Latham & Watkins Attorneys’ Leadership Inspires Fellow Attorneys to Take on Hundreds of Pro Bono Immigration Cases

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged others at their firm to do the same. Read to learn more.

Colleen O’Brien is an attorney and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged and inspired other Latham & Watkins attorneys to take on hundreds of pro bono immigration cases.

Taking the Lead

Jessica Rostoker, Irina Sivachenko, and Amanda Parisi, litigation associates in Latham & Watkin’s New York office, have been the backbone of Latham’s robust pro bono immigration practice, and in particular its Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) pro bono program.

With their support, last year Latham attorneys contributed the highest number of pro bono hours of any law firm that partners with Sanctuary for Families.  Besides taking on dozens of their own direct representation cases, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have placed over 100 Sanctuary cases with other Latham attorneys and have worked to ensure that the Latham pro bono attorneys taking those cases are well-trained and have the resources and supervision they need to best assist survivors of gender-based violence seek immigration relief.  As Laura Atkinson-Hope, the Managing Attorney for Global Pro Bono at Latham attested,

“[Latham] couldn’t consistently take on so many cases without their incredible leadership.”

Pro Bono Work is Personal

For Irina, working on pro bono matters with immigrant women is a meaningful way to pay forward the benefits of her own experience.  An immigrant herself, Irina is familiar with what it is like to make the journey to the United States, but she acknowledges the difference for those who arrive in the U.S. to attend college, like she did, and those who are fleeing persecution or violence in their home country.

Similarly, Irina has noted that as a Latham associate, she benefits from the firm’s focus on providing professional development and support for women, and she finds it rewarding to find ways to help other women who otherwise don’t have that support in their lives.

Jessica, who has studied human development as an undergraduate, finds that working with victims of domestic violence allows her to combine her legal training with her academic background and desire to connect with her clients on a human level.

As all three women noted, survivors of domestic violence, especially those in the throes of an abusive relationship, often feel isolated and may not have many people in their lives who they can talk to about what they’re experiencing.  Over time, these clients have come to view their pro bono lawyers as confidantes and trusted allies who are there not only to help them fight their legal battles but also to listen to them and support them as they work to reach the next stage in their lives.

Amanda has experienced first-hand the importance of the work Sanctuary for Families and pro bono lawyers are doing.  Several of Sanctuary’s clients are often in volatile situations, and seeking legal relief can truly be a matter of life and death.  Advocating for those clients, and providing them with comfort when they need it most, is what makes the work most meaningful for Amanda.

Changing Lives

Last year, a significant number of Latham & Watkins attorneys worked on VAWA cases with guidance and support from Jessica, Irina, and Amanda.  The three women accept cases from Sanctuary for Families and either take them on personally or find other attorneys to staff the cases, and then provide them with training materials, sample documents, and substantive guidance along the way.

According to Deborah Lee, a Senior Staff Attorney with Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have never said “no” when she has asked them to take on a new case, and she often calls them to help with the cases that have the most complex legal challenges or involve highly sensitive situations.

When asked how her pro bono immigration work has affected her overall professional development, Irina noted how empowering it is for young lawyers to have the chance to work directly with clients and manage their cases.

“We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but we still live in our own bubbles…this pro bono work makes me a better attorney and a better person.”

But as meaningful as Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have found the work to be, for their clients, it is life changing.  Clients frequently comment to the Latham team, and to Deborah, how grateful they are for the help they’ve received from their pro bono counsel.  They feel respected and valued and know that they are just as important to Latham’s lawyers as their paying clients.  And nothing can compare to clients’ reactions when, months or years later, they receive permanent residency.  The joy and relief they experience is incomparable and never fails to move their dedicated legal teams.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Latham & Watkins team’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Funding for the Courtroom Advocates Project is Under Threat: Why it Matters

Since its founding in 1997, Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP) has been almost entirely funded by grants under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Today, funding for this critical program is in danger. Take a stand and join the effort to protect VAWA funding.

Brenna is a J.D. at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

Ana’s Story

In July 2016, Ana arrived alone at the Bronx Family Courthouse hoping to obtain an Order of Protection against her husband. Ana’s husband had subjected her to severe physical and emotional violence during their marriage. On that day, she had a bruise on her upper arm from when her husband bit her the week before and a puncture wound from when he stabbed her with a pen. Those physical scars were in addition to the devastating trauma Ana experienced from months of repeated rapes and strangulations by her husband. She was upset, afraid, and like many victims of domestic violence, had no money to hire an attorney to help her.

