Sure, some of those lawyer jokes have a certain ring of truth, and client complaints about high hourly rates are often justified. But despite the bad rap that lawyers often get, they do a lot of good. That’s especially true in Washington, where a public-service ethic and strong commitment to pro bono work are hallmarks of the legal community.
Though lawyers across the District donate legal services year-round—the DC Bar’s pro bono program, for instance, helped 15,000 residents in 2009—their impact is perhaps felt most acutely during the holidays.
DC’s Children’s Law Center, one of the area’s largest nonprofit legal-services providers, just completed its annual Holiday Hope Drive. With the help of law firms such as Latham & Watkins and McKenna Long & Aldridge, the center collected about 3,500 toys, articles of clothing, grocery gift cards, and other gifts to donate to local children living in foster care or suffering from health problems or who have survived abuse and neglect. The children are clients of the Children’s Law Center, which advocates for more than 1,200 kids dealing with custody battles, foster-care proceedings, abuse, and other issues every year.
For the Hope Drive, the center—which has an in-house team of 75 lawyers and other staff members—asks attorneys at the law firms with which it partners on pro bono cases to “adopt” children and families in need. The kids and families provide wish lists of items, and lawyers can select which individuals they want to shop for.
Karen Brinkmann, a partner at Latham, “adopted” a teenage girl who is the same age as her own daughter. “It was fun for [my daughter] because she felt like she was buying for a sister,” says Brinkmann.
Jessica Abrahams, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge—who litigates pro bono cases for the Children’s Law Center year-round and sits on the organization’s board—points out that the effort isn’t limited only to attorneys; staff members at the law firms also get involved. At McKenna, legal secretary Trisha Hall is responsible for organizing the donations and helping with last-minute shopping.
“I learned quickly that if I offered to do some of the shopping, I got a lot more participation,” says Hall.
Other businesses and prominent District residents, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward, also gave to the Hope Drive.
For the participants, it’s about providing holiday traditions that are so easily taken for granted: “We want to make sure each kid has multiple presents,” says Abrahams. “Especially the little kids—they really like to open presents.”