. Windsor’s suit was defended by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG). The group intervened in 2011, shortly after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Department of Justice would no longer defend DOMA.

The Windsor decision jointly addresses a motion for summary judgment filed by Ms. Windsor and a motion to dismiss filed by BLAG. After denying BLAG’s motion to dismiss, the court considered the standard that should apply to equally protection challenges to classifications based on sexual orientation. It declined to classify homosexuals as a suspect class, a matter of first impression in the Second Circuit, after determining that the motion for summary judgment could be decided on rational basis.

Applying the rational basis test, the court considered a number of reasons offered by the Intervenor-Defendant for the objective sought by DOMA and means used to meet that objective, specifically refusing to recognize same-sex marriages. These reasons included nurturing the traditional institution of marriage, caution, promoting a social understanding that marriage is related to childrearing, providing children with two parents of the opposite sex, maintaining consistency in citizens’ eligibility for federal benefits, and conserving federal resources. After considering each reason individually, the court held that the first four reasons offered were not logically connected to DOMA and, therefore, were not directly impacted by its enforcement. Looking to the fifth reason, maintaining consistency in citizens’ eligibility for federal benefits, the court found that this attempt to regulate the state’s definition of marriage ran afoul of federalism. Finally, the court held that economic interests, such as conserving federal resources, could not justify classification where no other rational basis existed. Based on these findings, the court granted Windsor’s motion for summary judgment and ordered payment of the excess estate taxes levied under DOMA.

Windsor’s co-counsel in this case, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, are also co-counsel in a recently filed suit in the EDNY. Like, Windsor, this suit challenges the constitutionality of DOMA. In this case, the plaintiffs are five same-sex couples, each comprised of one spouse that is an American citizen and another that is not, that have been unable to obtain a green card for the non-citizen spouse based on DOMA’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. This case, along with Windsor, will likely join a number of federal decisions regarding DOMA that are making their way toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

Keywords: pro bono & public interest, litigation, LGBT Litigator

Alison Bain-Lucey, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, New York, NY


June 6, 2012

<-->New York Paves the Way with Pro Bono Hours as Prereq to Law License

New York is known all over the world for its culture, diversity, and opportunity. Many aspiring lawyers seek to practice law in “The City” not only because of the state’s prestige, but also because some of the country’s most famous lawyers have hailed from “The Big Apple.” However, while many know the names of big Wall Street law firms, most do not know about the thousands of New Yorkers who fail to receive effective legal representation each year because they simply cannot afford it. Because of the economic downturn, requests for legal services have risen; but due to budget cuts in state and federal funding for legal services, there are not enough lawyers to represent those in need. Requests for representation in the areas of foreclosure, domestic violence, bankruptcy, and worker’s compensation have soared in recent years. In fact, New York’s Legal Aid Society, which handles more than 300,000 cases each year, must still turn away eight out of every nine New Yorkers who seek their assistance. Simply put, there are not enough pro bono attorneys to represent the poor.

Seeking to correct this manifest injustice, New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recently decided to add a pro bono requirement as a prerequisite for admission to the New York State Bar—making it the first state to require bar candidates to perform pro bono work prior to admission. Judge Lippman ruled that 50 hours of pro bono service must be completed before a New York law license can be issued. In further support of the pro bono requirement as a means to address New York’s unmet legal needs, Judge Lippman noted that about 10,000 bar candidates successfully pass the New York bar each year, which would yield 500,000 hours in pro bono services for the state’s underprivileged.

The mandatory pro bono requirement not only benefits the underprivileged, but it also benefits new lawyers, who will have the opportunity to gain practical legal experience early on in their careers. Some have argued that the pro bono requirement is flawed because it only requires inexperienced bar candidates to render pro bono services and not currently practicing, experienced lawyers. The New York State Bar currently encourages but does not require pro bono work for all its practicing attorneys. However, while the mandatory pro bono service hours for New York State Bar candidates may not be the perfect solution to the monumental gap in representation from the privileged to the poor, it is most certainly a step in the right direction.

Keywords: pro bono, litigation, New York State Bar, Judge Jonathan Lippman, legal aid

Joy B. Tolliver Esq., Volunteer Lawyer and Legal Professor, Newark, NJ


June 6, 2012

<-->The Global Public Service Reach of Patents to Address Humanitarian Issues

Generally, a patent is used to grant an exclusive right to an inventor to prevent others from using or distributing the patented invention without permission. Traditionally, patents are commonplace for inventions, new products, or new technology. In recent years, some inventors have attempted to patent “thought processes.” For example, in the mid-2000s it became popular for advisors to attempt to obtain a patent for their tax planning strategies. In September 2011, however, Congress banned new patents for tax strategies.

