The Faces of Pro Bono
Glimpses of serving Oregon's poor
By Jack L. Landau
years ago, the Oregon State Bar commissioned an examination of the civil
legal needs of low- and moderate-income Oregonians. With the support of
Gov. John Kitzhaber's office and the Oregon Judicial Department, an advisory
committee issued a report in March of 2000 detailing that the legal needs
of low-income people are met only about 17.8 percent of the time, leaving
approximately 250,000 cases unmet a year. The unmet need is most severe
in rural areas where legal aid services can be hours away. Despite the
bar's aspirational standard for lawyers to provide 80 hours of pro bono
service a year, private attorneys providing pro bono legal assistance
meet only about 4.3 percent of the need, the study found.
this shortfall is due to the lack of knowledge about opportunities to
provide pro bono legal assistance. Perhaps we believe we are too busy,
or perhaps we have simply forgotten the satisfaction that comes from helping
someone in need.
the 'perhapses' are, they should not prevent us from donating
some of our time to needed legal services. The Pro Bono Committee of the
OSB Young Lawyers Association has published the Handbook of Pro Bono
Opportunities, and the legal needs study provides a listing of some
available pro bono programs. (Both of these are available through the
OSB; a list of certified pro bono programs is also found at www.osbar.org
in the Memberlinks section.) Many pro bono opportunities take little time
but provide big benefits to the client, such as negotiating a landlord
As the vignettes below demonstrate, furnishing pro bono legal services provides an opportunity to gain another area of expertise, survey different areas of law and practice different legal skills. They also remind us that it can simply be fun and highly rewarding to contribute -- as professionals and citizens - to the well-being of our communities.
Road to Asylum
refugees who come to this country, obtaining asylum from the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS) is the first step in establishing a life
in the United States, but it can also represent a final exit from intimidation,
persecution and torture. The road to obtaining asylum can be long as a
result of the refugee's personal history, the history of and conflict
in the refugee's home country, and as a result of INS required procedures.
Rives operates a pro bono immigration clinic to help refugees apply for
and obtain asylum from the INS. Most of the applicants that the clinic
serves are referred by Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees ('SOAR'),
a refugee resettlement program run by the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
(See OSB Bulletin, November 2000.) Stoel Rives lawyer David Van't Hof
is the clinic's director. Through the clinic Stoel Rives lawyers have
helped more than a dozen refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Haiti,
Guatemala, Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
Van't Hof helped to obtain asylum for 'Khin Samang,' a Muslim
of Indian descent, who grew up in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) in a devout
family. Muslims in Burma historically have been discriminated against
by the majority Buddhist population and the military regime that nominally
supports Buddhism. This is particularly true in western regions of the
country where there are large indigenous Muslim areas, but also in the
capitol of Rangoon. Burma has been ruled by a military regime for many
years that has been authoritarian and hostile to calls for democracy.
became active in the Muslim Youth Organization of Burma which sought to
protect the practice of Islam in Burma and to push for democratic reforms
in the country. As a result of his participation in the 1988 pro-democracy
uprising, he was arrested in 1989 and detained for one year. During that
time, he was never charged, tried or sentenced. He was frequently interrogated
and tortured. His uncle finally managed to pay a bribe for his release.
remained active in the pro-democracy and pro-Muslim movements. In 1991
he again was arrested for participating in unarmed resistance to the destruction
of several mosques in Rangoon by government authorities. During the resistance,
he was struck in the head with a weapon and retains the swollen scar on
his head to this day. This time he was sentenced to six months in prison
and again suffered repeated beatings.
1997, he was arrested yet again for attending a pro-democracy meeting
and detained for three weeks. Finally, in 1998, authorities came to his
house (while he was not there), and he decided to go into hiding. He left
Burma two months later and traveled first to Thailand before paying to
be smuggled into the U.S. He traveled here on a merchant ship, locked
in a small room, leaving behind a wife and four children in Burma. Samang
has been warned not to come back, for the authorities continue to seek
his whereabouts. He hopes to bring his family to the United States.
a general matter, Stoel Rives attorneys, through an interpreter, help
the refugee fill out an application for asylum, develop a legal memorandum
supporting the application and attend the asylum interview hearing. Those
cases not granted asylum based on the interview are referred to Immigration
Court for an evidentiary hearing. An administrative review of that ruling
by the Bureau of Immigration Affairs can follow, and further appeal can
be sought at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hof became involved in Samang's case when his application was referred
to Immigration Court. The asserted basis for referring the case was that
there were discrepancies between Samang's application and interview responses.
