The news rippled through the crowd: Vice President Joe Biden had arrived.
The second lady, Dr. Jill Biden, was already mingling with partygoers. She was there to deliver remarks about domestic violence, long a favorite cause of her husband’s, but no one expected the VP to show up.
The nonprofit lawyers group that hosted the event in the home of one of its founders, Karen Marcou, and her husband, King & Spalding partner George Marcou, provides free legal services to indigent District residents dealing with custody battles, domestic violence, immigration issues, and other family-law matters. It primarily relies on volunteer lawyers who have left their jobs to raise children but still want to practice law.
Nearly all of the group’s clients come from Northeast or Southeast DC. One client wanted custody of her granddaughter, a little girl whose father is in jail and who was born addicted to crack cocaine due to her mother’s drug abuse. Another needed to escape the boyfriend who beat her. In total, the organization has donated 5,000 hours to such clients since it began in 2008.
In her remarks, Dr. Biden revealed that she had first-hand experience using the services of the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project. As an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, she requires her students write journal entries. When one of Dr. Biden’s students wrote that she was being abused, she called Karen Marcou. The group then connected Biden’s student with a lawyer who could help her.
Dr. Biden also explained how her husband ended up at the party: Their paths crossed earlier in the day during a meet-and-greet with the US Olympic team. The Vice President asked Dr. Biden when she would be home that evening, and she explained she was speaking at the fundraiser. When Biden mentioned his plans for the evening had been canceled, his wife told him he should tag along with her. Said Dr. Biden: “I told him, ‘This is right up your alley.’ ”
When the Vice President took the podium, he offered a simplified version of why he decided to attend: “You know I’d follow [Jill] anywhere.”
He described his early career as a lawyer at a high-end Delaware law firm that represented corporate clients, such as railroad, insurance, and oil companies. Biden told the crowd that although those clients deserved legal representation, “For me, it wasn’t enough.”
He traded in his private practice for a job as a public defender, where he handled many family-law cases. In the Senate, he made domestic violence his signature issue, drafting and championing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
Biden said that while working on the act, he spoke mostly to men about domestic violence, because he found that many thought the solution was for abused women to simply call the police and leave their situations. He’d ask the men if they’d seen the movie Deliverance. Then he’d ask, “What scene do you remember?” (He was referring to the male-rape scene.) That drove home the point that abuse victims are often scared and ashamed, and thus, reporting the crime isn’t so easy.
Biden stressed that although the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project typically recruits lawyers who don’t work, lawyers at law firms should also find time to donate their services.
Grinning broadly, he added, “If your partnership tells you it’s a bad idea, call me.”