Volunteering with Legal Services
Whitman-Walker Legal Services has a number of pro bono opportunities available for law firms, individual attorneys, and others interested in getting involved. For more information, please contact Lee Brubaker, Legal Services Operations Manager, at 202.939.7627 or e-mail.
Direct Placement of Specific Cases. We regularly notify attorneys on our volunteer list and law firm and federal agency pro bono coordinators of cases available for placement. All cases advertised through this list have been screened for likely merit by our intake coordinator and senior managing attorneys, based on the facts available to us at intake. Attorneys express their interest in cases by contacting Lee Brubaker, Legal Services Operations Manager. In addition, in appropriate cases our staff will directly contact specific volunteers, or law firm pro bono coordinators, when we have a case that appears to be a good “match.” Once the volunteer accepts a case, he or she will receive the client’s file and supporting materials. Whitman-Walker attorneys are available for mentoring at any time, and a place for a volunteer to meet with her or his client in our offices can be arranged when necessary. As discussed below, interpreter services are available upon request.
Estate Planning Clinic – 1701 14th St., NW. On the fourth Tuesday of every month, area law firms, GAYLAW, a voluntary bar association, and several local estate planning experts staff our Estate Planning Clinic at our NW Washington, DC site. Volunteer attorneys prepare estate planning documents for clients, including simple wills, financial and health care powers of attorney, and advance medical directives. The law firms currently participating in this clinic are Beveridge & Diamond; Arnold & Porter; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Social Security Disability Initial Applications Clinic – 1701 14th St., NW. On the fourth Tuesday of each month at our NW Washington, DC site, specially-trained public benefits volunteers help clients assess eligibility and complete applications for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.
Max Robinson Center Volunteers. We are actively exploring ways to use volunteers at our Max Robinson site, and welcome inquiries from interested attorneys (and non-attorneys interested in helping with public benefits applications).
Home and Hospital Visits. In cases of medical necessity, home and hospital visits by volunteers may be arranged for simple estate planning and public benefits matters.
Volunteer Resources and Pro Bono Policies
Resources & Training
Whitman-Walker attorneys are available to provide mentoring and other assistance on cases. We provide volunteers with our extensive HIV/AIDS Legal Advocacy Manual and additional resource materials and guides, depending on the type of case. Staff attorneys offer periodic training sessions for new and ongoing volunteers, and are available for customized training sessions at law firms where there is sufficient interest.
Whitman-Walker Legal Services’ malpractice insurance policy covers all volunteers handling cases through our program.
Other than clients scheduled for our Estate Planning and Social Security Disability Initial Application Clinics, most volunteers prefer to meet with their clients in their own offices. However, WWC Legal Services offices can be scheduled for client meetings upon request.
Once a case is accepted by a volunteer attorney, that attorney and her law firm become the client’s lawyers for purposes of the case at issue. We recommend that the volunteer attorney or law firm promptly enter into a retainer agreement with the client describing the scope and specific terms of the representation
Reporting on Status of Pro Bono Cases; Termination of Representation
As noted above, Whitman-Walker legal staff are available for consultation and other assistance on an ongoing basis. Volunteers who accept pro bono cases from WW Legal Services are expected to keep WW staff apprised of significant developments in the case. This includes responding to inquiries by WW staff and submitting copies of all significant documents, correspondence, pleadings, and closing forms.
Volunteers should consult with the Legal Services Director or his designee prior to terminating representation for any reason other than resolution of the case (e.g., difficulty communicating with the client, or conduct by the client that the volunteer attorney deems unreasonable). In the event that representation is terminated before a case has been resolved, the volunteer or his or her law firm is expected to provide a memo setting out case developments and status and the attorney’s legal and factual analysis.
Policy on Attorneys Fees and Out of Pocket Costs
Attorneys Fees. Attorneys who take cases through our pro bono program may not charge clients for any portion of their time. As explained below, pro bono attorneys can seek reimbursement from defendants in appropriate circumstances (primarily when handling cases under fee-shifting statutes), provided the client receives adequate compensation for his or her injuries.
Filing fees, medical record copying costs, and other out of pocket expenses. Whitman-Walker is unable to pay filing fees, costs for retrieving and copying medical records, and other expenses associated with representing a client. Clients may be asked to pay such expenses when they are reasonable compared to the client’s means. However, most of our clients have low incomes and many are struggling with high medical costs and other financial responsibilities, so absent prior agreement, volunteer attorneys/law firms who accept cases are expected to bear these costs.
Payment of attorneys fees and out of pocket costs by the opposing party . Attorneys handling cases arising under fee-shifting statutes (such as anti-discrimination laws and ERISA) are encouraged to seek attorneys fees and costs from defendants, either through court order or in settlement, so long as the client’s recovery is reasonable given the value of the claim(s).
We strongly urge volunteer attorneys to seek attorney’s fees in cases brought under fee-shifting statutes, whenever such fees can be obtained in addition to reasonable compensation for the client’s financial, medical, emotional and other injuries. In our experience, volunteer attorneys, particularly at large law firms, sometimes are reluctant to ask for attorneys fees because they believe that such a demand is inconsistent with pro bono and because they and their firms “don’t need the money.” However, defendants’ liability for plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees under the civil rights laws and other fee-shifting statutes serves an important public policy goal: such liability increases the cost of discrimination and other unlawful activity and, therefore, heightens the deterrent effect of the laws. It is not unusual in discrimination cases for the attorney’s fees to be greater than – even substantially greater than – the damages that the client herself could reasonably expect to obtain. So long as reasonable compensation can be obtained for the client, the public interest, and the interests of people living with HIV are not served by “letting defendants off the hook.”
Volunteer attorneys are encouraged to donate any fee recovery (less reimbursement of out of pocket expenses) to Whitman-Walker Legal Services.
Interpreters for Clients With Limited English Proficiency
Many WW volunteers speak another language or can work with someone at their firm or organization to serve as an interpreter. In the event that the volunteer attorney requires assistance in obtaining an interpreter for the client, pro bono interpreter services may be available through WW Legal Services – although some services require mid-size and large law firms to pay a portion of the costs. Due to our limited funds, Whitman-Walker is unable to pay for interpreter or translator services; we expect volunteers’ law firms to bear those costs if the client is unable to pay and pro bono services are unavailable.
Additional Information for Volunteers