Editor’s Note: This article continues the series inspired by DBA President Mary Jo Gross, where guest columnists write about their volunteer/charity involvement.
Individual attorneys at Qwest have engaged in pro bono work for years, and under the leadership of General Counsel Rich Baer, the Qwest Law Department has made great strides by developing a pro bono program in which many of us participate.
The program was created to provide a variety of opportunities that would appeal to a broad cross-section of our department. We now have a policy statement encouraging pro bono work, training sessions and tools to assist those wishing to participate, and on-going promotion of pro bono activities. Although the department encourages attorneys to participate in pro bono activities they identify on their own and provides legal support to other community service organizations within Qwest (such as the Qwest Pioneers), it has taken the additional step of establishing specific pro bono programs for the staff. These programs, which cover a range of legal issues including divorce, immigration, and Social Security benefit overpayments, make pro bono work more accessible to interested attorneys and staff.
|Former client, |
Maxine Thompson (l),
speaks with Qwest
attorney Pamela Pope
Twice a month, volunteers visit the Gathering Place, a day shelter for women and children, to provide legal advice to its clients. They typically meet with 10 to 20 clients each visit, providing advice on topics such as divorce, credit and bankruptcy, landlord-tenant, criminal charges, and child protection. Some volunteers have taken the added step of representing shelter clients in
criminal, Social Security disability, and divorce proceedings. Moreover, in 2004 Qwest lawyers and paralegals presented a "do-it-yourself divorce" seminar to Gathering Place clients, which was a big success. Twelve attorneys, investigators and paralegals from Qwest, and six Sherman & Howard attorneys regularly volunteer with the Gathering Place. Said one volunteer, "Several of the women who come to us for divorces are victims of domestic violence, and the assistance we give helps them take a very positive, first step to escape their current situation and improve their lives."
|Attorney Tim |
a Gathering Place
Qwest staff also has been active in supporting the immigrant community. Qwest employees helped Centro San Juan Diego, a community center that provides a variety of services to the immigrant populations of the Metro-Denver area, set up programs to address the legal needs of its clients.
In September 2003, we worked with the Immigration Lawyers Association and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Center to present an immigration law CLE program. A number of Qwest attorneys took on cases as a result. One such attorney was able to resolve a matter involving a man who was detained and scheduled for deportation after 17 years in the United States. The attorney spent numerous hours visiting the client in the detention center and appearing on his behalf at the Immigration Court, eventually convincing the Court to cancel the deportation and adjust the client’s status to permanent resident. Another Qwest attorney is currently working on an asylum application for a 16-year-old girl from Somalia.
Qwest has similarly been working with Colorado Legal Services to accept targeted Social Security administrative cases from CLS’s Health-Elder Law division. The cases
generally involve the denial of claims for Supplemental Security Income and the collection of overpayments for SSI. Eighteen attorneys and paralegals have represented clients in such cases to date, successfully obtaining waivers or reductions of overpayments made to the Social Security Administration. One Qwest attorney–legal assistant team recently helped a family get SSI and Medicaid benefits for their severely disabled son reinstated after the benefits had been improperly terminated. The attorney involved commented: "We were challenged to learn the intricacies of the Social Security system in order to advise the family, but helping the child get back on Medicaid so he could obtain needed medical care was extremely rewarding."
Since the program’s inception in 2003, Qwest’s attorneys and staff members have enthusiastically embraced pro bono work. Offering employees established programs and training on how to represent pro bono clients has helped the program flourish. In 2005, we broadened our program by working with the DBA and Channel 9 to provide attorneys for LawLine 9 and by setting up opportunities for Qwest employees to work on pro bono environmental matters. Providing a variety of outlets for pro bono involvement has been very important for Qwest and we hope to continue to expand our program with the needs of the community.
Kim Laakso and Christie Searls are Corporate Counsel with Qwest and can be reached at (303) 383-6557 and (303) 383-6609, respectively.