More than 130 attorneys and 50 staff at Amazon and Davis Wright Tremaine partnered with Kids in Need of Defense, or KIND, to form teams to represent 28 immigrant children seeking to remain in the U.S. due to abuse, abandonment or neglect issues involving their parents. The work earned the company and the firm an Innovations in Pro Bono Award as part of the California Leaders in Tech Law and Innovation Awards. Joanna Boisen, the pro bono counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine, recently told The Recorder how the effort came together.
How did this pro bono project come about?
In summer 2017, Ajay Patel, associate general sounsel at Amazon Studios, contacted Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and Bet Tzedek about providing legal services to unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children on a large scale in partnership with Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT). Team leaders Patel and Archana Lannin from Amazon Studios and Jill Cohen and Jonathan Segal from DWT worked with KIND and Tzedek to create the impactful and innovative multicity pro bono project in which teams of Amazon and DWT attorneys represent children on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases.
Both Amazon and DWT spread information about the project throughout their organizations, recruiting associate general counsel, corporate counsel, partners, associates, contract managers, paralegals and legal assistants in Los Angeles; New York; Newark, New Jersey; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.
The teams met their clients for the first time in December 2017 and have been working diligently on moving the legal process forward, while overcoming some challenges. We are looking forward with great anticipation to great results for all our kids.
How much work has the firm and its partners put in on the project so far?
The short answer: a tremendous amount.
The long answer: These cases can be complex, time-intensive, and the learning curve can be steep. Even though KIND was very supportive and helpful in preparing our attorney volunteers, the majority had no previous immigration experience. So becoming effective, powerful advocates took a tremendous amount of attorney and staff time, dedication of firm resources and devotion from all participating parties.
DWT coordinated all the teams, and Amazon recruited lawyers on their end. Throughout the partnership, attorney and staff receive constant support to make sure their cases move forward and they feel supported.
There are constant check-ins, quarterly newsletters, KIND office hours, a valuable database and a listserve dedicated to this project. The partners frequently touch base to make sure that all clients are receiving the highest and best assistance and collaborating across teams to disseminate important information broadly that benefits the largest group of children and their advocates, the participating attorneys.
This is a very time-intensive but very worthwhile and important project. It is being managed by DWT’s senior manager of social impact and its pro bono counsel in collaboration with two partner-level attorneys from DWT, two AGCs at Amazon and coordinating attorneys coast to coast across eight offices.
What’s your proudest accomplishment of this pro bono representation to this point?
When every single team reached an important milestone in helping immigrant children attain safety via a Special Juvenile Immigrant Visa or in, some cases, asylum.
Also, one of the proudest moments came when the project was first launched—knowing that it was the biggest single corporate/law firm partnership in geographic scope and number of clients for KIND, as well as for Amazon and DWT.
What’s more, it is incredibly well organized, managed, and we are constantly impressed with our teams, which are made up of 134 attorneys and approximately 50 staff members. Their progress has been remarkable, meaningful and moving. That’s a constant source of pride for us. But perhaps most importantly, that the impact on the child immigrant group has been beyond significant.
What are your goals for the project going forward?
Once these cases wrap up, to re-up on our commitment to this partnership so that it’s not a onetime deal. We are fortunate that the in-house lawyers at Amazon have been working hard and have acted as true partners—collaborating, pushing, challenging and demanding the best from its law firm attorneys.
This partnership has helped the project reach levels of success and sustainability never before imagined. David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel and secretary, has also been a true champion and invaluable supporter of the partnership, despite his incredibly busy schedule and the constant demands on his time. Our goal is to make sure all the clients receive the result they want, and then to help the next 30 clients do the same.