Over the past few years, Amazon’s legal pro bono team has kicked it into high gear when it comes to looking for a wide variety of ways to use their expertise to support our neighbors. So far, in 2018, they’ve already completed over 1,000 hours. From artists to students to families finalizing adoptions, they’ve provided professional, pro bono care. The team's newest project has been providing legal support to the families at Mary’s Place, our Seattle partners and neighbors.
Amazonian Yousri Omar and a team of Amazonian volunteers led the charge, and organized Amazon’s first pro bono clinic for Mary’s Place families. We talked to Yousri about this work.
What is your job at Amazon?
I am a senior corporate counsel for business conduct and ethics – my team owns the Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and we work to ensure employees understand Amazon’s compliance obligations and expectations.
Planning a pro bono legal clinic is outside of your day to day responsibilities at Amazon. Why do you do pro bono work?
When I interviewed at Amazon in 2014, I was not really looking to leave my current job. But, when I met with David Zapolsky, Amazon’s General Counsel, I was inspired by the passion he had for building out a pro bono presence at Amazon – it was a big part of the reason I took the job.
I’ve participated in a few of our pro bono events over the past few years, but after hearing John Schoettler, vice president of real estate and facilities, speak about Amazon’s work with Mary’s Place at an event, and knowing homelessness is an issue at the forefront of our city right now, I felt compelled to work with them.
You don’t often find ways to make huge impacts in a short period of time, but with our specific skill sets as lawyers and legal professionals, we can make a big difference at the right event. The enthusiasm at Amazon for pro bono work right now is pervasive – I hear people talking about it all the time and most importantly, making time to get involved. It is more and more being stitched into the fabric of our team, and it’s continuing to grow.
Tell me about the legal team’s work with Mary’s Place.
Our legal teal has been expanding our pro bono efforts all over the world and Amazon has been working closely with Mary’s Place – it just seemed like a great fit. When we started to think of how best to support them, we came up with two avenues: the Mary’s Place organization and the families at Mary’s Place. We are currently exploring what advising on labor/employment, tax, real estate contracts and leases, corporate governance, and capital allocation looks like – basically any legal need that a nonprofit organization might have that they would otherwise have to pay for.
The legal clinic we hosted for Mary’s Place residents at Amazon was intended to demystify the legal process – to help guests navigate confusing legal problems they’re facing and either find a quick solution or connect them with resources to move forward – we wanted all clients to walk away with an action plan. Our partners K&L Gates and the King County Bar Association supported this event too.
In addition to having an action plan, what were your other goals for working with Mary’s Place families?
I really wanted the clients to walk away feeling that someone heard their issue, and understood the importance of it. We talked to clients about landlord/tenant discrepancies, family law, visitation rights, domestic violence, and benefits such as unemployment, disability, and social security, just to name a few.
I hope they were able to resolve their issue on the spot, but if not, I hope they walked away knowing how best to move forward with the tools and resources we provided. The legal system is daunting and complex for anyone, and that is amplified for someone who is also going through additional hardships.
After a successful first Mary’s Place clinic, I’m excited to figure out how best to continue to support their organization and their families alongside an awesome team of my passionate, hard-working colleagues.