Category Archives: Pro bono

Quoting the Washington Post Opinion Page

There’s certainly a process critique one can make about this bill. We might focus on the fact that Republicans are rushing to pass it without having held a single hearing on it, without a score from the Congressional Budget Office that would tell us exactly what the effects would be, and before nearly anyone has had a chance to even look at the bill’s actual text — all this despite the fact that they are remaking one-sixth of the American economy and affecting all of our lives (and despite their long and ridiculous claims that the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through” Congress, when in fact it was debated for an entire year and was the subject of dozens of hearings and endless public discussion). We might talk about how every major stakeholder group — the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the AARP, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, and on and on — all oppose the bill.

All that matters. But the real problem is what’s in the bill itself. . . .

It is no exaggeration to say that if it were to become law, this bill would kill significant numbers of Americans. People who lose their Medicaid, don’t go to the doctor, and wind up finding out too late that they’re sick. People whose serious conditions put them up against lifetime limits or render them unable to afford what’s on offer in the high-risk pools, and are suddenly unable to get treatment.

Those deaths are not abstractions, and those who vote to bring them about must be held to account. This can and should be a career-defining vote for every member of the House. No one who votes for something this vicious should be allowed to forget it — ever. They should be challenged about it at every town hall meeting, at every campaign debate, in every election and every day as the letters and phone calls from angry and betrayed constituents make clear the intensity of their revulsion at what their representatives have done.


I’m including “Donate to Defeat Them in the Midterms” links. Whatever you can spare will help. These men are not simply morally bankrupt, they are incompetent. They passed a Bill they had not read, which had not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and which every major stakeholder from hospitals to the American Medical Association, American Academy of Neurology,  (emergency room doctors!) to patient or research advocacy groups for a variety of diseases (MS, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, ) to the AARP, to Consumer Reports (because of the decline in medical bankruptcy under the existing ACA), Planned Parenthood, NAADAC, National Council on Independent Living, American College of Nurse Midwives, everybody.

ACTBlue: Targeting all the Yes Votes

SwingLeft Aimed generally at taking back Republican seats in the mid-terms.
Clicking on individual districts on the map allows you to sign up to to assist with phone banking, canvassing, and other tasks, even if you don’t live in or can’t travel to the District.
Additionally, Indivisible is working hard on this and other issues. You can donate but they prefer your time and effort to your money.
OFA is working hard on this and offers really great resources for making your voice heard. Donate your money or your time.
Usually, when I am advocating that you donate your money or your time, I’m talking about direct service or philanthropy. This time is a little different.

Giving Tuesday

giving_tuesday_logostacked1It’s Giving Tuesday.

2016 has been a long, hard, strange year. It’s been stressful and very disheartening for those of us who work for social reform agencies because so many people seem angry or resistant to inevitable changes in culture or community priorities. We’re losing ground, even when we move forward.

The stress has gotten to a lot of us.

On the other hand, when I start to feel hopeless, I remember I have had nearly daily reminders of generous and civic-minded my friends are. Aside from the ones who work at nonprofits, they volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House every other month, they lead Girl Scout troups, put in time at legal aid agencies, give volunteer hours at their neighborhood public schools (let that one sink in there, why don’t you?) local cultural institutions and the birthday party project. One lovely woman I know donated $1 for every “Happy Birthday” she got on social media, a nontrivial number. I am humbled by their generosity because I don’t match it (though I’m getting better) and because I’m a little amazed to know such wonderful people.

It’s Giving Tuesday; I hope you’ll join me in affirming the generous people you know by supporting a charitable organization near and dear to one of them. Thank them for putting in their time at food banks, hotlines, park clean ups. And join them, next time, won’t you?

Some NPOs and charities supported by me and my friends, in no particular order:

Giving Tuesday

Profile-ImageIt’s Giving Tuesday.

Research into individual charitable giving shows that giving is fundamentally a social act. A 2004 paper by a Robert Wood Johnson scholar at Harvard showed that the impulse to give is stronger when we see our friends or people we admire donate. A Red Cross survey last year found that we give when our friends do.

So many of my friends work for nonprofits, my friends volunteer at the Ronald MacDonald House every eight weeks, some lead Girl Scout troups, others at legal aid agencies, others as fundraisers for their neighborhood public schools (let that one sink in there, why don’t you?), local cultural institutions. I am humbled by their generosity because I can’t match it although I try.

It’s Giving Tuesday; I hope you’ll join me in supporting one of the groups trying to make the world better.

NPOs and Charities of me and my friends, in no particular order:

Open Data Will Save Us All

A friend posted this app on Facebook today: is app created by a young woman named Cathy Deng to help people with a juvenile record navigate the expungement process to get their record sealed or erased.  As noted in this WBEZ story linked on the app’s website, there are a number of systemic barriers to expunging juvenile records in Cook County, and a juvenile record presents a significant barrier to employment later in life.

It isn’t just that ex-convicts need tools and support for re-entry–many people who were merely arrested–never convicted at all–need legal help afterwards. I’ve volunteered on and off (mostly off last year) for the last several years with Cabrini Green Legal Aid doing expungement work. The most common scenario I run across is a young woman, finishing nursing school, who finds she can’t get her license because an arrest for fighting over some guy in a bar when she was 19 is on her record. The second most common is a young man who ha suddenly found out that the reason he can’t get a job is some arrest he’d completely forgotten about kept turning up in pre-employment checks.

It feels like 4 out of every 5 people I talk to at the help desk has never been convicted of anything; their cases are dismissed. A reasonable number of the people with convictions have convictions so minor that they can still be expunged or sealed.

