It started last Monday bright and early down at the King County Courthouse, but not for a legal proceeding. The King County Council presented me and several of the local pro bono coordinators with a proclamation celebrating Pro Bono Week. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Eastside Legal Assistance, the Unemployment Law Project, and TeamChild were among the organizations represented. This is the second year I’ve attended as the Council honored pro bono attorneys.
Tuesday I was off to the annual dinner of the Puget Sound Association of Legal Administrators, the folks who make law firms work while attorneys concentrate on clients. The association honored Graham and Dunn and Riddell Williams for their achievements in diversity and held a silent auction that raised over $10,000 for Solid Ground. Solid Ground is a local charity that works to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are the root cause of poverty. Among Solid Ground’s programs are legal services to renters in danger of eviction and they’ve also recently stepped in to operate a free bus to Harborview Medical Center after Metro did away with downtown Seattle’s free-ride zone.
Thursday I found myself at two more events with organizations that use pro bono attorneys to provide legal services to poor people. Both are quite innovative. The first, Appleseed, is an organization that harnesses pro bono attorneys to work on policy issues facing the poor. This year the focus of their lunch was on the work that Appleseed, TeamChild, ACLU, and Garvey Schubert attorneys had done to document the impact of school expulsions on Washington students. Not surprisingly, higher numbers of expulsions were associated with higher dropout rates, and students of color and those living in poverty were disproportionately impacted. The school district focus complements the work being done to address similar disparities in the juvenile justice system. This focus on young people gives me hope. Every kid who stays in school and out of the court system has a much better chance of a good life than their peers who drop out or end up in juvenile detention.
After the Appleseed lunch, I attended Columbia Legal Services’ reception to honor its pro bono attorneys. CLS has been around for a long time, but in recent years, it has sharpened its strategic focus, taking on cases that have the greatest potential to help lots of people. Its farm worker advocacy has always fit that model, but it is also working on a number of important housing issues. CLS was a prime mover in Seattle’s recently adopted ordinance setting standards for rental housing. Approximately 27,000 units of housing are currently considered substandard within the city of Seattle, affecting 40,000-50,000 individuals, many of whom are families with children or senior citizens with limited affordable housing options. CLS advocate Merf Ehman worked as a key member of a coalition of housing advocates.
The takeaway from the week is that we have a lot of members doing a lot of good for their communities. To all of you who give back in this way, thank you.