Van't Hof represented Samang at his January 2001 hearing, and the immigration
judge granted him asylum, after hearing his testimony and that of a friend
that knew him in Burma.
has been documented that asylum is granted more frequently when the applicant
is represented by an attorney. Most asylum applications are resolved at
the interview level; however, as was true in Samang's case, attorneys
have become involved in appeals up to the 9th Circuit.
another case, the clinic successfully obtained a settlement with the INS
after suing the agency for delayed action on a green card application
filed by an Ethiopian child. The application sought a green card based
on the client's status of being an orphan and a ward of the court. If
delayed long enough, the client probably would have not been able to obtain
a green card because she would have no longer been a juvenile. As part
of the settlement, INS agreed to pay attorney fees under the Equal Access
to Justice Act. Stoel Rives donated those fees to SOAR in Portland and
Northwest Immigrants Rights Project in Seattle.
more information regarding SOAR contact Joel Leiberman at (503) 284-3002.
Ellen Hawes is an attorney with Stoel Rives in Portland.
Blake has volunteered with the Senior Law Project since she joined the
OSB in October 1993. When she arrived in Portland, she looked for a way
to get involved in elder law issues. Blake has found many rewards from
volunteering with the SLP. She has been exposed to a new area of law and
logged many hours of client contact. Because the SLP attracts seniors
from all types of backgrounds, she has learned how to get to the heart
of a client's issues. In addition, she has learned much about how to handle
cases by working closely with Penny Davis of Oregon Legal Services. Volunteering
with the SLP has even generated business for her own elder law practice.
Clients ineligible for continued free services often hire her to continue
working with them and refer their family and friends to her.
most memorable case was a financial exploitation case for a man named
Fred who was in his eighties. He was deaf, in a wheelchair and had mild
dementia, but in general he was a happy-go-lucky person. He had lived
in his home with his wife until her death. Fred's daughter then convinced
Fred to put his house in her name, and then she promptly evicted him and
put him into a nursing home. He wanted to live in his house. The daughter
then put the house on the market to sell. Blake was able to stop the house
sale and appeal the eviction. The case was a lot more complicated than
anyone had expected because of the many parties involved. As a sole practitioner
and a new attorney, Blake felt overwhelmed by the case. Legal Aid provided
much-needed support for the case, including the 'loan' of a
Legal Aid paralegal to help with the litigation. With the excellent support
provided by the program, Blake was able to stop the sale, get Fred back
into his house and, eventually, get the home back in Fred's name. Blake
received the 1994 Volunteer of the Year Award from Multnomah County Legal
Aid, primarily for the hard work she did on this case. Blake admits that
she was able to successfully handle the case due to the assistance she
got from Multnomah County Legal Aid.
to Blake, the SLP is a great program to volunteer with because volunteers
are not out on their own; they have support and informal mentoring. If
a client's problems are beyond a volunteer's knowledge capabilities, the
Senior Law Project coordinator, Anne Stacey, will pair them with a more
experienced attorney or re-assign the case to another attorney altogether.
Stacey tries to make the experience as rewarding and positive as she can.
Maloney Blackford is another Senior Law Project volunteers attorney. Blackford
is a new attorney as of October 2000, who has been interested in elder
law issues since law school. Her law school did have an elder law course,
but Blackford found it to be too theoretical. Blackford moved to Portland
wanting to pursue estate planning and elder law. Looking for ways to help
seniors, she quickly discovered (and called) the Senior Law Project.
felt well prepared for her first SLP clients, because the project provided
her with a lot of materials, including Legal Aid's pamphlets on common
issues and a book about legal issues for older adults. In addition, there
was a class to help her learn about bankruptcy law. She was admittedly
nervous on her first day, but her preparation and the structure of the
program made it go smoothly.
Dady Blake, Blackford has been very pleased with her experiences at the
SLP. She has handled a wide variety of cases: landlord-tenant, family
law, wills/power of attorney, consumer issues, bankruptcy, small claims
court issues, HUD questions, issues with drivers' licenses and evictions.
Like Blake, Blackford has felt well-supported, noting that Anne Stacey
provides resources if and when volunteers need them. Volunteers have regular
contact with more experienced attorneys who willingly help with questions.