More recently, patents have become instrumental in humanitarian issues. On February 8, 2012, at a White House event to highlight President Obama’s Global Development Policy, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director announced the “Patents for Humanity” pilot program. The Patents for Humanity program creates business incentives for patent holders to engage in humanitarian issues. USPTO launched Patents for Humanity in response to President Obama’s Global Development Policy call for “investments in game-changing innovation to accelerate progress toward development goals in health, food security, climate change, energy and environmental sustainability, and broad-based economic growth.” Under this program, inventors who successfully use their patented technology or products to address humanitarian needs in underserved regions of the world will receive a certificate to accelerate a patent application, an appeal, or an ex parte reexamination proceeding before the USPTO.

In furtherance of the Patents for Humanity program, as well as President Obama’s Global Development Policy, the ABA, Section of International Law: International Pro Bono Committee, will host a teleconference program regarding the “Humanitarian Uses of Patents” on September 27, 2012, at 12:00 p.m., Eastern Time. The telephone conference will feature an interactive discussion about humanitarian uses of patents that serve the needs of the world’s poorest populations while respecting the commercial interests and pragmatic and legal considerations of patent holders.

Keywords: pro bono, litigation, patent, humanitarian, policy

Kathleen A. Agbayani, Esq., is an associate in the North American Tax Practice Group at Baker & McKenzie, Washington, D.C.


May 4, 2012

New York’s Domestic Violence Court Used as Model Abroad

In 2003 New York began a new initiative to address domestic violence in the criminal justice system, establishing integrated domestic violence (IDV) courts in a number of towns and cities across the state. In an interview with the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, Judge John C. Rowley, who presides over the IDV court in Ithaca, NY, explained that the courts are dedicated to the “one-family––one judge” model. According to Judge Rawley, the model is designed to increase consistency and decrease the number of court appearances a family must make. The model also allows greater access to victim services and increases offender accountability.

Judge Rowley’s IDV court in Tompkins County has a number of key features that relate not only to the victim and the offender, but also to the larger family, particularly children, affected by the domestic dispute. The “one family––one judge model” allows the judge to stay current on the information relating to the family he or she is working with and to handle all domestic matters in a consistent way. Additionally, the model allows judges to better coordinate with community responses to domestic violence, including collaborating with child welfare agencies and community groups offering assistance to both domestic violence victims and their children.

This same model, considered a progressive approach within the U.S. legal system, is now being adopted or contemplated internationally in countries where women continue to face serious threats to their personal rights and autonomy. In India, the New Delhi High Court, among others, has begun using the IDV model to address domestic violence. Similarly, national laws in Sri Lanka, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Brazil, and the Caribbean have been enacted to create specialized courts to address domestic violence cases. These courts represent a large step for women’s rights around the world and offer hope for women in countries where domestic and gender-based violence often go unaddressed due to cultural norms and a general lack of access to justice for women. For further on information on IDV courts and the International Women’s Rights movement please visit the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice.

Keywords: pro bono & public interest, litigation, family law litigation

—Leigh Blomgren, Women and Justice Fellow, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice.

Alison Bain-Lucey, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP


April 16, 2012

Angel and Gulf Justice Consortium Win John Minor Wisdom Awards

The ABA Section of Litigation is proud to present the 2012 John Minor Wisdom Award to Eric Angel, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and the Gulf Justice Consortium, a joint venture of legal-aid programs designed to address issues arising from the BP/Deepwater oil disaster. The awards will be presented on Friday, April 20, 2012, at the Section of Litigation’s Annual CLE Conference in Washington, D.C.

This very prestigious award is named after the late Judge John Minor Wisdom, who served on the Fifth Circuit during the 1950s and 1960s, when the circuit was recognized for advancing the civil rights of African Americans during a time of great racial segregation. In 1993, President Clinton awarded Judge Wisdom the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and, in 1994, the Fifth Circuit’s headquarters in New Orleans was renamed the John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building. Judge Wisdom died in 1999 at the age of 93.

Each year, the recipients of the John Minor Wisdom award are those who have made outstanding strides and contributions to the attainment of justice and the accessibility of legal services for underrepresented populations. This year, Angel and the Gulf Justice Consortium will be honored for continuing this tradition of excellence in public service.

