Kirkland & Ellis partner Jennifer Levy helped launch the Jeremiah's Circle of Friends legal clinic in 2010, using just a laptop computer, some free software and malpractice insurance.
The need for free legal advice for the poor in Southwest Washington was manifest, and the clinic has helped hundreds of clients with problems including evictions and substandard housing, health care, domestic disputes and immigration. "You name it, chances are it has come through the door in JCF," said Levy, pro bono coordinator in Kirkland's Washington office. The people who need help often have never before received legal assistance.
The idea for a legal clinic in Southwest D.C. — the only such clinic in the smallest, poorest quadrant of the city — started when John Little, a pastor at Friendship Baptist Church, reached out to Kirkland. Little, who holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, could not handle all the requests he was receiving from community members for help.
Levy said that they connected right away, and started working out plans to start the clinic from scratch. "It was magical," Levy said of the meeting. "I became determined at that moment to help him bring the dream alive."
A grant from the Kirkland & Ellis Foundation supports one full-time staff attorney, but the clinic is essentially a massive pro bono effort that includes everyone from partners to summer associates. Around 120 lawyers have spent about 20,000 hours working on cases, and nearly 40 legal assistants have volunteered as well.
For now, the clinic is open two days a week, for five hours each day. "From the day we opened the doors we had a full docket of clients," Levy said. "We have a vision of making ourselves bigger and better and more of a presence."
Levy considers the clinic one of the best things she has been a part of in her legal career. That career has included another pro bono case in which she obtained a rare reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before a death row inmate's scheduled execution. The inmate, Robin Lovitt, later received clemency from Virginia's governor.
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