We had a conversation with Lise Adams, D.C. Pro Bono Counsel, about her pro bono career and how she helps encourage our lawyers to pursue opportunities that strengthen our communities.
What led you to make the move to private practice as Sidley’s D.C. Pro Bono Counsel?
I feel extremely fortunate to have worked in the legal services community in Washington, D.C. for 18 years, with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, the Children’s Law Center, and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. I have developed a deep understanding of the legal needs of individuals living on low incomes in Washington, D.C.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked to inspire pro bono lawyers and match them with cases that meet their skill sets, as well as the community’s needs. Before coming here, I had worked closely with Sidley, so I knew exactly the fantastic environment I would be entering. I was familiar with the great pro bono work that Sidley does and its commitment to helping our D.C. neighbors. Not just the front-page cases we read about in the newspaper, but also those that empower individuals living in poverty to obtain access to justice, which is really important to me. The firm has such a stellar reputation for pro bono service, and being Pro Bono Counsel at Sidley allows me to continue to help the individuals and communities that I have devoted my career to serving.
Are there particular pro bono initiatives that you are most excited about?
Sidley makes an annual commitment at the highest level — accepting at least 12 cases — from the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center to represent D.C. residents who are living in poverty. We handle eviction defense and record-sealing matters, housing conditions cases, family law, consumer, and Social Security disability appeals cases. These cases are equally suitable for litigators and transactional lawyers, and no prior substantive law experience is required. All you need is a commitment to zealously represent your client. These cases offer an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful impact on individuals’ lives by ensuring that they can stay in their home, receive vital public benefits, or keep their children in a safe and stable family. Our lawyers gain stand-up courtroom experience, discovery and motions practice, and/or briefing opportunities, as well as the privilege of working one-on-one with clients.
How has the pandemic changed the way that Sidley reaches clients and vice versa?
Sidley has certainly risen to the occasion to address current pro bono needs. One area is compassionate release work, which started in 2020 and has been coordinated primarily out of our D.C. office.
For lawyers who may not have time to handle pro bono cases for full representation, we offer several time-limited, discrete opportunities. For example, our lawyers can volunteer for the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s remote Advice & Referral Clinic or through the Landlord Tenant Resource Center and provide legal information to pro se tenants or small landlords under the mentorship of a housing lawyer — all from the comfort of their desk. You can sign up in advance for a shift, so you know exactly how much time you’re going to devote to it. We also have access to on-demand trainings for each of these pro bono opportunities so that lawyers can learn at their convenience and be prepared to successfully handle the pro bono assignment. There are aspects of the shift to a remote environment that have made our pro bono clients’ lives easier. Remote work reduces our clients’ transportation and childcare costs, and limits their time away from jobs that may not provide paid leave. Ultimately, that is what should guide us: what makes it easiest for our pro bono clients to engage with counsel and what has enabled us to be both more efficient and effective.
Have recent current events inspired new ways for us to pursue justice through Sidley’s Pro Bono practice?
The firm has adopted a renewed focus on racial justice. Sidley is a founding member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, and we work to address racial injustice and social justice concerns. Our pro bono work reflects this commitment. Sidley has also conducted significant pro bono work in the area of asylum and immigration law. There is no time like the present to get started on these cases to have a meaningful impact on a person’s life. Right now, there are so many clients who are waiting for a lawyer to help them file their asylum applications. One of the great things about pro bono work is that you can work on a case that is squarely in your comfort zone, or you can do something you’ve never done before and build new skills, and there is equal value to both. For example, transactional lawyers bring valuable expertise in helping nonprofit organizations, whether it’s client counseling on bylaws or drafting policies and procedures. I am so impressed with the breadth and depth of the pro bono work handled by the D.C. office. From capital litigation to immigration and asylum work, from veterans advocacy to protecting the constitutional rights of prisoners, and from religious liberties to Sidley’s Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program, there really is something for everyone at Sidley.