Unsure of where to go or who to turn to, she eventually found a free consultant at the courthouse who introduced her to two attorneys in Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP). Ana’s fortunes were about to change.

Finding Sanctuary

Ana was assigned to a team of law student advocates who had been trained by CAP to help Ana file for and obtain a temporary Order of Protection in Family Court. Sanctuary’s CAP attorneys then took Ana’s case on for direct legal representation.

Over the course of two years, they not only helped her obtain a final Order of Protection against her husband, but also referred Ana to Sanctuary’s social workers from whom she received counseling. Today, Sanctuary continues to help Ana with her housing and immigration issues, all at no cost to her.

Since connecting with CAP and accessing Sanctuary’s holistic services, Ana has flourished. She has become more confident and is in charge of her own life, happiness, and safety. In Ana’s words,

“Had it not been for [Sanctuary], I don’t know what I would have done.”

Currently, Ana is on the path to fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, and has completed a nursing education and training program. She is now able to leave her past behind and move forward.

The Courtroom Advocates Project(CAP)

CAP trains and supervises advocates, mostly law students, who provide in-court assistance to domestic violence victims seeking orders of protection in Family Court. Since 1997, CAP has trained nearly 12,000 advocates and has helped nearly 10,000 litigants in Family Court. Victims of domestic violence often come to court alone and intimidated. CAP advocates help them tell their stories more effectively, and provide needed reassurance.

CAP advocates can also direct victims to additional resources that may help them reach safety. Like Ana, many clients first connect with Sanctuary through CAP, and then receive help from Sanctuary with additional issues such as divorce, custody, spousal and child support, housing, public benefits, counseling, job training and immigration. For these clients, CAP serves as a crucial first stepping stone in their journey from an abusive relationship to freedom.

Not only does CAP provide vital assistance to victims of domestic violence, it also trains the pro bono attorneys of the future. CAP provides law students with an introduction to family law, a chance to meet with clients, and an opportunity to learn how to be litigators. Often, CAP may be a law student’s first experience working one-on-one with a client or appearing on the record in a courtroom, which can be invaluable lessons in their development as lawyers.  It also solidifies their passion for pro bono work, and sets them on a lifetime course of helping low-income clients.

How CAP Changed Me

I participated in CAP during the summer after my second year of law school. Paired with another law student, and under the supervision of a Sanctuary CAP staff attorney, I helped a high school student obtain an Order of Protection against her ex-boyfriend, who had attacked her in school several times.

I learned valuable skills in legal writing and courtroom advocacy and, more importantly, I was able to successfully advocate for a client. The experience and her gratitude for my help left a lasting impression. I returned to Sanctuary for an externship the following spring, and I have continued my involvement while working at a law firm by serving on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and representing another Sanctuary client pro bono.

Protect the Violence Against Women Act

Today, funding for this critical program is in danger due to potential budget cuts recommended by the current federal administration. Since its founding in 1997, CAP has been almost entirely funded by grants under The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

VAWA classifies domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes and funds programs that provide life-saving services for victims, including legal and criminal justice services, counseling, housing, prevention programs, and much more. The current administration is intent on cutting the budget for the Department of Justice (among many other agencies), which could very well include cutting or eliminating VAWA grants that are funded through the Department of Justice budget—something that President Trump has indicated a willingness to do. Such action would jeopardize the future of CAP.

Without CAP, thousands of clients like Ana would be less safe, and thousands of law students would be denied the invaluable experience of advocating for vulnerable clients. In Ana’s words, “[CAP] gave me a reason to stand up and fight.”

Now, it is time to stand up and fight for the program that has helped Ana and thousands of others take their first steps toward freedom.

What You Can Do

Tell your Representatives that you want them to make a strong public statement now that they will never approve a budget that reduces VAWA funding.

  • Schedule a meeting with your Representative to discuss the importance of VAWA, or see if there are any town halls you can attend and ask them to fight for VAWA funding now.
  • Call, write/e-mail, and tweet.

Ask your networks to advocate – spread the word to your contacts and ask them to advocate on behalf of VAWA.

Organize an informal “30 minutes of activism” breakfast or lunch.

  • Use these talking points to educate attendees on the issue, explain its importance to you, and ask them all to call, tweet, email, etc. together during the 30 minutes.

Post this article on social media and send it to your contacts.

Draft Op-eds. Use your connections to get op-eds published and get the issue out there!

Together we can make sure victims like Ana have access to the lifeline that she had. Take a stand today to preserve VAWA and its critical life-saving funding.