Sep 03



Jennifer Mezey, Supervising Attorney

In partnership, Legal Aid Society of DC, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and Whitman-Walker Clinic are pleased to announce our Public Benefits Trainings series again this Fall.  We encourage case managers, legal services lawyers, pro bono lawyers, or anyone who works with low-income clients to attend these sessions.  The trainings are free and an opportunity to learn about eligibility, benefits, application procedures, and practical tips on how to help your clients navigate the system. 

We are requesting that anyone interested in attending RSVP to Jeremy Strauss at   since we have some space limitations and need counts on materials.  We greatly appreciate the DC Bar Pro Bono Program for partnering with us and hosting this training series.

 1st Training:  Disability Benefits:  SSI/SSDI/IDA on Tuesday, September 14 from noon – 2 pm.

Please help us get the word out.  Please distribute this e-mail (and attached flyer) widely.  We look forward to a strong turnout! 

Thank you in advance for your help.

Erin Loubier, Whitman-Walker Clinic
Scott McNeilly, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
Jennifer Mezey, Legal Aid Society of DC

Aug 18


David Reiser Receives Pro Bono Publico Award from ABA

Jonathan Smith, Executive Director

“What is really at stake is nothing less than the legitimacy of our legal system and the rule of law.” This is what David Reiser had printed in the program book when the American Bar Association awarded him its Pro Bono Publico Award. The presentation took place on August 9 at the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco. We heartily congratulate David for this well deserved honor.

David is an important part of the Legal Aid team. He joined us as a volunteer in 2004 as we were developing the Appellate Advocacy Project. He worked closely with Barbara McDowell, the first Project director, to help her build the program to be a respected voice on poverty law issues in the D.C. Court of Appeals. David was instrumental in keeping the project going after Barbara’s death in early 2009 and has continued to support and partner with our current Appellate Director, Bonnie Robin-Vergeer. He has dedicated thousands of hours to the project.

David Reiser

David’s contribution has extended far beyond our Appellate work. He has mentored staff on complex trials and been wise counsel on policy issues. But the thing we value most is his commitment to ensuring equal justice for people living in poverty. He is relentless and uncompromising in his advocacy that the Courts must protect the substance of justice – a fair process is not enough. This point was best made in the acceptance essay David wrote for the program book (he was not permitted a speech at the luncheon):

It is a misconception that the legal problems of poor people are easier to solve than those of businesses or wealthy individuals, or that poor people have less need of skillful and experienced lawyers. Although the representation of poor people is sometimes a matter of routine, that is because a lack of resources sometimes makes creativity impossible, not because creativity is any less needed or desired. In the six years of work on the appellate project, we have consistently found that the skills of experienced and highly trained appellate lawyers make a difference in the outcome of cases….

[P]ro bono service is not merely an ethical requirement – a quid pro quo for a bar license – it is a moral imperative because without it the law systematically aids the wealthy and disadvantages the poor, becoming a system of coercion rather than one than honors individual autonomy and choice.

The importance and complexity of the work done for poor clients should not be measured in dollars. For a poor family, the foreclosure of a $100,000 townhouse is every bit as momentous as a $100 million bankruptcy, and may present just as many cutting-edge legal issues. Without the best lawyering, a parent’s connection to a child can needlessly be severed with a penstroke. That is something hard to price…

The ABA prepared a video on David’s work. It can be viewed HERE.

David’s efforts would not be possible without the generous support of Zuckerman Spaeder where he is a counsel.   The firm encourages not only David, but other lawyers to work with Legal Aid.  The firm has taken cases pro bono and helped in innumerable ways.

Aug 11


Presenting The New Training Video: “Representing Your SSI/SSDI Client on Appeal”

We are pleased to present the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s new training video: “Representing Your SSI/SSDI Client on Appeal,” co-sponsored by The Legal Aid Society of D.C., Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Whitman-Walker Clinic, with financial support from the D.C. Bar Health Law Section.

This 2-hour tutorial is posted on You must be a member of the practice area to view the video, which is in the Social Security Disability Programs folder of the Library. Any legal services or pro bono attorney is eligible for a free membership. To register, go to and click “Join this Area.” Your application will be approved within 1 business day.

