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- Wednesday, October 26, 2011 |
- Written by Patricia Manson
Chicago attorney Allegra R. Rich of Seyfarth, Shaw LLP said there is more than one way to helpimmigrant children who find themselves alone in the American immigration system.
Seyfarth, Shaw takes a double-pronged approach to the problem of a lack of representation, said Rich, the firm's pro bono and philanthropy partner.
Rich said Seyfarth, Shaw lawyers across the country provide pro bono legal services to children with no parent or other adult to steer them through the immigration courts.
The lawyers take cases through Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and mentors volunteer lawyers, Rich said.
Rich said the lawyers enjoy assisting children on a one-to-one basis.
But Rich said Seyfarth, Shaw also wanted to take a big-picture approach in meeting the legal needs of unaccompanied immigrant children.
"Helping one child is extremely rewarding, but helping improve the system was what we really wanted to accomplish," Rich said.
So Seyfarth, Shaw took on the task of streamlining KIND's operations, Rich said.
She said the law firm used a methodology it calls Seyfarth Lean to map out the tasks that KIND performs on a regular basis — for example, taking in cases, training volunteers and providing support to the attorneys representing immigrant children — and then to develop ways to perform those tasks more efficiently.
After new maps of the tasks were drawn up, Seyfarth Lean was used to develop template documents, Rich said.
Rich said these documents were placed on an extranet site, a website with restricted access, for use by attorneys working with KIND.
"For any given step on any given day, you always have the best version of the document you need one click away," Rich said.
In addition to template documents, Rich said, the process maps, a contact list, a discussion forum and links to government websites are posted on the KIND extranet site.
Seyfarth, Shaw spent a year helping KIND streamline its operations, Rich said.
She said the new processes developed with the use of Seyfarth Lean will have far-ranging benefits for KIND.
"Not only will they be able to serve more children because they're operating more efficiently, we believe it will make them more attractive to donors because it's important to donors to feel that they are making a good investment in a well-run organization," Rich said.
Wendy Young, KIND's executive director, had the same take on the matter.
"Seyfarth Lean was almost revolutionary for us," Young said.
Young said KIND sought Seyfarth, Shaw's help because it wanted to ensure that its various offices were following consistent and efficient procedures.
The Seyfarth Lean project involved a year "of really unpacking how we do things," Young said.
Young said that process was useful because it led to the establishment of processes that allow KIND to better serve immigrant children.
The process also was useful because it prompted KIND personnel to work together and exchange ideas, Young said.
KIND, which is based in Washington, D.C., was founded in 2008 by Mircosoft Corp. and actress Angelina Jolie.
Since launching its operations in January 2009, Young said, KIND has served about 3,100 children of about 50 nationalities.
These children ranged in age from 2 to 18, with the average age being 14, Young said.
She said foreign nationals who end up in removal proceedings could face life-threatening consequences if deported to their homeland.
"They're fleeing wars, human rights abuses, economic problems, natural disasters," Young said.
Young said about 120 law firms, corporate legal departments and other entities have provided more that $19 million in pro bono services through KIND.
Intensive training is needed because most of the attorneys who volunteer their services do not practice immigration law, Young said.
One of those volunteers is Jason Lichter, senior counsel in Seyfarth, Shaw's e-discovery and information governance practice group in New York.
Lichter, who represents a minor from El Salvador, said legal assistance is vital to foreign nationals involved in removal proceedings.
"In many cases, these removal decisions are life-or-death decisions," Lichter said.
Lichter said he was pleased to have the opportunity "to really make a difference" in the lives of children.
"Pro bono is something I've always made time for, and I think pro bono is something every lawyer should make time for," Lichter said.
Rich said she was pleased Seyfarth, Shaw also assisted children from a macro as well as a micro level.
"What we love so much about this project was the ability to help KIND at the systemic level," Rich said. "We take individual children's cases from KIND and we enjoy doing that, but Seyfarth Lean allowed us to help KIND as a whole and, we hope, to be able to help children as a whole."
**Originally posted in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
Communications and Advocacy Director
"These children often have nothing; no money, no support and no family, yet they come to America seeking its promises of a better life."