Arent Fox Plays Leading Role in the DC SAILS Pro Bono Project for Veterans
In keeping with its decades-long commitment to providing pro bono legal services to individuals and families in the community who could not otherwise afford to hire a lawyer, Arent Fox – together with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless – has launched the Senior Attorney Initiative for Legal Services (SAILS) Pro Bono Veterans Project to help homeless and low-income veterans in Washington, DC.
The DC SAILS Project is a citywide public interest initiative of the DC Bar Pro Bono Program, the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, and 11 participating law firms (including Arent Fox), which was launched on October 20, 2010, to infuse much-needed resources into the public interest legal community by harnessing the vast experience of the many talented senior lawyers at Washington, DC, law firms, government agencies and corporate legal departments. The DC Sails Program is chaired by Arent Fox’s Chairman Emeritus, Marc Fleischaker, who has long been involved in numerous legal service and civil rights initiatives in Washington, DC. Legal Times reported on the launch of the DC Sails Program last November. The article may be read by clicking here.
One of DC SAILS’s first projects was an initiative to assist veterans in need. In November, 2010, Bill Charyk agreed to lead the Arent Fox veterans services team, recruiting attorneys throughout the firm to offer their services to help homeless and low-income veterans in a variety of ways. Since the launch of the veterans project, Arent Fox has taken on a number of pro bono matters designed to assist veterans in the Washington, DC-area.
The first area of necessity for DC-area veterans identified by Arent Fox was the need for legal representation in disability appeals matters before the Department of Veterans Affairs and in the US Court of Veterans Appeals. With the assistance of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, a seasoned practitioner in the veterans disability area was contacted and she agreed to give a training session for attorneys. In January, 17 Arent Fox attorneys attended the presentation. A DVD of the presentation was also prepared and has been utilized by numerous other Arent Fox attorneys seeking training in the representation of veterans in administrative disability matters. The firm is now representing six veterans in disability cases. Six partners and 12 associates are handling these cases with a goal toward establishing proficiency in the area. The participating attorneys include: project leader Bill Charyk, Myles Getlan, Pat Granados, Stu Manela, Tan Anderson, Crystal Canterbury, Laura Farhang, Ike Himowitz, Meredith Larson, Adrienne Lawrence, Leah Montesano, Ross Panko, Jackson Toof, and Amanda Walker.
Land Use and Housing Issues
As part of the veterans project outreach, Arent Fox Director of Planning and Land Use Ellen McCarthy is assisting HELP USA with evaluating the possibility of identifying a small parcel of property at the Walter Reed Medical Center, now slated for closure under the Base Realignment and Closure process, for development into veterans supportive housing. The concept of development for homeless and veterans use is embedded on the base closure process, but there are also significant bureaucratic and legal hurdles before such development can begin in earnest, which Arent Fox is seeking to address.
Two other nonprofit service providers are in contact with Arent Fox partner Keith Styles to consider ways in which veterans housing and other supportive services could be improved in Washington, DC, although both potential projects are very preliminary.
Access to Justice
In addition, along with the legal service providers, Marc Fleischaker has met with the Access to Justice Office at the US Department of Justice to discuss a variety of ways that the Veterans Affairs Department and the courts could be more accessible and more responsive to veterans’ issues and concerns. The Justice Department attorneys have expressed an interest in working with the Arent Fox team and legal service providers collaboratively to improve the situation for veterans and to create a more responsive government bureaucracy.
Although this project is just in its beginning stages, the representations that have started have given the firm a flavor of some of the issues that need to be tackled to ensure DC veterans are treated more fairly by courts and agencies, and provided with meaningful opportunity to reassimilate into civilian life after their military service ceases.
An Ongoing Commitment
In taking a leading role in the DC SAILS Pro Bono Project for Veterans, Arent Fox seeks to take on additional cases, push aggressively toward resolution, and make a meaningful difference for low-income DC-area veterans who regularly experience long waits for decisions and face uncertain outcomes in disability determinations, especially when not represented by counsel. By focusing on encouraging senior partners to take on these cases, the firm has also created a unique opportunity for some of the most junior attorneys at the firm to work with some of the most senior partners, to jointly interview clients, determine case strategy, and hone junior attorney advocacy skills.
Arent Fox’s commitment to work in the public interest dates backs to the firm’s founding in 1942. The founding partners believed that community service and pro bono public interest work were integral parts of the practice of law and made it a priority to be at the forefront of the private bar's efforts to ensure that indigents have access to justice. That tradition continues to this day with Arent Fox’s leadership in the DC SAILS Pro Bono Project for Veterans.