When asked what makes me most proud of my work at Amazon, I always talk about our legal department’s pro bono program. Established nearly a decade ago, the program provides our attorneys and legal professionals throughout the world a wide variety of opportunities to use their skills to help individuals and organizations that cannot otherwise afford legal representation. Our team is proud to give back to the communities where we live and work in this way.
I began my career as an assistant district attorney in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office fighting to protect the rights of women and children experiencing abuse. My passion for this work—and my belief in the obligation of the legal profession to ensure access to justice for all—has stuck with me throughout my career. When I came to Amazon, I found like-minded attorneys and legal professionals who wanted to make sure that helping those who need it most is an essential part of our company DNA—which is why I founded our pro bono program.
Since the program’s inception, members of the legal department have devoted more than 52,000 hours of pro bono volunteer work, partnering with numerous law firms and nonprofits to provide access to justice for underserved people and communities, and support noble causes across the globe. This includes more than 10,000 hours just in the last year.
We take on a wide variety of cases, projects, and matters, including: righting wrongful convictions, providing legal counsel to families experiencing homelessness, preserving the environment, protecting children from sexual abuse, ensuring access to vital health care services, championing immigrant and refugee rights, aiding military veterans, supporting LGBTQIA+ communities, and safeguarding voting rights.
I am incredibly proud of our pro bono program and the hundreds of Amazon legal team members who contribute their time and talents to this meaningful work.
Below are some highlights of the causes we have worked on in the previous year. You can also find more information in our annual 2023 Pro Bono Report.
1.Amazon volunteers commit to a successful future for war-torn Ukraine
When the war started in Ukraine, more than 70 of our legal team members from across the globe joined about 70 lawyers and legal professionals from law firm DLA Piper on a pro bono project to help ease the transition for Ukrainian refugee families and individuals who have been forced to resettle elsewhere in Europe.Sub-headline: Amazon attorneys are leading a pro bono humanitarian initiative to develop free legal guidebooks for refugees seeking resettlement in Europe.
In just one month’s time, they completed a series of fact sheets that detail regulations and practices in the various European countries where refugee mothers have been trying to reclaim a sense of normalcy for their displaced children. The fact sheets cover a variety of topics relevant to raising a family and establishing oneself in a new country, including: housing, education, childcare, healthcare, employment, immigration, legal aid and human rights protection, and banking and taxation.
We are also developing a guide for Patients of Ukraine, a nonprofit devoted to combating illicit trade and counterfeiting of medication and medical devices in Ukraine—a scourge that has escalated as a result of the ongoing war. A companion product outlines current gaps in Ukraine’s admittedly lax regulations of medical goods.
2.Amazon returns to in-person legal services for guests of Mary’s Place
Over the years, Amazon has formed an exceptional relationship with Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that offers emergency shelter and outreach services to families experiencing homelessness in the Seattle area. We donated space to Mary’s Place to create an eight-floor facility inside an office tower at our Seattle headquarters. With capacity for over 200 guests, it is the largest facility of its kind in the state of Washington and includes a medical clinic, daycare, and other services to support families in transition.
In the shelter, we set up a legal office in 2018 to help guests of Mary’s Place with issues like dealing with former or future landlords, providing family resources, and helping them with day-to-day problems they face. In 2023, we enhanced our Mary’s Place pro bono work by focusing on assisting women and families experiencing homelessness with matters related to immigration law, such as helping them prepare applications with the federal government for amnesty or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
3.Empathy drives a model pro bono partnership in Los Angeles
The mission of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. Our lawyers and legal professionals provide a variety of services to LAFLA clients. For example, they meet with clients who cannot afford a lawyer, listen to their stories, ask the right questions, and fill out formal paperwork so clients can appear before a judge to formally request that their criminal record be expunged. We also have staffed LAFLA clinics that assist survivors of domestic violence, alumni of foster care who are seeking naturalization, and people facing evictions.
4.Afghan refugees find ready, willing, and able advocates in Amazon
Coinciding with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, Afghan nationals who either worked directly for the U.S. or openly opposed the Taliban found themselves in imminent danger. Some secured provisional safety in the U.S., having been rushed out on military evacuation flights. Others found their own way out after Kabul fell, courageously crossing the border into Pakistan, often with their families in tow and sometimes in disguise so as to escape notice. We are working directly with both groups of Afghan refugees to help them obtain permanent or temporary legal status in a country that would be willing to accept them—and start a new chapter in their lives, free of constant fear.Learn how we invest in the community, help power the local economy, and support our employees in the Puget Sound region.
5.Legal guides speak out in support of survivors of female genital mutilation
The illegal and invasive procedure of female genital mutilation—a traditional practice among some cultures, performed for non-medical reasons—affects about 500,000 girls and women in the U.S. Yet this serious threat to their overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being rarely is discussed. A team of 16 Amazon lawyers from across the globe is working pro bono to help break that silence, partnering with international law firm Reed Smith LLP to draft legal guides for survivors of female genital mutilation.
6.Global effort reinforces the right to legal counsel for the criminally accused
In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recognized the universal right to high-quality, no-cost legal representation at all stages of the criminal justice process for individuals accused of a crime but unable to afford a lawyer, and provided practical guidance to countries on how to implement that right in practice. A decade after the adoption of those principles and guidelines, however, an individual’s guarantee of access to legal aid remains wildly inconsistent depending on where that person lives.
In partnership with law firm White & Case and leading legal aid nonprofit the International Legal Foundation (ILF), we researched right-to-counsel laws in 25 countries, their enforcement mechanisms, and their overall compliance with UNGA's principles and guidelines. The survey will result in the production of a global guidance tool on the implementation of the right to legal aid, which the ILF will use to advocate for stronger legal aid at the international, regional, and national levels.
7.Amazon’s legal team at the Arlington headquarters gives their time to assist those wanting to give back
There is a growing number of Amazon Legal volunteers at our headquarters in Arlington, Virginia who are assisting local innovators interested in serving their communities. The legal clinics, designed for would-be entrepreneurs wanting to start a nonprofit or a small business, are offered through the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. Community members come to the clinics with a wide variety of ideas and interests. An example is a would-be nonprofit entrepreneur wanting to take decommissioned Washington, D.C., Metro buses and retrofit them into mobile hygiene centers where people experiencing homelessness would have access to a clean bathroom, a hot shower, and laundry facilities.