Eric Angel
As executive director of the Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia, Angel developed court-based advocacy programs to provide assistance to litigants in the Paternity and Child Support Branch and the Landlord/Tenant Branch. Angel’s leadership also established a domestic violence intake center at United Medical Center, a medical legal/partnership in the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, programs to help underrepresented litigants with foreclosure mediation, and unemployment insurance and assistance for veterans. Additionally, Angel oversaw several class-action lawsuits that resulted in an award of several million dollars for low-income families for housing, food stamps, and other essentials. Angel, known for his unwavering commitment to public service, embodies the essence and spirit of the John Minor Wisdom Award.

Gulf Justice Consortium
After the devastating explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in April 2010, many public-interest lawyers rallied their efforts to assist the thousands of business owners, families, and restaurants that lost their livelihoods. These lawyers formed the Gulf Justice Consortium to provide direct representation for the thousands of families and businesses who were victims of the oil disaster. In June 2010, BP established a $20 million dollar claims fund to compensate the victims. Since June 2010, the legal services provided by the Gulf Justice Consortium have provided justice for thousands of victims, thus reflecting the public-service legacy of Judge Wisdom.

Read more about this year’s recipients of the John Minor Wisdom Award in the upcoming May issue of the Pro Bono and Public Interest Committee newsletter.

Keywords: pro bono, litigation, John Minor Wisdom, Fifth Circuit, Eric Angel, Gulf Justice Consortium, Section of Litigation

Biff Sowell, Esq., Sowell Gray Stepp & Laffitte, LLC, Columbia, SC


March 29, 2012

How to Resolve Ethical Issues in Pro Bono Matters

A hypo for you: You are the court-assigned lawyer for a parent in a child-protective proceeding in juvenile court. Your client is the parent of two minor children. The youngest child was removed from your client’s custody at the hospital where she was born. Your client is charged with neglecting both of her children because she tested positive for drug use during her pregnancy and failed to enroll in a drug-treatment program. You met your client when the case was first brought to court four months ago and you’ve met with her in your office twice since then. She appeared with you in court two months ago when the case was scheduled for trial. On the day of the trial, your client does not come to court. You try to contact her that morning, but to no avail. You are now in the courtroom, and the judge has denied your request for an adjournment and orders the petitioning child-protective agency to proceed with an inquest, a proceeding held in the absence of respondent parents. As the pro bono attorney, what are your available options at this point?

We are all encouraged to handle pro bono matters. Essentially, it is a part of our duty as lawyers to use our degrees for the benefit of those with limited access to effective legal representation. In fact, the ABA’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 notes, “every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” But what happens when the pro bono matter goes terribly wrong? As seen in the hypo above, what if the pro bono client fails to appear at a hearing in family court, or what if you suspect that the client has ill motives in a power-of-attorney matter? These issues, along with many other pro bono ethical dilemmas, were addressed at a seminar hosted by the Practicing Law Institute. The seminar, “Ethical Issues in Pro Bono Representation,” featured the nation’s top pro bono and public interest attorneys as panelists, including Madeline Schachter, partner and global director of corporate social responsibility at Baker & McKenzie; Bruce Green, professor and director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law; Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law at NYU School of Law; Michael Scherz, senior litigation counsel at Lawyers for Children; and April A. Newbauer, attorney-in-charge, Queens Neighborhood Office, Legal Aid Society. Schachter, a consultant on best practices in pro bono matters, noted that it is essential to “cultivate a culture that encourages lawyers to take on pro bono work while making sure that it’s done in a manner that’s consistent with professional ethics and responsibilities.” The panelists suggested the following to ensure best practices in handling pro bono matters:

Identify the client.
This identification is essential for the pro bono client and also for the lawyer. The lawyer owes a duty of loyalty and confidentiality to the client and must know the specific person or persons to whom this duty is owed. For example, a pro bono matter may include a mother and her two minor children. Does the lawyer represent the mother? The children? Both?

Provide an engagement letter to the client.
One will often find that pro bono matters encompass a wide range of legal issues, and there must be a meeting of the minds between the lawyer and client as to the issues that the attorney will address and those that the attorney will not address. The letter of engagement not only identifies the client but also identifies and clarifies the scope of the representation, the specific service that the lawyer will provide to the pro bono client, and the point at which representation will end. Although an engagement letter for a pro bono client is not required because the client is not paying a “fee” to the attorney, it is best practice to include an engagement letter, just as one would provide to a paying client.

