This week we had the privilege of speaking with Michael Stanley, a professional community organizer with Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches Sponsoring Committee (SBC), and Ray Lopez, the Director of Environmental Health Services of the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service (LSA), on the topic of pro bono lawyering for social justice in collaboration with community organizers. Manhattan Together, SBC, and LSA are nonprofit organizations and members of Metro IAF, a network of multi-faith organizations that draw on the power of person-to-person organizing to transform communities and build the local power necessary to create change on local and national levels.
Earlier this month, justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court took their places one at a time as the proceedings began, just like they have done over the past 200 years, but this court appearance was a little different. For the first time in its history, the Court heard arguments over Zoom. And while many seasoned litigators go their entire careers without a single argument before their state’s highest court, first up that day was Shanice Smith-Banks who had just graduated from law school, and who will be starting her career at Proskauer’s New Orleans office in the fall.
Shanice credits the criminal defense clinic at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law with teaching her more than any other class. Not only did she read cases but she analyzed legal issues while working directly with and advocating for clients. She wrote briefs, mastered all kinds of procedures and rules, and appeared in court on a number of different matters. Not only did she gain valuable hands-on experience, but she was able to learn about the criminal justice system up close, observing that defendants in criminal court were disproportionately black and how public defenders were forced to juggle overwhelming caseloads. But even as she was struck by deep flaws in the system, she left the clinic experience with hope.
On June 1 and 2, more than 45 volunteers across Proskauer’s US offices assisted voters in exercising their right to vote through a virtual Election Protection call center in partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The Election Protection project strives to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, regardless of political affiliation.
While Proskauer has proudly hosted Election Protection call centers in its offices over the past decade, operating the call center for the state primary elections this year was uniquely challenging, and all-the-more important, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.