How to fight racism pro bono

Betty Q. Hixson
Diverse Leaders in Law

Across America, people who are Black or Hispanic are much more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts. With that comes an inability to pay for critical legal services that can help them access basic necessities such as health care, housing, government benefits, employment and educational services.

While the importance of pro bono work to serve marginalized communities isn’t something new to the legal profession, the racial justice component has become increasingly important following the death of George Floyd in 2020, which resulted in protests across the globe. Since then, legal aid experts say there’s been a noticeable and sustained increase in interest in pro bono opportunities with a racial justice component, which providers hope will be a commitment that lasts for the long haul.

In central Ohio, many law firms have recognized the opportunity to use their legal skills to amplify the voices of those oppressed by racism and use the law as a vehicle for change that impacts communities of color and to promote racial equity, says Kate McGarvey, executive director of the Ohio State Legal Services Association. The association, including through the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, helps low-income Ohioans resolve a broad range of civil legal issues.

Diverse Leaders in Law: Register now and see past forums

McGarvey was the guest moderator at Columbus CEO magazine’s quarterly Diverse Leaders in Law forum in April that focused on how law firms can fight racism through pro bono services. Panelists at the forum were:

• Michael Battle, partner and pro bono chair, Barnes & Thornburg

• Yaz Ashrawi, member, Frost Brown Todd

• Janay Stevens, partner, Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease

• Diane Menashe, partner, director of litigation training and pro bono activities, Ice Miller

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