The table of contents for the video includes:


Chapter 1: SSI & SSDI Overview: Eligibility, Sequential Evaluation, and Summary of Benefits

Chapter 2: Overview of the Application & Appeals Process

Chapter 3: Handling Cases & Advocacy Practice
3a. Interviewing Your Client
3b. Developing the Medical Evidence
3c. Writing the Brief
3d. Presenting Your Client’s Case
3e. The Medical-Vocational Guidelines
3f. Miscellaneous Eligibility Issues 

Chapter 4: Mock Hearing (Vocational Expert)

Closing Remarks and Resources

The supporting documents include:
SSA Best Practices
Local SSA Contact Information 2010
ODAR Logistics Sheet
Appointment of Representative Form
ALJ Hearing Form
Physical Records Release Form
Mental Health Records Release Form
Psychiatric Review Technique
Residual Physical Functional Capacity Assessment
Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment
Important Links

Thanks so much to Erin Loubier, Scott McNeilly, Jennifer Mezey and my colleague Sabrina Wear for their incredible work on this project. We hope this will provide tremendous support for all your good work in representing your SSI/SSDI client on appeal.

Apr 08


Upcoming Public Budget Briefings

The Mayor’s proposed FY 2011 budget has just been released and many of you, undoubtedly, have a lot of questions. The good news is that at least eight DC agencies have agreed to hold public briefings on their proposed FY 2011 budgets. These briefings are an opportunity for the public to hear from agency directors and agency staff about how programs and services will be impacted by the budget. It also will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions. All briefings are held before an agency’s budget oversight hearing will take place.

Below is a list of the locations, times, and dates for the scheduled budget briefings (some have already been sent to the FBC listserve by the event sponsors). Please note that some briefings ask for an RSVP and questions to be submitted in advance. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions at the briefing, but it helps give agency directors an idea of the types of questions people are interested in.

Department of Mental Health

April 8th, 3-5pm

64 New York Avenue, N.E., 4th Floor Conference Room

• Submit questions to Shannon Hall at by April 7th

Department of Human Services

April 13th, 10am-12pm

True Reformer Building, 1200 U St. NW

• RSVP to Katie Kerstetter at by April 11th

Department of Disability Services

April 13th, 4-6pm

True Reformer Building, 1200 U St. NW

• Submit questions to by April 12th

Child and Family Services Agency

April 14th, 4-6pm

DC Primary Care Association 441 4th Street, NW, Room 1114, Washington, DC 20001

• Submit questions to Yolanda McPhail-McKinley at by COB Friday, April 9th

Department of Housing and Community Development and DC Housing Authority

April 15th, 12-2pm

Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, 1432 U St. NW

• RSVP to

Department of Health Care Finance

April 15th, 10-11:30

DC Primary Care Association, 1411 K St. NW

• RSVP to Anastacia Arons at by April 12th

• Send questions to Jenny Reed at by April 12th

Apr 05


Proposed Budget Slashes Support for Legal Services in the District

Below is a press release  from the D.C. Access to Justice Commission regarding the Mayor’s FY 2011 budget and the drastic cuts proposed to civil legal services.

Mayor’s FY2011 budget provides barely half of the funds sought by the D.C. Access to Justice Commission for civil legal services

Washington, DC – District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty has proposed severe cuts in support for legal service programs in the District even as the need for legal aid to the poor has skyrocketed.

The Mayor’s budget slashes the Access to Justice Program, which funds legal services for indigent residents, the Community Legal Interpreter Bank, and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, to $1.8 million.  This is on top of a $700,000 cut already made for the current year.  Together these reductions cut the program to 50% of its FY 2009 level.  The Commission had requested $3.2 million, the amount allocated in the earliest years of the program.

“Programs supported by Access to Justice funds provide crucial support for District residents,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society.  “The support brings legal services to neighborhoods of greatest need and has dramatically improved access east of the river.  The funding also ensures that non-English speakers have access to the justice system by creating an interpreter bank for legal services.  The funds also provide assistance to lawyers who choose to work in legal services to pay their law school loans.  These lawyers work for modest salaries to assist the District’s most vulnerable residents.”

