How Amazon’s Legal Team Provided Pro Bono Legal Expertise to the Innocence Project Northwest
The October issue of NWLawyer is dedicated to a celebration of 50 years of civil legal aid in Washington. Along with Pro Bono Week in October, NWSidebar is highlighting stories of some of the amazing pro bono work WSBA members have provided.
To learn more about the Amazon Justice League, check out our previous blog post, “Amazon Justice League Prime for Pro Bono.”
Here’s how online magazine Corporate Counsel described the partnership: “When Jennifer Brown isn’t working on compliance issues like food and product safety or on environmental health issues for Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc., she’s been known to spend hours at a time scouring court documents from cases involving those held behind bars in the Pacific Northwest.” But while Brown has been the point-person for pro bono work between Amazon and the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW), one of her biggest impacts has been in managing the many Amazon legal professionals who continue to voluntarily lend their expertise.
Brown, a compliance specialist on Amazon’s legal team, first started working with IPNW when the nonprofit contacted Amazon about doing a “Freedom Friday Clinic,” a volunteer event that kicks off volunteers’ relationship with IPNW and the first step in the volunteer process that involves a training and initial review of cases. She quickly became their champion within Amazon, managing their relationship with the company and leading the charge, which has allowed more of her colleagues to get involved at various levels.
The IPNW provides legal services to prisoners in Washington state to exonerate them for crimes they didn’t commit. “This builds more trust in the justice system if only guilty people are going to prison,” Brown said.
For in-house lawyers, like Brown and her colleagues at Amazon, involvement with the IPNW typically includes a training session, then reviewing cases to determine if they should continue within the IPNW process.
Brown, who was already a member of the Amazon legal team Pro Bono Task Force, volunteered to lead the relationship with the IPNW. She said that she’d always wanted to work with the project, but was previously unable to do so when she was a judicial clerk, “so I was excited when this opportunity came about at Amazon.”
“I believe it’s important to give time back to your community to give everyone equal access to our justice system,” she added. “It’s also a great way to meet like-minded people and to work with people that I otherwise would not get to work with at Amazon.”
For Brown, an early challenge of working with IPNW was keeping up with demand.
“Tons of [my colleagues] were really interested in supporting them,” she said. “But one of the most important things you can do in working with a nonprofit is to focus on what they truly need—you do not want to over-extend them.”
Because demand within the company has been so high, Brown has been looking to broaden the types of volunteer opportunities available that best suit the needs of the nonprofit.
“Right now, I’m a team leader,” she explained. “This allows me to get more involved in a case, and make a deeper dive into reviewing an application. But I’m currently exploring ways to train more team leaders, because this stage in the process is one of the biggest backlogs for IPNW—we’re always looking for ways that will help them where they need it most. The small groups are also useful because members can divide up the work, based on personal availability.”
Brown is also developing guides, tools, templates, best practices, and tips for IPNW to help them more effectively engage additional volunteers. Part of the challenge is to consider the resources a nonprofit like IPNW has available, and then using volunteers in a way that doesn’t create additional work.
“It might seem overwhelming to make time for pro bono work,” she said, “but you always get back much more than what you put in. It is very rewarding, regardless of how much time you commit—pro bono work will make a difference in your well-being and your attitude.”