As stay-at-home orders have impacted businesses, law offices, and courts, three Fordham alumnae—Artemis Anninos ‘96, pro bono counsel, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, Susan Cordaro ‘04, pro bono manager, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and Katherine Hughes ‘08, pro bono attorney, Cleary Gottlieb Stein & Hamilton LLP—have expanded their firms’ already robust pro bono practice to meet the growing need for legal services during the coronavirus pandemic.
All three alumnae volunteered with the Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC) while attending Fordham Law, and they came back to campus as recently as March 5 to talk with students about their respective pro bono work. As PIRC alums, they have been in touch for several years, a connection that is emblematic of the larger pro bono network. Cordaro remarked, “A nice thing about this community of pro bono counsel is that we draw on each other’s experience, knowledge, and relationships with legal service providers.” This community would prove invaluable during the early days of the coronavirus.
Although the support network was already firmly in place at the start of the crisis, bringing clinics fully online took a bit more work. “We had all dabbled in remote clinics before, but it wasn’t on this scale,” explained Hughes. “So, the beginning week was really focused on trying to scale up that remote capability and work with our IT teams in a way we hadn’t done previously.”
Prior to the passing of the CARES Act, Hughes, together with the legal director of Start Small Think Big, an organization that aids small businesses run by members of disadvantaged groups, recognized a need to inform pro bono clients about the bill. What started as a webinar grew, and now numerous attorneys at Cahill, Simpson Thacher, and Cleary all offer consultations to guide business owners. “The legal landscape keeps changing,” Hughes said. “Every time we look up, there’s new interim guidance, new FAQs, and those carry a lot of weight, so we’re trying to interpret things in real-time.”
Taking consultations over Zoom and other video platforms has also added a deeply personal element to the exchanges. Said Cordaro, “You have these small businesses trying to survive, to figure out the right funding stream, how to protect themselves and their employees. Then you see their three-year-old running around in the background, and you realize what a burden this [situation]is on people’s lives.” Anninos agreed with her, saying, “This particular pandemic is really affecting the little guy in a way that the entire structure of one’s life is affected… this is about saving someone’s livelihood.”
The increased need for small business consultations has added significantly to all of their workloads. Hughes and Cordaro estimated that since the start of the crisis, the number of clinic consultations has grown by 300 to 400 percent.
Their work also extends beyond helping small business owners. Attorneys at both Cahill and Simpson Thacher are working with Sanctuary for Families to ensure that victims of domestic violence are able to seek the help they need, especially while courts are closed. “Sanctuary worked with the state court system and developed a virtual assistance program for people who call the domestic violence hotline,” Anninos said. Lawyers from her firm, Simpson Thacher, and four other firms assist callers with filing a virtual order of protection, if needed.
While acknowledging the significant challenges of this new landscape—and the increased workload—Anninos, Hughes, and Cordaro are moved by the resilience and cooperation by those who have stepped in to provide crucial legal relief during the crisis. “Out of this terrible situation, there’s been this innovation,” said Anninos.