California Lawyers Foundation
Foundation Partners Lead the Way on Access to Justice
By Ellen Miller
The California Lawyers Foundation is thankful for the support of our first group of Founding Fifty members: Remy Moose Manley LLP, Klinedinst PC, CLA Environmental Law Section, Procopio, and Hanson Bridgett LLP. Their generous support speaks to their commitment to our mission — improving access to justice for people in need, fostering diversity in the legal profession, and educating Californians about the role of lawyers and judges. We wanted to find out more about how they approach these important objectives within their own organizations, in the hopes that their tips might help others who are seeking to have an impact. This quarter we’d like to highlight the work of Hanson Bridgett LLP. We asked Samir Abdelnour, Director of Pro Bono & Social Impact, to share how his firm is increasing access to justice in California and beyond. Here’s what he shared:
a. Incentives to Encourage Pro Bono Service
Hanson Bridgett has a long, proud history of working to increase access to justice in California. In 2021, the firm introduced two new roles: Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, and Director of Pro Bono and Social Impact. The creation of these roles represents a formalization of Hanson Bridgett's commitment to increase the programs and opportunities available to our attorneys and staff to build on the firm’s legacy of providing access to quality legal services to communities and individuals in need. As a next step, the firm has also created new incentives to encourage even more community service from its attorneys, adding billable hours credit (up to 50 hours) for non-legal volunteer activities and DEI-focused projects on top of the existing 150 hours of billable credit that attorneys can get for pro bono work each year. In addition, as the firm continues to grow beyond the Bay Area, we are expanding our pro bono partnerships to provide more localized opportunities to all of our attorneys and staff throughout the state. Looking forward to 2022 and beyond, the firm will be developing a civil rights/social justice fellowship program and exploring alternative pricing models for providing legal services in support of important social impact efforts that would not qualify as pro bono work.
b. Meaningful Pro Bono Engagement
Hanson Bridgett attorneys have engaged in so much meaningful pro bono work this past year, and the following are just a few examples of their efforts. One of our associates secured a trial victory for a client seeking a permanent domestic violence restraining order against her former spouse. In that case, the former spouse demanded an evidentiary hearing and brought more than 10 witnesses to court to testify on his behalf. After prevailing on the permanent restraining order, the Hanson Bridgett attorney successfully negotiated a favorable modification of custody and visitation orders to further protect her client and her client's children. In another example, Hanson Bridgett's entire leadership team participated with several other firm attorneys to assist immigrants who had been granted asylum with the arduous application process involved in obtaining permanent legal status in the U.S. And, during our summer program, Hanson Bridgett's summer associates and other attorneys assisted pro bono clients in petitioning the government for asylum in partnership with the LGBT Asylum Project. In addition, over the past two years, Hanson Bridgett attorneys have represented migrants victimized by the Trump administration's family separation policy in pursuing justice for their forced separation at the southern border. This is just a small sample of the incredible pro bono work Hanson Bridgett attorneys have dedicated this past year to do our part in increasing access to justice.
c. Partnerships With Other Organizations and Support for Legal Aid Funding
Hanson Bridgett maintains ongoing partnerships with more than a dozen organizations committed to increasing access to justice. Several of the case examples I mentioned above came through one of our partnerships, including the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo, Centro Legal de la Raza, and The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. We are so proud to work with these and other organizations, and deeply honored to have received the “Dorothy Wolf Award” from the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo for our work with survivors of domestic violence and to have been featured in Centro Legal's 2020-2021 annual report. Our pro bono partnerships go hand-in-hand with the financial support that we provide our partner organizations and other legal services and charitable organizations every year. We just wrapped up our annual pro bono pledge drive and silent auction during National Pro Bono Week, and the firm will once again be matching our employees' charitable donations through the end of the year.
How Can You Help?
CLF welcomes donations from individuals, firms, companies and foundations to help support its growing list of projects. The Foundation has a Gift Acceptance Policy with details on how to contribute and the types of gifts accepted. In addition, CLF is interested in potentially co-sponsoring and supporting projects. To that end, the Foundation has created a Co-Sponsorship Policy that outlines the requirements. In addition, there are other ways to support the work CLF does. From Facebook campaigns to Amazon SMILE designations, there are numerous ways to take part in the Foundation. Visit the CLF website for more information.
Ellen Miller is Executive Director of the California Lawyers Foundation.