In September 2012, the APBCo Board of Directors, along with the managing partners of our Board member firms, were invited to a meeting in the White House with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss access to justice. Reminiscent of the historic meeting convened 50 years earlier by President Kennedy to rally the legal community in support of civil rights workers in the South (which resulted in the creation of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights), the Vice President challenged our community of firms to enhance our commitments to improving and expanding the delivery of legal services to the underserved. Rising to the challenge, we pledged to conceive and launch a series of new collaborations across the country to expand national law firm efforts to increase access to justice. Thus was born APBCo IMPACT (Involving More Pro bono Attorneys in our Communities Together).
With the Vice President’s enthusiasm for our mission, APBCO has convened community leaders to develop innovative approaches to addressing issues as ingrained as protecting survivors of domestic violence, re-entry to society after incarceration, immigration assistance, homelessness and financial security, legal guidance for small businesses, creating access to legal aid in remote rural regions of the country. What sets IMPACT projects apart is not only the high degree of multi-institutional cooperation (law firms, legal services, law schools, corporations, public officials, community banking providers), but the inversion of the traditional pro bono-legal services formula. With IMPACT, law firms are proactively identifying the unmet chronic need, designing the intervention, and launching the projects, while seeking out essential partners, and often providing funding too.
In July 2014, the APBCo Board returned to the White House and met with Vice President Biden a second time, reporting on the continued success of ten projects that had been launched around the country. Included in that report were descriptions of our progress and plans to continue looking for ways to apply this unique service delivery model to better serve low-income communities and vulnerable populations throughout the United States.
BOSTON: Refreshing the Greater Boston Poverty Law Intake, Referral & Delivery System;
& Supporting a Pro Se Litigants Appellate Project
During the summer of 2014, APBCo launched a collaborative project to improve the intake and referral system relied upon by legal assistance programs in greater Boston, the Legal Advocacy & Resource Center’s “Hotline.” The Hotline was part of the region-wide intake system for legal services and was seen as a critical mechanism for providing brief advice and referrals to low-income Massachusetts residents on a myriad of civil legal issues. Participating firms staffed the center with volunteers to help with the intake hotline and also assess if there was alack of resources and/or if systemic reforms were warranted. Today, significant changes in the system are in progress, fueled in part as a result of these efforts. Critical issues – including housing, family law, public benefits and employment and consumer problems – are addressed daily by this program, underscoring the need for a vibrant and stable hotline program. Following up on this successful effort, Boston pro bono community leaders worked with the court system to energize a pro se appellate project that provides a counselling clinic and potential representation for pro se litigants in the appellate process.
CHICAGO: Providing a “Second Chance” for those with criminal records
As there are currently 3.9 million people in Illinois with a criminal record, either as a result of an arrest or conviction, APBCo Chicago launched a series of clinics designed to assist individuals who are facing barriers to employment because of past criminal records. This “Second Chance” project provides assistance by filing for certificates of good conduct before the circuit court, or health care waivers before the Illinois Department of Health. The program has developed into a mainstay of the local legal services community and is being operated on a regular basis in close coordination with several leading legal aid organizations. To date, over 250 persons have been assisted.
DETROIT: Trailblazing legal assistance for victims of domestic violence.
The Detroit IMPACT Project helps women secure domestic violence restraining orders. This two-part program assists pro per litigants in petitioning the court for Ex Parte Personal Protection Orders (PPO). The focus is preparing the critical documents needed to be presented to the court, including affidavits and pleadings. Additionally, volunteer lawyers, working closely with local legal aid experts, represent women in court during their hearings and assist in having PPOs awarded to help protect these abused women and children.
HOUSTON: Pioneering a city Small Business Legal Academy.
On February 17, 2015, APBCo and the City of Houston joined forces to host a Small Business Academy at the South Texas College of Law. More than 100 businesses participated in workshops, learning about employment and liability issues, and then each had the opportunity to meet individually with Houston’s corporate lawyers, obtaining legal advice for their individual businesses. As a result of the success of the event, a second Small Business Academy was held on April 14, 2016 at which more than 120 small businesses were served. These programs demonstrated an ongoing and obvious need in the community, leading to the launch of the Virtual Legal Lab in which, on a monthly basis, small businesses now have an opportunity to have a virtual meetings via Skype.
LOS ANGELES: Creating an ongoing multi-issue wrap-round clinic at a shelter to assist victims of domestic violence.
The APBCo team in Los Angeles launched monthly clinics at a prominent shelter for victims of domestic violence to provide “wrap around” legal services in regard to housing, immigration and public benefits issues. With the award of a two-year post graduate fellowship from Loyola Law School to support this project, more than 13 law firms and six legal aid organizations have helped build this project into a vital part of the City’s delivery of legal services to those in need. Providing these types of services to those who have suffered from domestic violence previously was not available to this community of clients. The project has continued to expand. The project coordinator is on-staff at OneJustice, a state-wide leader in delivering legal services to the poor. More than 35 clinics have been held, succeeding in helping hundreds of clinic attendees achieve stability by addressing these critical legal needs.
NEW YORK CITY: Creating the Small Business Legal Academy; & Assisting Homeless Youth
On October 29, 2013 APBCo New York hosted a small business legal academy at the renowned Apollo Theater in Harlem, serving over 200 clients as a means of promoting economic redevelopment throughout New York City. More than 150 area attorneys participated by making presentations on a host of issues pertinent to small business owners and then meeting individually with every clinic attendee and discussing specific business-related issues and problems. Based on the success of this effort, a second clinic was held in 2015 Brooklyn and materials have been prepared and distributed to other communities who intend to replicate these important services, including Houston.
In a second ground-breaking project, the New York APBCo team launched a series of ongoing clinics that serve NYC’s homeless youth, providing clients with legal assistance across a broad array of issues including housing, education, expungement, immigration and public benefits. Five shelters are served by nine APBCo firms.
PHILADELPHIA: VAWA & U-VISA Legal Clinics for immigrant women.
APBCo firms in Philadelphia developed a project staffing clinics in the city and rural Chester County devoted to representing predominately immigrant women with pursuing stable immigration status through filing applications under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and for U- Visa status (for victims or witnesses to qualifying crimes). The project reaches women in remote areas of the region who do not have legal aid available to them near their homes. The project serves clients throughout the Philadelphia area as well and has provided services to residents as far away as Scranton.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA: The Rural Justice Project.
With the funding and support of APBCo member firm, Cooley LLP, a full-time staff attorney at OneJustice oversees the Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC), which is focused on providing access to legal services in rural and isolated communities throughout Northern California. Participating law firms working with legal services programs staff the many clinics held throughout the region, focusing on applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), housing, and public benefits. More than 100 clinics have been held, helping many hundreds of low-income residents of these hard-to-reach regions of the San Francisco Bay Area.
SEATTLE: The Domestic Violence IMPACT Project
APBCo Seattle launched the Domestic Violence IMPACT Project (DVIP), which created “in shelter” clinics staffed by pro bono attorneys whoprepare victims of domestic violence to obtain orders of protection. The DVIP project intends to implement a court watch program and develop a master calendar spanning numerous domestic violence shelters to facilitate legal advocacy on a much broader scale than has ever before been available.
WASHINGTON D.C.: The SSI & SSDI application initiative.
The APBCo team in Washington, D.C. has launched a project focused on assisting underprivileged individuals with filing initial applications to secure Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits. This service, never before available in the DC area, has proven to be invaluable. A coordinator has been hired, and APBCo firms as well as local aid agencies are participating in bringing this much needed-assistance to many low-income residents of the Washington DC community.