For new attorneys, Blackford feels the program is wonderful because it
provides a lot of client contact, a wide variety of issues, practice in
'taming inner nervousness' and the wonderful feeling of helping
those who need it and cannot get help elsewhere. The whole process is
'very smooth and easy,' because the SLP prescreens the cases
so volunteers know what to expect. There is a significant counseling aspect
to the SLP; volunteer attorneys often put seniors in contact with community
resources, both legal and non-legal. Even if a case has an issue requiring
further research, Blackford feels that this volunteer work can be a great
confidence-builder for new attorneys. For more experienced attorneys,
the process of helping someone who desperately needs it and truly appreciates
it helps attorneys keep a good attitude about the practice of law.
these two attorneys' experiences indicate, the Senior Law Project is a
program that offers great opportunities for both new and experienced attorneys.
The Senior Law Project is jointly sponsored by the Multnomah Office of
Legal Services of Oregon and the Multnomah County Aging and Disability
Services. The project provides free legal assistance to seniors living
in, or having problems in, Multnomah County.
major goal of the SLP is to encourage seniors to get legal advice and/or
assistance with their legal issues before they are out of control. To
accomplish this goal, the SLP focuses on providing legal assistance in
nine of the county's local senior centers. The senior centers provide
space and staff support for the attorney volunteers. The attorneys provide
several half-hour consultations for anyone who meets the age, legal usage
and residence guidelines. Typically, an attorney volunteers a three-hour
block, seeing as many as six clients. No income guidelines are used for
these initial consultations, which encourages all seniors to make appointments
to discuss their legal issues.
addition, some volunteers agree to accept cases where the attorney meets
the client in their home, nursing home or other care setting. For clients
who meet legal services income eligibility guidelines, volunteer attorneys
are asked to provide free follow-up work. For those who do not qualify
for the free follow-up, the clients can choose to hire their volunteer
attorney or they can seek another attorney elsewhere.
the SLP makes volunteering very simple. The senior center staff screens
the clients and schedules the volunteers' appointments. The Professional
Liability Fund provides free coverage for attorneys are exempt from PLF
coverage. (While this coverage is limited to work done on behalf of eligible
clients and the initial consultations, it allows attorneys who do not
have coverage but wish to volunteer a means to do so.) To learn more more
about the Senior Law Project, call Anne Stacey at (503) 224-4094. Outside
Multnomah County, there are comparable programs in many counties. Contact
Legal Services in the desired county to determine what opportunities exist.
Shelly Lee is an attorney at Portland State University Student Legal and Mediation Services.
Society Through Law
third-year law students, as we know, don't have the slightest idea what
it's like to practice law. Students often graduate without taking a single
class designed to develop client management, negotiation or trial lawyer
skills. To them, the prospect of 'hanging out a shingle' must
seem like an antiquated, romantic delusion. Fortunately, there is a simple
way for new lawyers to gain experience and increase their likelihood of
success in private practice: volunteer for a pro bono law organization.
noteworthy example volunteer is Bruce McLaughlin, a 1997 graduate of the
Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College. When Bruce passed
the bar, he soon realized that clients rarely appear by magic at the office
door, and his collection of 60 designer suits was in danger of gathering
dust unless he broadened his areas of expertise and increased his visibility
in the community. Bruce also felt that it was his social responsibility
to be as active as possible. He explained, 'There's no sense sitting
around idle when people are in need. I'm a lawyer, and I should act like
one by helping society through the law.' So Bruce focused the energy
of his self-described 'addictive personality' on pro bono work,
volunteering for five different agencies: St. Andrew Legal Clinic, St.
Matthew Legal Clinic, the Oregon Law Center, Outside In and Legal Aid
Service of Oregon in Multnomah County.
a volunteer, Bruce handles a wide variety of civil matters, including
domestic relations and landlord/tenant cases, and he often finds himself
in the courtroom - always in a different suit, of course. 'St. Andrew
is particularly accessible to new lawyers,' McLaughlin noted. 'It's
easy to participate, because experienced lawyers like Charles Simes are
there to guide you through the process. The only reason I'm able to practice
law today to any degree of competence is because of Charles' invaluable
of his most profound, and heartbreaking, cases involved a young mother
who needed help regaining custody of her three children. She already had
the legal right to custody, but the father refused to recognize her status,
and she hadn't seen her children in five months. The mother had few financial
resources, but she was a dynamic, intelligent woman who came in with a
stack of well-prepared pleadings. McLaughlin quickly arranged a hearing
which compelled the father to return the children. The greatest reward
was witnessing the family's reunion as the children ran to their mother
saying, 'I got my mommy back!' Just three days later, however,
the story took a bizarre and tragic turn when the mother died from a massive
stroke. 'I couldn't believe it,' McLaughlin said. 'She
was so full of life. This job forces you to confront the real world in
ways you'll never forget. But it also illuminates those small corners
of our community we don't otherwise see and reveals real people with real
families who are in desperate need of our help.'
