This week, we’re participating in the National Pro Bono Celebration! We’ll stand with other service groups across the country whose work in underprivileged communities is made possible by countless hours of pro bono assistance.
On that note, we’re thrilled to feature this post by Mark Herzog, Associate Director of the DC Bar Pro Bono Program, which has convened its monthly pro bono clinic in our facilities for more than a decade — providing thousands of people with free legal advice and referrals in the process. The DC Bar Pro Bono Clinic is an essential complement to our own legal services, so we are pleased to feature them today. Much love to legal service providers, and check out the rest of the national conversation about pro bono service on Twitter! Now, here’s Mark:
The legal staff at Bread for the City is one of the most professional, talented and compassionate groups of attorneys practicing in the District of Columbia. They work tirelessly to advocate for the rights of tenants to live in decent and affordable housing; of those who are unable to work to receive necessary benefits to buy food and pay rent; and of families in crisis to retain whatever structure and support is available to help care for their children.
Yet despite their dedication to serving the low-income community, and those of all the other legal services lawyers in the District, the number of unrepresented litigants appearing in our courts is enormous, and likely to remain so. In the high volume branches – Landlord and Tenant, Child Support and Small Claims – more than 90% of litigants proceed without counsel.
Where can all these unrepresented litigants turn for help? Bread for the City, of course.
Since the mid 90’s, Bread for the City has hosted the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Advice & Referral Clinic. On the second Saturday of every month between 10:00AM and noon at both the NW and SE Centers, scores of volunteer lawyers serve over 100 clients by providing pro se assistance in civil matters governed by D.C. law. They provide legal information, help complete court forms and sometimes attempt to resolve disputes by calling opposing parties.
Our Advice & Referral Clinic volunteers always have been impressed with the space at Bread for the City. We marveled at how much we could accomplish – and how many people we could serve – in what felt like very intimate quarters. Yet, the space also presented some challenges. We would interview clients in all the vacant areas – next to the walk-in freezer, in the hallways and even in the medical exam rooms. And the conference room was not large enough to accommodate all our volunteers during the opening orientation.
But we could not have wished for better space… or so we thought. When our volunteers and clients walk through the new entrance to the expanded NW Center for the first time, you can see the look of total awe on their faces. Not only is it an architectural wonder, but now we are able to conduct our interviews in private offices or other space better suited for our services; the large conference room easily holds all our volunteers; and our staff have plenty of storage for our supplies and forms.
And this expanded space could not have come at a better time. On the second Saturday in August, we served more clients than ever before – over 140!
Unfortunately, the need for our services is only growing as more people face harsh financial times. But thankfully, we have a great partner in Bread for the City. We are so grateful for its generosity and hospitality over these many years, and to all those who supported and believed in the expansion.