In response to the desperate need for legal assistance to children in removal proceedings, the Y&H Soda Foundation funded a project with CLINIC to obtain counsel for children in California’s Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Finding quality pro bono legal counsel for these children is both rewarding and challenging.
One of the rewards is establishing relationships with the many talented and generous lawyers in the San Francisco area. These lawyers often have busy practices of their own. The myriad non-profit agencies in the bay area solicit the major law firms with a steady stream of pro bono requests for a wide range of needy people.
It is challenging to compete with so many worthy causes vying for limited pro bono resources. It is important to explain why the firm should direct its resources to your case.
Many lawyers are surprised to hear that children have no right to free legal counsel and must proceed on their own if they cannot afford counsel.
Lack of counsel alone will not convince a law firm to invest pro bono resources unless the child has some possible legal remedy such as asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, or “U” visa eligibility, etc. Lawyers are far more likely to accept a pro bono case if you clearly explain the legal remedies available, the relevant case law and the legal procedures involved. Pro bono lawyers also want to know the likelihood of prevailing on the identified remedies.
It is critical to do a detailed screening of a child’s case so that you can explain, not just the remedies available, but the emotional facts of the case. If you can personalize the child, the lawyer will be more willing to take the case.
A great selling point is access to CLINIC’s knowledgeable immigration lawyers who serve as mentors throughout the pro bono case. In addition, pro bono lawyers have access to CLINIC’s website resources, some trainings and legal updates.
It is also helpful to develop a list of pro bono mentors and experts to whom you can refer the pro bono lawyers for particular issues. This is most important in the area of special immigrant juvenile visas. If you can immediately offer a pro bono family lawyer mentor, you will meet far more success getting lawyers to agree to take a child’s case.
For most of our children’s cases, there is one more, large obstacle to overcome before a pro bono lawyer will take the case. That is, most of our children speak little English. Therefore, it is vital to develop a long list of competent translators since translating is time consuming and most translators will not be available for the entire duration of the case.
One of our star pro bono lawyers with the Soda Foundation project is Peggy Bristol-Wright who has taken four children’s cases. An unusual bonus with Peggy, as a sole practitioner, is that she speaks Spanish. Peggy dismisses any recognition for her efforts, saying she thinks CLINIC’s children’s project is a great opportunity for lawyers to learn about immigration law while helping needy children.
*Laurie is a Pro Bono Recruiter under CLINIC's Soda Foundation Grant