In Pro Bono Eviction Case, New Associate Provides Critical Need for Legal Help

October 25, 2016

Justyna Milewski Justyna Milewski’s first pro bono client was an older woman who was being sued for eviction after living in her apartment for more than 25 years. To the new associate at DLA Piper, the case, at first blush, appeared uncomplicated. 

“There seemed to be some retaliatory action going on by the building management against our client, who really just wanted to stay in the apartment,” says Milewski. “I thought maybe if she couldn’t live there, she could live somewhere else. But in her specific case, she couldn’t live anywhere else or it would take her a very long time to secure another site-based housing voucher. It was really important to her to keep that apartment—her home.” 

The case was one of many that comes through the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project, a new communitywide effort to place subsidized housing eviction cases with 11 participating firms.  

People evicted from subsidized housing are at risk of losing not only their homes but also their housing subsidy. In D.C. there are 40,000 people on the waiting list for public housing, a list that has been closed to new applicants for several years. And as affordable housing gets harder to attain, it can take months or even years for evicted tenants to secure a new place to live.  

Knowing that for many people having legal representation can often mean the difference between having a home and being homeless, Milewski knew she wanted to take on a subsidized housing case. Finding such a case was easy through the Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project. 

“I wouldn’t know the first thing about going and finding pro bono opportunities myself, so I appreciate the fact that we get occasional e-mails suggesting cases where we can get involved. It is really easy to volunteer. You just respond,” says Milewski. 

Throughout the case Milewski found it simple to integrate her new pro bono matter into her daily work as a transactional lawyer. “A lot of times during the course of the day I will switch between pro bono and billable matters, and I don’t even notice the difference. It is just another client that needs my attention and help,” she says.  

Milewski’s co-counsel was Rich Davis, a corporate partner at DLA Piper. Davis helps run the firm’s participation in the pilot project and took the lead in their court appearances. “Right away I looked to Rich as a mentor,” Milewski says. 

With no prior experience in landlord and tenant court, Milewski relied on Davis’ expertise and knowledge as she navigated the case. Her pro bono experience also helped her connect with more senior associates and partners at the firm.  

As the case passed the mediation date, both lawyers turned to the Pro Bono Center for help. “[Their] support was invaluable,” says Milewski. “If not for them, I would probably have missed something. It is really critical and very helpful that their attorneys are available to respond to questions.” 

In the end, Milewski and Davis negotiated a settlement that enabled their client to continue to live in her apartment. The difference legal representation made in the case is evident: “Our client would have been homeless had she actually been evicted. She had nowhere else to go,” says Milewski.  

DLA Piper, Sidley Austin LLP, and Jenner & Block LLP are among firms that have partnered with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center on the Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project. The collaborative effort also includes local legal services providers such as Bread for the City, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and the Legal Counsel for the Elderly. 

Learn more about how to get involved with the Pro Bono Center.