In sum, treat your pro bono matter with the same due diligence, professionalism, and ethical considerations that you would a paying client. It could just be your most rewarding experience yet!

Watch the Practicing Law Institute’s seminar on “Ethical Issues in Pro Bono Representation.”

Keywords: litigation, ethical, pro bono, dilemma

Joy B. Tolliver Esq., Volunteer Lawyer and Legal Professor, Newark, NJ


March 29, 2012

Public Interest Group Increases Immigrant Access to Legal Advice

This month, Pro Bono Net announced that its partner, CitizenshipWorks, has launched a text-messaging service that will increase immigrants’ access to free or low-cost legal advice regarding the naturalization process. CitizenshipWorks operates primarily online, and provides resources to further its goal of increasing the naturalization rates among eligible immigrants. Individuals seeking local legal assistance can obtain references in either English or Spanish through CitizenshipWorks by text messaging “citizenship” or “ciudadania” to 877877. CitizenshipWorks will respond to the text message by providing the location and contact information of local legal-services providers. CitizenshipWorks will also provide general information about the naturalization process, as well as details about any naturalization-assistance programs being held in the individual’s community.

In addition to its text-messaging program, the CitizenshipWorks website provides online tools to assist with the naturalization process, including an online tutorial about how to prepare for the naturalization tests. CitizenshipWorks has also held free community clinics to provide information to individuals seeking information or assistance regarding the naturalization process. The text-messaging program marks a unique development in this area of legal services by using a national network to assist individuals in need of services at a local level.

This service will likely provide welcome support to many immigrants. U.S. residents who do not have citizenship face many hurdles in day-to-day life, including ineligibility for a driver’s license in certain states, and limitations in employment due to a lack of documentation. Additionally, recent state laws such as the controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act in Arizona have brought increased political, legal, and social attention to immigrants’ citizenship status. According to a news piece posted by Pro Bono Net, however, many immigrants may actually be eligible for naturalization, but lack the knowledge and resources necessary to achieve that status. Pro Bono Net notes that as many as 8.5 million individuals are eligible to apply for citizenship, but only about 1 million are actually granted citizenship through naturalization each year. CitizenshipWorks and its partners hope that new approaches, such as this text-messaging program, will help provide the missing link between legal services that are already available nationwide and the individuals that need them, and increase the number of individuals granted citizenship through naturalization.

Keywords: litigation, pro bono, immigrant, naturalization, citizenship

—Alison Bain-Lucey, Cornell University, New York, NY


December 22, 2011

Budget Cuts Leave Fewer Attorneys for the Poor

Nationally known New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has approved state budget cuts that have eliminated certain free legal services for qualifying residents. Since 1966, Legal Services of New Jersey (Legal Services) has provided free representation to residents whose annual income is 200 percent below the federal poverty level (e.g., a family of three with an annual income of $37,000 or less). Qualifying residents have received free representation for matters including divorce, landlord-tenant disputes, child support, and social security. Under this administration’s budget cuts, Legal Services will no longer handle divorces and other family law issues, forcing indigent residents to find other sources for free legal representation.

In fact, Legal Services’ operating budget plummeted from $72 million in 2008 to $42 million in 2011. The state’s budget for Legal Services dropped from $29.6 million in 2010 to $19.9 million in 2011 to a proposed $14.9 million in 2012. New Jersey’s legislature attempted to restore $5 million to Legal Services in the 2012 fiscal year budget; however, the governor line-item vetoed the $5 million and, what is worse, cut an additional $5 million from the budget.

Legal Services is comprised of seven different offices, each with its own board and budgeting system; however, due to state budget cuts, some offices are forced to close, attorneys are being laid off, and 65 percent of those seeking representation will be turned away. Prior to these stringent budget cuts, Legal Services was able to serve one out of every seven persons who sought help. Now, with fewer attorneys available, Legal Services will assist approximately 5,500 fewer clients this year.

Keywords: budget cuts, New Jersey, Legal Services of New Jersey

Joy B. Tolliver, Esq., New Jersey


December 16, 2011

White House Recognizes Legal Aid Attorneys as Champions of Change

On October 13, 2011, the White House honored four attorneys from legal aid programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) who have dedicated their careers to providing justice for populations most in need. President Obama’s “Winning the Future Initiative” seeks to recognize those whose professional and personal pursuits have inspired others. Deemed “champions of change,” the honorees included David Hall, executive director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid; Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine; Lillian Johnson, executive director of Community Legal Services in Phoenix; and Addison Parker, former litigation director at the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky.