The proposed cuts come at a time when unemployment and foreclosures in the District are reaching historic levels and other options for legal services support have shrunk.  One of the primary sources of legal aid funding fell by nearly 60% last year alone.  In 2009 the network lost 12% of its lawyers, along with 37% of its support staff.  Things are already worse this year.  The $700,000 cut in funding for the current year is only taking effect right now.

Legal aid lawyers help District residents who cannot afford an attorney navigate the legal system.  They help people avoid eviction, secure legal protection from family violence, access medical care, and secure disability and unemployment benefits.

“The loss of these funds is much more than the $1.4 million that was cut from the budget request, although that loss is severe,” explained D.C. Access to Justice Commission Chair Peter Edelman.  “Legal service providers are experts at leveraging what funds they do receive.  For example, a single pro bono coordinator can train and supervise dozens of volunteer attorneys.  Losing this money would also mean losing the opportunity to multiply it to better serve District residents.”

“This is a disaster for the low-income citizens of our city,” Edelman said.  “The Commission urges District residents, lawyers, and all those who are concerned about access to justice for indigent residents to contact Council members and ask them to restore the funding.  We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to bear the cuts.”

The D.C. Council is now reviewing the proposed budget.  A final version will be passed later this spring.

Apr 01


Long Lines in D.C. Shouldn’t Be Filled With the City’s Poor

Staff Attorney

The Washington Post published an article on Tuesday by Petula Dvorak in its Metro Section entitled Long lines in D.C. shouldn’t be filled with the city’s poor, discussing the work of Defeat Poverty DC.  Defeat Poverty DC is a coalition of social justice organizations that is working to turn the focus of this year’s city elections to poverty.  The article features one of Legal Aid’s clients, Neki Swinton, with whom I have been working for the last two years.  Ms. Swinton has been a remarkable voice for those living in poverty in this city, speaking out time and again about the importance of maintaining the District’s safety net.  Ms. Dvorak’s column gives a brief glimpse into the precarious state of families who are barely surviving in this economy – families who now face devastating consequences as a result of even the slightest changes in circumstances, such as losing a paycheck due to illness.

Mar 08


Legal Aid’s Jonathan Smith Featured in Meyer Foundation’s Monthly Newsletter.

Development Associate

Development Associate


As regular readers of this blog know, Legal Aid’s Executive Director, Jonathan Smith, is one of this year’s recipients of the Meyer Foundation’s Exponent Award.  The Award recognizes strong and effective nonprofit leaders, and is a testament to the commitment and hard work that Jonathan has given to Legal Aid over the last seven years. 

Recently, the Meyer Foundation interviewed Jon for their March Newsletter on topics ranging from Legal Aid’s growth during his tenure, to the economic downturn, to this very blog!  Be sure to check out the full interview here.

Mar 05


Washington Lawyer Editorial on Access to Justice Funding

Executive Director

Executive Director

We have written before in about the impact that the recession has had not only on the needs for legal help, but also on the budgets of legal assistance organizations.  As the recession drags on, the situation grows more desperate for people who live at the bottom of the income scale.  Unemployment rates continue to rise in many neighborhoods as government and private services are withdrawn.  Legal assistance, which is often necessary to address poverty related disputes, is also shrinking.

Professor Peter Edelman and I had the opportunity to give the topic a more thorough treatment in the March 2010 Washington Lawyer.  The article builds on the joint “Rationing Justice” report of the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers and the D.C. Access to Justice Commission.

Feb 03


The Need for Mentors

The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Yaida Ford, Legal Aid Public Benefits Unit Attorney, this past Sunday.  In the article, Yaida discusses her thoughts about the need for more black men to become mentors to the young men who are searching for guidance.

Jan 05


Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Program At Work For Our Clients!

LAS Board Member / Partner, McKenna Long & Aldridge

LAS Board Member / Partner, McKenna Long & Aldridge

One of Legal Aid’s Section 8 Recertification clients was featured Tuesday, January 5th on the Channel 9 News with Bruce Johnson.  Two attorneys from McKenna Long and Aldridge, Bikram Bandy and Luke Meier accepted this case from Legal Aid on a pro bono basis and represented her in a contested hearing and won recertification.  Channel 9 is running the story this evening as it is the client’s birthday and indeed, a happy ending.