I recently joined the board of Her Justice, a nonprofit legal services organization in New York City and longtime partner of Proskauer that provides assistance to women and their families living in poverty who have high-stakes legal needs.

I was introduced to the organization by a friend and former colleague, and over the past few years have come to understand their mission and approach.  Seeing the many women in our city experiencing pain and fear due to unaffordable housing, parenting children with insufficient income or job prospects, abandonment, and abuse, I felt compelled to become more involved.

The staff lawyers at Her Justice train and supervise thousands of volunteer lawyers who are mobilized to help women in need throughout New York City. In 2018 alone, Her Justice organized more than 76,000 volunteer hours helping nearly 10,000 women and children. 

Following my experience assisting immigrant families at the border, I have shared the story, the urgent challenges, and the need for change with many audiences. I have presented the same PowerPoint of my experience enough times that it’s now possible for me to click through the slides and images, words flowing easily, despite the devastating reality of the problem which is that families seeking asylum are freezing cold and hungry, held in cages and separated to disastrous effect. Over the past several months, I have at times felt numb to the injustice. But not last week.

Last week, for the second year in a row, Proskauer launched a series of Lawyering for Social Justice Workshops at John Jay College in Manhattan. The audience of mostly prelaw students are highly motivated and engaged. The students eagerly raised their hands with questions before I even got into a rhythm with the slides. Our lively conversation not only addressed recent changes in policy but included a broader discussion of immigration and how it fits into American ideals. Many of the students are either immigrants themselves or first-generation Americans.  Many are also the first in their families to attend college.

Public schools across the country too often rely on harsh disciplinary measures. These policies are marked by an in-school police presence, high rates of arrest and suspension, and ineffectiveness. Unduly punitive strategies harm students, exacerbate inequality along the lines of race and disability, and lead to increased dropout rates as well as entanglements with the criminal justice system.  Helping to break this pattern, also known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” has become part of our pro bono efforts thanks to Kate Terenzi, who just completed a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by Proskauer. According to Kate, a greater emphasis on mental health services and an increase in trained guidance counselors and social workers as well as a new approach to discipline are key to improving our public schools.

Working at The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Kate has partnered with youth-led organizations on various policy initiatives and community organizing campaigns, and has represented young people facing school suspensions. At Proskauer, she has conducted trainings and served as a mentor and supervisor, enabling our lawyers to make a real difference in school suspension hearings.  Even when a suspension cannot be avoided, an attorney may be able to help reduce its duration or secure other benefits, such as help for a learning disability, or a transfer to a school that is better-suited to the student.