Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Aid Honors Arnold & Porter’s Unemployment Insurance Team

This week Legal Aid was thrilled to present our Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award to Arnold & Porter’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Project Team for their outstanding pro bono service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan Cantor, Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, and Rebecca Gordon were on hand to accept the award on behalf of the team consisting of dozens of attorneys and staff from across the firm’s practice areas.

In early 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic, Dan spearheaded a firm-wide initiative to help restaurant workers who had lost jobs or had hours reduced due to the public health emergency.

“Working families who were living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, lost their income overnight,” noted Dan. “Helping workers secure the enhanced UI benefits that were available meant the difference between people being able to feed their families and keep roofs over their heads.”

Here in DC, Arnold & Porter partnered with Legal Aid.  And, over the past 16 months, Legal Aid has referred more than 55 workers to the firm for help securing the unemployment insurance benefits to which they are entitled.

Very few lawyers in the District represent low- and moderate-wage workers in UI matters. When the number of workers seeking help to secure UI benefits began to rise dramatically last year due the public health emergency, Legal Aid immediately reallocated resources from other practice areas to more than triple the number of lawyers handling UI matters.

“Despite these efforts, we were still not able to assist many of the low- and moderate-wage workers who came to Legal Aid for help,” said Drake Hagner, Supervising Attorney with Legal Aid’s Public Benefits Unit. “As scores of workers flooded our intake system, we needed to quickly find more help. Fortunately, Arnold & Porter was ready to step in. Their partnership has been invaluable.”

The assistance that Arnold & Porter provides to DC workers ranges from legal advice and assistance resolving pending claims to representing clients challenging benefits denials at administrative hearings. Moreover, the firm expanded its initiative to serve workers in areas beyond the restaurant and hospitality fields.

“The UI system is complicated and challenging even for attorneys to navigate,” commented Rebecca. “One cannot imagine how workers from a wide variety of industries could successfully resolve issues that arise on their own.”

The Arnold & Porter team also has contributed to Legal Aid’s advocacy efforts to address systemic problems that plague DC’s unemployment insurance program by sharing relevant knowledge they have gained from handling individual cases.

We are so grateful to Arnold & Porter for providing this much-needed help to DC’s low-wage workers. During this time of extraordinary challenges for Legal Aid and our client community, our UI partnership with Arnold & Porter has been a rare and welcome bright spot.

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Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Program greatly enhances our ability to make justice real by expanding our resources to serve more clients with the help of lawyers in private practice and government service. If you would like to learn more about local pro bono opportunities with Legal Aid, please contact Sylvia Soltis at ssoltis@legalaiddc.org or (202) 386-6698, or Jodi Feldman at jfeldman@legalaiddc.org or (202) 661-5965.

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