I thought this app was really neat. It’s not an overly complicated process, but the if/then decision tree can get a little dense, and it’s such a critically important step in rehabilitation and restoration to the community. I wish the Public Defender had decent funding and could make expungement petitions part of the course of normal representation for defendants who are acquitted or whose cases are dismissed.

That’s definitely a pipe dream–arrest records for cases can’t necessarily be expunged right away (if the state has leave to reinstate the case, for instance, you have to wait until that time has past) and probations that can be expunged have to be successfully completed. Juveniles have to grow up (I think they have to 17, but I have never done juvenile expungements).

I just wish that systems addresses their consequences better.

At any rate. The app was neat. Civic Hacking is neat. Won’t it be nice is data saves civilization?


Another volunteer opportunity came up last week and it looked interesting and I thought maybe I’d do it. But I haven’t signed up.

I want to. But I haven’t yet.

Thinking about this over the weekend, I tried to come up with a clever description for this. Am I a volunteer dilettante? A volunteer junkie? A serial volunteer? Do I have the volunteer attention span of a kitten? Whatever, I like having a bunch of regular different volunteer things.

Cabrini Green Legal Aid is the closest to a regular, scheduled volunteer gig that I have. I try to be at the expungement desk for at least one shift a month, but I don’t always manage it (sometimes I manage an extra one) and it’s rarely the same time as last month.

473px-'VOLUNTEER_FOR_VICTORY'_-_NARA_-_515986My other efforts are more sporadic. When the National Lawyers Guild needs observers, sometimes I go, sometimes I don’t. When the Active Transportation Alliance needs people to count bike commuters, sometimes I’m available. When PPILAct needs people for events or tasks, if I have the time, sometimes I sign up. When the Red Cross circulates the schedule for workshop facilitators, I take a shift that works for me.

These are all catch as catch can arrangements which work very well for me.

In my job, I have to recruit, train, and monitor the work of volunteers. It’s been a little difficult this month, and so I wonder if my social butterfly volunteering is a very thoughtless thing. But many of my regular volunteer activities seem to be set up to encourage this approach to them–they send around emails with the dates and times and tasks they need volunteers to complete and you reply that you are interested. It seems to work pretty nicely. And the volunteer experience is very satisfying.

I don’t think my job can approach its volunteer needs in this way because our volunteers don’t fill a routine need. In my regular volunteer gigs, I do the same thing each time–I fill out the same legal paperwork, just for different people, with different case records; or I perform the same observation tasks, just for different marches or protests; or I perform routine event staff tasks, just at a different event. After training, with adequate supervision, I can drop in and out of the organization as my schedule permits.

Our volunteers, in contrast, work on discrete projects which require unique dedicated tasks over a short period of time–basically a requisite number of weekly hours over a period of months. It was ideal in the era of Big Law, when pro bono hours could sub for billables, or confer bragging rights, when Big Law staffs were huge and sometimes partners needed to find tasks for idle hands. Now that law firms are scaled back and stretched thinner, it’s harder for us to find that sort of intensive commitment from working professionals.

MLK, 2013

All over the internet, you’ll see this quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Life’s most urgent and persistent question is what are you doing for others?”

The National Day of Service Press Release attributes the sentiment– but not the precise phrase–to Dr. King and is the most reputable source I have found for the quote.

I followed President Obama’s inauguration today, via twitter, rather than listen or watch. My choice for #inaug2013 retweeting was this: “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time.” (My choice for  #InaugQuote was “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing”)

Anyway. The two (well, three) thoughts go together well, as far as I am concerned. The most urgent question is what are you doing for others? How are you meeting your obligations to frame the debate? What steps do you take to ensure that all, who are created equal with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are treated as equal with their most basic rights intact?

Elections, Politics, and Election Politics

Welcome to pro bono week! I don’t have my regular pro bono gig this week, but I will be facilitating one of the American Red Cross’ International Humanitarian Law Seminars this week.

Plus, on Saturday, I attended training to serve as an elections observer in Wisconsin, to facilitate voter protection. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the 16-hour day it will entail, but I’m excited to be doing it.

Voter protection, voter suppression, and voter ID are not topics I cover at work, but I am concerned with judicial elections at work and find myself often immersed in voter protection issues.

Among the many interesting things I have seen or read is this video in which UC-Irvine Law Professor Richard L. Hasen discusses his book, The Voting Wars, at the Brennan Center. One thing which really stuck with me from the video is entirely anecdotal and common sensical. Voter ID laws, which act to suppress the votes of the poor, the elderly, and the youngest voters (generally college students voting in their first elections), exist to correct what is essentially a completely ridiculous scenario: that the type of voter fraud we need to prevent comes in the form of people showing up at polling places pretending to be a particular eligible voter and voting.

Think about it for a second.

Thinks about this for a second: what would be the purpose of committing voter fraud? To win an election. How does one win an election? By getting the majority of votes.

Is it plausible that one could win an election through voter fraud that happens one person at a time, pretending to be the person that’s listed on the roll as an eligible voter? Because that’s all requiring an ID at the polling place does: verify that the person casting the vote is on the roll as a person eligible to vote at that polling place.

On its face, the notion that requiring a photo ID at a polling place will safeguard the election is ridiculous.

But there’s much more to the video and you should watch it. It’s interesting and not that long. I’m adding the book to my e-reader, too. Maybe I’ll read it when I’m in Wisconsin, protecting voters from the sort of problems that have been documented to happen in elections: intimidation at the polls, poll workers who don’t understand local rules for same day voting or provisional voting, and voters harming themselves by attempting to vote when they cannot (but without intent to cast a fraudulent vote, such as felons still on parole who cannot vote until parole ends and people who voted absentee who want to change their vote).

Rick Hasen has a piece on voter suppression in Salon right now. The Brennan Center has other excellent resources, as well.