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DOLLARS FOR DILLARD About a week after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Dillard University alum and Shreveport, La., native Michael Jones knew he had to do something to help. The school, which backs up to a Lake Pontchartrain levee, was under 10 to 12 feet of water, and while the full magnitude of the damage was not yet known, it was obvious the rebuilding effort would be substantial. So Jones, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, stepped up. “The first thing I got interested in was helping with the fund-raising effort,” he says. He heard that the university was launching an effort to get 1,000 alumni to give $1,000 each, every year for the next few years. “I was happy to be a charter member,” he says, “so I wrote a check for $10,000.” Then, last December, Jones and his wife endowed a $100,000 scholarship that will help the “brave students” who are returning to campus. He says the specifics of the scholarship program have not been finalized, but it will offer about $5,000 a year. It is up to the school, he says, to decide how many students will receive money and how much each scholarship will be worth. In addition, Jones persuaded Kirkland & Ellis to establish a separate scholarship for prelaw students. But Jones’ altruism did not end there. Next he volunteered the firm’s pro bono services to help the university deal with any insurance coverage issues that may arise. “So far they haven’t run into any obstacles or roadblocks,” he says, “but if and when they need us, we will be there.” And at the end of the month, Jones and his wife will host a Mardi Gras benefit at their house, which he hopes will bring in another $75,000 to $100,000 for the university. Jones says he would like to use this event as a launching pad for similar benefits hosted by other alums across the country. Raising money is one aspect of his involvement, Jones says, but he has also gotten involved in the school’s branding effort, developing a recruiting tool that tells the story of Dillard alums who became lawyers. The first black judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the first black lawyer elected to the state supreme court, and the first black lawyer in Louisiana were all Dillard alumni, Jones says. “The pitch is that Dillard is an excellent springboard to join the legal profession.”
UNDERPAID JUSTICE Indigent defendants in Virginia are denied their rights to counsel and due process because the state restricts the number of hours a court-appointed attorney can spend on a case, according to a group of lawyers who have threatened to file a federal class action if the Virginia Legislature fails to rectify the situation. The lawyers are prepared to ask the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond to declare the fee caps unconstitutional and may seek an injunction to prevent their enforcement. “Despite an intense focus on the problem, there has not been any legislative changes,” says Sarah Wilson, special counsel at Covington & Burling and a former federal judge who is working on the case pro bono. She says that Virginia’s fee caps are the lowest of any state in the country and that the Legislature has even failed to provide sufficient funds to cover the fees set forth in the statute. Under Virginia’s current system, court-appointed counsel can provide five hours of paid representation to a person accused of a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and less than 14 hours of paid representation for those facing potential life sentences. Juveniles are provided only 90 minutes of paid representation regardless of the charge. Two Virginia legislators, Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) and state Sen. Kenneth Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), who are both attorneys, persuaded the lawyers to hold off on filing the suit in order to give the General Assembly time to resolve the issue. Both legislators introduced bills that would remove the caps and allow judges to set an hourly rate on a case-by-case basis. If the Legislature is unable to adequately address the issue, Wilson says the plaintiffs will follow through with their suit.
PRO BONO PRIZE When a group of lawyers from Whiteford Taylor & Preston were looking for pro bono opportunities near their homes in Virginia, they were introduced to Homestretch, a Northern Virginia nonprofit that helps homeless families get back on their feet. Once a month the attorneys help the Homestretch residents with trust and estate issues, tax problems, insurance questions, domestic matters, and other legal issues. In recognition of their efforts, the firm was named “Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year” by the Fairfax Law Foundation and the Fairfax Bar Pro Bono Program. “The people there are great; they just need a little bit of help,” says partner Andrew Terrell, who organizes the volunteering. “It is great to be recognized, but we are just happy to do it.”
ASYLUM GRANTED Miller & Chevalier senior associate Leigh Bacon‘s first immigration case took three years, numerous hours of preparation, and multiple court appearances, but in the end it was worth it, as her client, a 19-year-old Guinean native, was granted asylum last week by an immigration court in Baltimore. When he arrived here, three years ago, Bacon says, the young man didn’t speak English and had no family or friends in the area. With the help of a cab driver he met at the airport, he settled in a Guinean community and, ultimately, graduated from a local high school. Bacon and other attorneys at the firm joined the man’s effort in 2003, after his first application for asylum was denied because of a lack of details in his story, Bacon says. Over time, Bacon was able to find another Guinean refugee who could corroborate her client’s account, and that statement along with her client’s testimony persuaded the judge, she says. It was this experience, Bacon says, that showed her “how critical it is for people to have access to legal services. These people really need lawyers to help navigate the system.”
NOMINATIONS SOUGHT The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is seeking nominations for the first annual Daniel M. Gribbon Pro Bono Advocacy Award. Nominees may be an individual or a firm that has “demonstrated distinguished advocacy” in a pro bono matter before the court in the past 18 months. Nominations are due March 1 at noon. Gribbon, the former managing partner at Covington & Burling, died late last year at the age of 88.
Send possible items for “Pro Bono Bulletin Board” to Bethany Broida or call 202-828-0340.

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