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 issues of access to justice. Much like the historic meeting held 50 years earlier by President Kennedy to rally the legal community in support of civil rights workers in the South, Vice President Biden challenged our community of firms to enhance our commitments to improving and expanding the delivery of legal services to the underserved. We pledged to him that we would launch a series of new collaborations across the country to expand national law firm efforts to increase access to justice; hence the development of APBCo IMPACT (Involving More Pro bono Attorneys in our Community 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 safe and affordable housing, re-entry to society after incarceration, homelessness and financial security, and offer solutions to restore opportunity to the disenfranchised. The APBCo Board has been invited to return to the White House to continue to update the Vice President annually about the progress of the various programs we now have launched around the nation, a brief summary of which are outlined below.
This past summer, APBCo launched a collaborative project to staff the Legal Advocacy & Resource Center’s “Hotline.” The Hotline is a critical mechanism for providing brief advice and referrals to low-income Massachusetts residents on a myriad of civil legal issues, including housing, family law, public benefits and employment and consumer issues.
As there are currently 3.9 million people in Illinois who have some sort of criminal record, either as a result of an arrest or conviction, APBCo Chicago launched a series of clinics designed to assist individuals in Chicago who are facing barriers to employment because of past criminal records by filing for certificates of good conduct before the circuit court or health care waivers before the Illinois Department of Health.
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 met individually with Houston’s corporate lawyers, obtaining legal advice for their individual businesses. As a result of the success of the event, and the obvious need in the community, the Virtual Legal Lab was launched. On a monthly basis, small businesses have an opportunity to have a virtual meeting via Skype with lawyers from Vinson & Elkins. The second Small Business Academy was held on April 14, 2016; over 120 small businesses were served.
After recently awarding a two-year fellowship to a post-graduate from Loyola Law School, the APBCo team in Los Angeles launched monthly clinics at a prominent shelter for victims domestic violence to provide “wrap around” legal services in regard to housing, immigration and public benefits issues.
New York City
On October 29, 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. In addition, the team is launching clinics to serve NYC’s homeless youth with legal assistance focused on housing, education, expungement and public benefits issues.
Launched in May, APBCo Philadelphia developed a project staffing 12 clinics in Philadelphia and rural Chester County devoted to representing predominately immigrant women with pursuing immigration status through filing applications under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and for U-1 Visa status (for victims or witnesses to qualifying crimes).
San Francisco Bay Area
This past spring, with a full-time staff attorney at OneJustice funded by Cooley LLP, APBCo Bay Area launched the Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC), which is focused on bringing access to legal services in rural and isolated communities throughout Northern California, focusing on applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), housing, and public benefits.
APBCo Seattle launched the Domestic Violence IMPACT Project (DVIP), which created “in shelter” clinics focused on educating and preparing victims on pursuing and securing orders of protection. The DVIP project intends to implement a court watch program and develop a master calendar involving numerous domestic violence shelters to provide legal advocacy on a much broader scale than has ever before been available.
The APBCo team in Washington, D.C. will be launching a key project focused on assisting underprivileged individuals with filing initial applications to secure Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits.