What better occasion than Pro Bono Week to express just how vital our volunteer attorneys and paralegals are to our mission, and how impressed we are with our DC legal community’s dedication to pro bono? Since our inception, volunteer attorneys have been at the heart of our work. The ad hoc committee of the DC Bar that developed into the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless was founded by volunteer lawyers, and provided a vehicle through which legal professionals could use their craft to break down barriers our neighbors faced in accessing legal help and justice. It is only because of three decades of volunteers’ continued dedication to that mission that we have been able to help tens of thousands of DC residents experiencing housing insecurity achieve the victories that have led to stability in their lives.
The Legal Clinic’s primary pro bono vehicle is our Legal Assistance Project (LAP) – the present-day iteration of the pro bono model that gave us our start. Through LAP, volunteer attorneys and paralegals help clients secure life-saving shelter. They help our unhoused neighbors obtain vital housing subsidies to keep their homes permanently affordable. They provide support to moms and dads who are struggling to secure the emergency assistance needed to prevent their families’ homelessness. They provide the representation needed so that clients who are no longer able to work can obtain disability assistance…benefits that ultimately allow them to move into places of their own.
The representation of individuals is crucial as so many members of our community face down systemic racial and economic injustices. In addition to that work, we use community lawyering and advocacy to address the system itself, and the pro bono commitment of DC’s legal community shows right up. Legal Clinic volunteers have devoted countless hours to systemic litigation to fix vital safety net programs like shelter, food assistance, and public housing. They have worked on policy initiatives to strengthen clients’ rights and clarify government and contractor responsibilities, and they continue to fight to ensure that shelters are safe and healthy environments.
It is only because of the steadfast participation of DC’s pro bono community that we reach hundreds upon hundreds of clients each year, despite our modest size. Since our inception, the value of these pro bono legal services has totaled tens of millions of dollars (more than $9m in just last year alone!), helping us to leverage many times over every dollar of support.
Attorneys volunteer their time to the Legal Clinic in other ways, as well, serving on our board of directors, masterfully leading our fundraising efforts, and advising us on non-profit governance and operations issues. Their stewardship keeps our organization healthy and strong, allowing us to be present to our clients when they need us most.
Words are inadequate to express our gratitude for the 34 years-worth of volunteers whose desire to build a more just and inclusive DC first breathed life into our service model and continues to fuel our efforts today. Many of us at legal services organizations think about the fact that pro bono multiplies our ability to seek justice 365 days per year, and it’s wonderful that Pro Bono Week in DC offers us the special chance to extol the power of pro bono throughout the District.
Whether you show up for justice by volunteering your time, contributing financially, or participating in advocacy around housing and homelessness issues, just know that every little bit further that we can bend that great moral arc of the universe towards justice, we can do so because of you.