David Hall led RioGrande Legal Aid since 1975 and was selected by the Texas Lawyer as one of 100 lawyers who have shaped Texas’s legal history. Nan Heald has led Pine Tree Legal Assistance since 1990 and has used technology to expand access to legal resources for underrepresented populations. Lillian Johnson has led Community Legal Services since 1982, and serves on boards and committees to enhance access to civil legal assistance. Addison Parker retired in June 2011 after 32 years with the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund and now provides pro bono services to the LSC. Visit the White House’s website for more information on the Champions of Change program.

Keywords: White House, legal aid, champions of change

Joy B. Tolliver, Esq., New Jersey


December 14, 2011

Wal-Mart Launches Medical-Legal Pro Bono Services

In spring 2012, Wal-Mart will launch its Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) with the Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Legal Aid of Arkansas. The MLP will include onsite and virtual pro bono opportunities for Wal-Mart attorneys and legal staff. When doctors suspect that a legal issue may be affecting the health of their patients, they will refer patients to attorneys for legal assistance.

The MLP concept has also gained great traction within the federal government. In July 2010, the United States Congress adopted the bi-partisan Medical-Legal Partnership for Health Act, which designates $10 million in federal funding for MLPs and authorizes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants for MLPs nationwide. In 2010 alone, MLPs served patients at more than 225 hospitals and in health centers across 38 states. Through these programs, more than 13,000 individuals and families received legal assistance. Furthermore, over 10,000 medical professionals received training on the connections between poverty and health and learned how to identify unmet legal needs through a medical check-up. In furtherance of meeting this need, Wal-Mart aims to bring the MLP to children’s hospitals across the country.

Keywords: Wal-Mart, medical-legal partnership, Medical-Legal Partnership for Health Act

Joy B. Tolliver, Esq., New Jersey


April 6, 2011

Stateside Legal Help for Military Families

The American Bar Association's Military Pro Bono Project connects active-duty military personnel and their families to free legal assistance for civil legal issues beyond the scope of services provided by a military legal assistance office. The Project accepts case referrals for limited civil-law matters on behalf of income-eligible service members from military legal assistance offices worldwide, and then places these cases with volunteer pro bono attorneys anywhere in the United States the legal representation is needed. You can find cases currently available for pro bono assistance here, and examples of the good work done by our volunteers here.

Dawn M. Du Verney, Esq., Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, PA


April 6, 2011

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Abolishing Death Penalty

On March 9, 2011, 11 years after Illinois passed a moratorium on capital punishment, Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the death penalty.

Back in January, Illinois lawmakers voted to do away with capital punishment. The governor then spent the following two months speaking with prosecutors, victims' families, death penalty opponents, and religious leaders before making a decision, according to the Associated Press. "I think if you abolish the death penalty in Illinois, we should abolish it for everyone," the governor said.

Governor Quinn was joined by colleagues and supporters at his Springfield office when he signed the bill to outlaw Illinois’ death penalty. The ban takes effect on July 1, and makes Illinois the fourth state in the past two years—following New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico—to abolish capital punishment.

Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on Illinois’ death row. Five of the 17 people across the country who were proven innocent by DNA testing after serving time on death row were from Illinois.

Dawn M. Du Verney, Esq., Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, PA


April 6, 2011

Minnesota Supreme Court Extends Licensing Fees for Indigent Legal Services

The Minnesota Lawyer reports that the state's highest court has extended two fees on attorney licensing renewals as a means of increasing funding for indigent legal services. "The Minnesota Supreme Court has extended a $75 increase to the lawyer registration fee to help fund the state's public defense system and made a $25 increase for legal services permanent. The increases were sought by the Minnesota Board of Public Defense and the Legal Services Advisory Committee."

Dawn M. Du Verney, Esq., Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, PA


New ABA Study Reveals Three-Fourths of Lawyers Provide Pro Bono Work to Poor

A study done by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service reveals, among other findings, that nearly three-fourths of U.S. attorneys provide free legal services to disadvantaged individuals or organizations that serve them.


Pro Bono Work at Law Firms Picks Up as Economy Falters

With the economic downturn and resulting fall in billable hours, law firms are seeing and encouraging greater involvement in pro bono work.