Pro Bono Center Continues to Serve Residents Through COVID-19

By Matt Stephen

April 28, 2020

Pro Bono Zoom Meeting

D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center Staff engage in a videoconference.

The COVID-19 health crisis has had an acute effect on D.C. residents. As businesses have shuttered to comply with the emergency restrictions, thousands have lost their jobs, health insurance, and childcare. Renters are facing the threat of eviction, and parents whose situations have changed during the pandemic are dealing with new challenges to their custody agreements.

Nonprofit organizations and small businesses also have been hit hard by the pandemic. Small business employers, struggling to keep their doors open, are considering whether to resort to furloughs or layoffs to avoid closing their operations completely, and how to pay rent on multiyear commercial lease agreements.

To help our District neighbors, vital safety-net nonprofit organizations, and small businesses serving D.C. neighborhoods, the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center is continuing to respond to those in need of legal help now and when the courts reopen.

Through several new dedicated telephone help lines, Pro Bono Center attorneys have advised callers with housing, consumer, family law, employment, and other immediate legal concerns. Thanks to the Center’s strong partnerships with law firms and federal government agencies, staff are continuing to screen and place cases with pro bono attorneys.

The Center even launched a new program to increase representation for individuals with family law matters. The Family Law Assistance Network, a partnership among the Pro Bono Center, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and DC Affordable Law Firm, has already helped more than 45 people with urgent custody, parentage, child support, and divorce matters.

IP Clinic for Small Businesses

Kristina Caggiano Kelly, Counsel at Sterne Kessler, coordinates attorneys at her firm participating remotely in the Free Intellectual Property Legal Clinic for Small Businesses. 

The Pro Bono Center’s Nonprofit & Small Business Legal Assistance Programs (NPSB) are connecting small business clients and nonprofits with volunteer attorneys remotely during this public health emergency. The NPSB staff are also creating webinar series and legal alerts tailored to COVID-19-related concerns, offering brief advice legal clinics over videoconferencing platforms, and continuing its legal match program to connect nonprofits with D.C. law firms to provide ongoing legal support. NPSB has created a one-stop resource center on pandemic legal issues for organizations that is updated regularly with new legal alerts, webinar recordings, and more.

On April 23, more than 100 participants attended NPSB’s “Open or Closed for Business? Employment Law Issues for Small Businesses and Nonprofits During the Pandemic” webinar, in which experts from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius discussed paid leave, furloughs, and other timely employment law issues arising from the pandemic. A second webinar on April 30 with Blank Rome covered commercial rent issues for nonprofits and small businesses. Earlier this month, Sterne Kessler attorneys presented remotely a long-planned intellectual property legal clinic for small businesses.

NPSB also launched the Free Financial Relief Brief Advice for Nonprofits and Small Businesses, where organizations can get free brief legal advice on CARES Act and other government economic relief programs. It has served 75 organizations to date.

“This is a challenging time for nonprofits and small businesses alike,” said Pro Bono Center Assistant Director Darryl Maxwell. “Nonprofit executives and entrepreneurs are retooling and changing strategies to protect staff and outlast these uncertain times. There are no easy answers to these questions. Our webinars, brief advice clinics, and ongoing assistance programs can provide guidance on employment questions, real estate matters, and federal assistance.”

The Pro Bono Center’s Legal Information Help Line continues to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Amharic, English, French, and Spanish. The Help Line has fielded and responded more than 100 calls since the Pro Bono Center began providing services remotely.

Meanwhile, the Pro Bono Center is also posting new legal resources online to and Pro Bono Center staff have continued to offer legal information, legal advice, and limited-scope representation to clients throughout the crisis.

“We aim to help as many D.C. residents as we possibly can,” said Pro Bono Center Executive Director Rebecca Troth. “Our staff may be working from their kitchens, living rooms, or home offices now, but this new reality has not deterred us from serving those who need our services now more than ever.”