Balch & Bingham Celebrates 2021 Pro Bono Week
For nearly a century, Balch & Bingham attorneys have dedicated their time each year to help provide access to justice and equality before the law to the most vulnerable members of our communities. We foster an ongoing commitment to serving our communities, both individually and collectively. This value is deeply engrained in our culture and passionately guides many of our firm-wide efforts.
Through a network of community partnerships and our own program, Balch Business Boost, we are grateful to have the opportunity to make an impact. In honor of the American Bar Association’s 2021 Pro Bono Week, we are pleased to share a few highlights of our work this year.
- We are proud to continuously serve as a law firm partner to Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham by regularly providing pro bono legal counsel and services to those in need in the Birmingham metropolitan area. Balch attorneys regularly volunteer at Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham’s Bankruptcy Help Desk, Civil Help Desk, Domestic Relations Help Desk, Homeless Help Desk, and Veterans Help Desk. Beyond engaging with clients during help desks, we often represent clients in extended representation matters. Scott Grover, partner, serves as president of the Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham Board of Directors.
- In March 2021, Balch attorneys led the firm’s work to support a new trial request for Toforest Johnson, an Alabama man who has been on death row for the past 22 years for a crime he maintains he did not commit. Balch attorneys co-authored and filed a pro bono amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of legal ethics professors in support of Mr. Johnson’s petition for a new trial. These law professors are among a larger group of advocates, faith leaders, public defenders, and former judges and prosecutors, including former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, Jr., who are supporting efforts to secure a new trial for Mr. Johnson. This wide-ranging support for Mr. Johnson’s case is unprecedented in Alabama circuit court history.
- This year Balch attorneys participated in a new program called the Mississippi Settlement Assistance Program - a joint collaboration championed by United States Magistrate Judge Lakeysha Greer Isaacs between the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project (MVLP) and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, providing assistance to pro se parties in settlement conferences to resolve their cases. Balch attorneys also regularly take pro bono cases on a variety of different matters referred by MVLP for those who cannot afford a lawyer.
- Balch attorneys currently represent an incarcerated individual before the Mississippi Court of Appeals seeking a resentencing hearing after a life sentence without the possibility of parole was imposed for a crime committed while he was a juvenile.
- This year Balch attorneys collaborated with the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial, economic and social justice. The center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination, inequality, and poverty statewide. Through our partnership with the center, Balch lawyers provide a wide range of legal services to MCJ. Also in collaboration with the Mississippi Center for Justice, Balch lawyers are representing an immigrant in removal proceedings before the Department of Homeland Security as a result of ICE raids in 2019 at chicken processing plants.
- Balch attorneys are working with Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) to represent a minor who was forced to flee his home country, where he is facing violent circumstances. We are helping our client obtain legal immigration status in the United States through a matter that is pending before the Fifth Circuit. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is the preeminent U.S.-based nongovernmental organization devoted to the protection of unaccompanied and separated children.
- Balch advised Birmingham’s One Place Family Justice Center, a provider of coordinated services to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, on legal issues related to the purchase of a new building to expand its services.
- We continue to be a proud partner of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF). The largest provider of pro bono legal services in Atlanta, AVLF leverages the collective power and resources of the professional community to advocate for clients during their time of greatest need. Through the AVLF’s eviction defense program, many Balch attorneys are dedicated to defending individuals and families who have been wrongfully evicted.
- Balch Partner Rodger Wilder serves as co-chair of Mississippi’s Access to Justice Commission. He leads a guardianship clinic in Mississippi that provides pro bono counsel and help navigating the court system to families who are seeking to establish guardianships for children. Many of the children served in the clinic have been living with their relatives for long periods of time and need help legalizing their situations that have often been in place for years.
In late 2020, Balch & Bingham gave thoughtful consideration to what we could do as a firm to effect change, tackle systemic injustices and help businesses succeed in a way that builds on our experience as attorneys. The result is the formation of Balch Business Boost a firm-wide program to support entrepreneurs of color and/or women-owned businesses by providing free or low-cost legal services. The program leverages the experience and talents of Balch attorneys to help emerging and small business owners in several markets across the U.S. as they navigate legal and entrepreneurial challenges to building and sustaining success. The program also helps businesses fuel growth, eliminate barriers and spark momentum.
Throughout the program this year Balch attorneys are applying their creativity to assist participating entrepreneurs and small businesses in addressing a wide range of challenges, from employment issues, real estate and corporate matters, to financing, intellectual property and data privacy. Since launching the program we have provided counsel to nearly 200 entrepreneurs through Balch Business Boost. Nearly 75% of the firm is actively engaged in the program.
We are truly proud of the many attorneys in our firm who are making the difference in the lives of many people and nonprofit organizations across our footprint and are honored to celebrate each of them during Pro Bono Week and throughout the year.