The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia today opened a newly expanded legal services center in Southwest Washington, with financial help from Kirkland & Ellis.
The firm has pledged $125,000 a year for at least five years toward a legal services center that expands an existing clinic at Friendship Baptist Church, 900 Delaware Avenue, S.W.
"We're very hopeful that it will provide even broader services, and that the community will benefit from expanding Legal Aid’s expertise and experience into this quadrant of the city," said Kirkland litigation partner Jennifer Levy, pro bono coordinator for the firm’s Washington office.
The revamped legal service center expands the services previously provided by Jeremiah's Circle of Friends, a non-profit legal aid organization that was the brainchild of Friendship Baptist senior pastor J. Michael Little. In 2008, Little, a Georgetown Law Center graduate, approached the firm to provide legal services. Together with Levy and of counsel Thomas Gottschalk, the three founded Jeremiah's Circle of Friends.
In the past three years Kirkland attorneys and legal assistants have donated thousands of hours and handled about 600 cases at Friendship Baptist. The site was funded by the Kirkland Foundation, the firm's charitable arm. Levy said the center handles a wide array of legal issues, including housing, public benefits, family law and commercial law.
Late last year the Levy, Gottschalk and Little approached Legal Aid with the idea that the organization would manage the site, while expanding legal services with the continued support of Kirkland attorneys and legal assistants.
"We are in a fortunate position in that we've been able to expand," said Eric Angel, Legal Aid Society executive director. "We want to expand carefully and pick sites and partners right. The stars aligned for us perfectly."
Levy said that the firm saw the partnership with Legal Aid Society as a way to make legal services more available to the people of Southwest.
"We believe by going at it this way and being able to combine their expertise with our manpower, we can have a higher impact," Levy said. "By continuing the clinic and our partnership with Legal Aid, it gives us the ability to do more pro bono work."
Levy said Kirkland supports other legal service organizations in the community financially and with manpower. "We do tens of thousands of pro bono work hours outside of the legal clinic,” she said.
She also said she hopes this model for providing legal services to underserved citizens can serve as an example to other firms. The revamped service center offers walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.