year, McLaughlin spends around one month of his time doing pro bono work,
and his efforts have not gone unrecognized. In 1998, the Pro Bono Committee
of the OSB New Lawyers Division awarded him with the Pro Bono Challenge
Award for Sole Practitioners, and in 1999 and 2000, he received the St.
Andrew Legal Clinic Volunteer of the Year Award. Although McLaughlin cautions
against viewing the volunteer experience as a 'referral opportunity,'
his former pro bono clients do occasionally become paying clients. All
things considered, Bruce feels the work 'pays for itself three-fold'
and urges all lawyers to do as much pro bono work as they can. Say McLaughlin:
'We're very privileged to be attorneys. Most of us got a lot of breaks
to get where we are, and now is the time to show leadership and give back
to the community that nurtured us.' +
Colin Yost is an attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice in Salem.
Espinosa went to the Southeast Legal Clinic on 330 S.E.11th Avenue in
Portland to find a lawyer. A line cook from California who recently moved
his family of four to Hillsboro, Espinosa was driving to San Francisco
in late May to visit family when his van broke down. It was a used vehicle
he had bought with an extended warranty just two weeks earlier from a
warranty company would not pay the repair bills, and by mid-October, nearly
five months after the van broke down, it was still in the San Francisco
repair shop, and Espinosa was understandably frustrated that his phone
calls and letters to the warranty company went unanswered. Unable to afford
an attorney on his own, he signed up for a pro bono attorney at the Southeast
Legal Clinic, a branch of the Oregon Law Center's Neighborhood Legal Clinic
Project. (His plight was documented in the Oct. 16, 2001 issue of The
Oregonian, which found few legal resources for low-income people in
the Portland metro area.)
Blachly, an associate at the Portland law firm of Lane Powell Spears Lubersky,
volunteered to be a pro bono attorney at the clinic that night. She remembers
reading the article about Espinosa on Monday, only to meet him two days
later at the clinic. 'He struck me as a hard worker, who by misfortune
found himself in circumstances that he could not help himself out of.'
They talked briefly about his case at the clinic, where Blachly also met
Espinosa's wife and one of his children, before Blachly took his case
(and three others) back to the office to work on. 'I thought I could
help him, and he was thrilled just to have someone listen to his frustrations
that he was not being treated fairly.'
Hudson, a partner at Lane Powell who encouraged Blachly to volunteer at
the legal clinic, believes that all attorneys, regardless of specialty,
can volunteer their time. 'People should keep in mind there are resources
available if you're outside of your comfort zone. There are a lot of attorneys
who are willing to help if you're not an expert in landlord-tenant law.'
all indicators seem to be pointing in the opposite direction. 'Every
year there are less and less attorneys,' says Elba Longawa, legal
clinic coordinator at the Hispanic Program in Gresham, a Spanish-speaking
branch of the Neighborhood Legal Clinic Project. 'For December we
had no pro bono attorneys because of the holidays. We offer the legal
clinic every week, but we have to wait until January' before the
clinics may resume.
story does have a happy ending: Within three weeks of meeting Blachly
at the clinic, Espinosa and the warranty company entered into a mutually
agreeable settlement agreement. Espinosa now has his van back in working
order, and his first encounter with an attorney left him with good impressions.
When asked how he felt about his attorney and the handling of his case,
he was voluble. 'Victoria is a beautiful, wonderful person. A wonderful
was equally admiring of her client. 'He was eager to assist whenever
possible. He was so thankful and appreciate of my efforts, that I enjoyed
the work and would not hesitate to assist the legal clinic again.'
Willard Chi is an attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice in Salem.
ABOUT THESE ARTICLES
The Bulletin gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the OSB New Lawyers Division Pro Bono Committee, chaired by Ellen Hawes, which compiled these articles.