Heartless things can happen when the law gets applied to a person who can't afford a lawyer. "The mother who flees domestic violence, and her partner trashes the apartment? That's on her record," said Lindsey Casey, one of the Amazon Legal team members volunteering their time and expertise to help guests at Mary's Place. "What do we do to help her move forward and get a new space?"
Amanda Wagner, Community Manager of the Mary's Place emergency family shelter built in 63,000 square feet of donated space at Amazon's Seattle campus, summed up the organization's practical goal for guests: "giving them the tool box to help them move out of homelessness and hopefully have them only be homeless one time."
To support that goal, Amazon employees volunteering their legal skills sometimes find themselves tackling seemingly miniscule problems that have caused massive fallout. Casey, a compliance specialist on Amazon's Business Conduct and Ethics team, remembered one mother who couldn't make sense of the legal hoops she needed to jump through to resolve an old $50 fine.
"Fifty dollars was keeping one woman and her family from finding a home," Casey said. "She was completely overwhelmed by it. And we took that mountain, and we were able to really stomp it down for her."
“Many of the folks, they've been trying to navigate the legal system for years. And more often than not, they don't have the kind of representation that would allow them to solve their problems."”
The K&L Gates law firm partners with Amazon to support the free weekly legal clinics at Mary’s Place. Shannan Frisbie, a partner at the firm, said, "I'm a first-generation college grad, and I was a child of a single mother on welfare. So it is meaningful for me to be able to come back and sit with someone who reminds me of my mother and my brother and myself and give them support when they need it."
At its annual awards gala tonight, the Pro Bono Institute will recognize the impact Amazon Legal team members are making at Mary's Place through the corporate pro bono partnership with K&L Gates. The institute noted that Amazon volunteers "provide advice on myriad civil legal issues, including landlord/tenant disputes and evictions, financial issues and bankruptcy, expungement of criminal histories, personal injury, wills and probate, traffic violations, identity theft, restraining orders, employment issues, and medical issues."
Mary's Place guest Gwen Anderson has attended multiple pro bono clinics and plans to return for more legal support. "I had a lot of barriers that I had to deal with coming into the shelter," she said. "For one, I had just lost my job due to my medical issues, so I needed help with Social Security. Even though it was a 30-minute slot, they actually stayed on the phone with me for an hour to make sure my application was done correctly."
Whether in person, or now in virtual sessions during the pandemic, Amazon Senior Corporate Counsel Yousri Omar said it's powerful to see "a guest's face when they realize, 'This is a lawyer who's actually going to help. This is a lawyer who is on my side.' Because for many of the folks, they've been trying to navigate the legal system for years. And more often than not, they don't have the kind of representation that would allow them to solve their problems."
This year, the Pro Bono Institute also honored Amazon—in partnership with Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and Bet Tzedek—for an initiative to provide legal services to unaccompanied migrant and refugee children.