News

COVID-19 Changes How the Pro Bono Center Serves the Community

March 31, 2020

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D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center staff and volunteers are working remotely to maintain legal support for clients during the coronavirus crisis. Above, Pro Bono Center Executive Director Rebecca Troth works to ensure the Center remains accessible to the community it serves. 

The coronavirus outbreak is impacting our work, our lives, and our community. These are trying times for all, but those who struggle to afford basic necessities like food and shelter or have lost their jobs because of the pandemic face a more uncertain future. The current health crisis is another barrier for people living below the poverty line. 

While the D.C. Superior Court is closed to the public through May 15 (pending further updates), the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center anticipates a significant increase in clients in need of pro bono services in the coming months. Although demand will surge when the courts reopen, D.C. Bar members and other lawyers can help meet the need for free legal help by volunteering for cases now. 

“Those in need of pro bono services endure heightened risks in an uncertain economy,” says Pro Bono Center Executive Director Rebecca Troth. “This crisis puts our clients in even greater danger of being evicted or going bankrupt. Volunteer attorneys are the last line of defense for low-income clients.” 

 Although all Pro Bono Center staff are working remotely, attorneys are still mentoring and placing cases with qualified volunteers to represent individual clients in family, housing, and public benefits matters through the Advocacy & Justice Clinic. Prospective volunteers from the 19 participating law firms and the federal government should contact their firm pro bono counsel or other contact for information on how to get started. Prospective volunteers with general inquiries can contact the Pro Bono Center

Meanwhile, local small businesses and nonprofits are already being forced to make difficult decisions about their operations. The indefinite closures are impacting their ability to make payroll, pay rent, and meet other contractual obligations. 

 “Small business owners are being forced to close and potentially lay off some of our neighbors most in need. Nonprofit organizations are also struggling to adjust to delivering services with the restrictions this pandemic has placed on movement,” says Pro Bono Center Assistant Director Darryl Maxwell. “We welcome volunteer attorneys to help businesses and nonprofits navigate the litany of potentially troublesome legal issues.”  

The Pro Bono Center’s Nonprofit Legal Assistance Program continues to operate its legal match program, and law firm pro bono coordinators can contact [email protected] if they have attorneys interested in being matched with a nonprofit for ongoing pro bono legal assistance.  

Until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide further guidance and to keep all participants safe, volunteers and clients should plan to temporarily conduct meetings by phone or via web conference.  

Status Updates 

The D.C. Courts have communicated specific dates and guidelines for court-related activities. Volunteers on active cases should relay this information and discuss pandemic-driven issues with their pro bono clients.  

Phone calls and web conferences have replaced traditional face-to-face interactions for volunteers and their clients, but the Pro Bono Center is still providing vital legal information to the community. 

Following guidance from local and national health officials, and the closure of the D.C. Superior Court, the Pro Bono Center temporarily suspended the operation of its neighborhood clinics, court-based resource centers, nonprofit and small business clinics, and training programs. Pro Bono Center staff and volunteers are working remotely to maintain legal support for clients. 

Additional service updates: 

• The Family Law Assistance Network, a new joint partnership among the Pro Bono Center, the D.C. Affordable Law Firm, and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, has launched a remote legal advice hotline. Individuals with a D.C. case and whose household income is below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (for example, $52,400 for a family of four, or $25,520 for an individual) can call 202-844-5428 for help on questions about custody, child support, parentage, or divorce. 

• The April 11 and May 9 Advice & Referral Clinics have been canceled, but a dedicated telephone line to respond to urgent D.C. civil legal issues has been established at 202-737-4700, ext. 3294. For the status of future Clinics, consult our Advice and Referral Clinic page.

• The Landlord Tenant Resource Center is now providing legal information through a phone line (202-780-2575) through May 15 for pro se tenants and small landlords. 

• The Consumer Law Resource Center is also providing legal information through its temporary phone line at 202-780-2574.

 • The Pro Bono Training Program's Bankruptcy 2-Part Series scheduled for April 28 and May 5 will be conducted remotely. Check updates on other upcoming pro bono trainings for legal professionals. Nonprofits or small business owners interested in upcoming trainings can visit www.lawhelp.org/dc/ced. For more information, email [email protected]

• The monthly Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinics are transitioning to serving small businesses remotely until further notice. For more information, email Staff Attorney Christine Kulumani at [email protected]

Online Resources and Legal Information Help Line 

Pertinent updates for volunteers will be posted to Probono.net/dc. Pro bono clients with legal questions about COVID-19 can find up-to-date information on the LawHelp coronavirus page, which the Pro Bono Center manages on behalf of the D.C. legal services provider community. LawHelp also hosts a database of District legal services providers and their operating status. 

People seeking legal help should continue to access LawHelp. The Pro Bono Center’s Legal Information Help Line at 202-626-3499 will continue to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing information in Spanish, Amharic and French, in addition to English. Nonprofits and small businesses seeking legal help can email [email protected].