Emily Abraham, Legal Director, Social Justice Collaborative
This month we are spotlighting the Social Justice Collaborative, and their Legal Director, Emily Abraham as she discusses the challenges facing her clients, and their pivot towards remote clinics during COVID-19 pandemic. Follow along to read how Emily and Meryl Friedman, OneJustice’s Senior Program Manager discuss their partnership.
Please tell us about the mission of the Social Justice Collaborative, and your work at the organization.
Emily Abraham (EA): Social Justice Collaborative is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of refugees being targeted by the US government. We provide vital legal services to nearly 1,500 families each year. Our mission is to continue providing full-scope deportation defense to both detained and non-detained immigrants at little to no cost. I am the founder and legal director of Social Justice Collaborative, and I supervise all types of complex removal defense cases, especially asylum, as well as appeals before the BIA and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
SJC provides removal defense legal services to about 1,500 immigrant families each year, and represents hundreds of individuals in removal proceedings each year, including complex federal litigation that I direct and oversee. I also coordinate the SJC pro bono program that provides free legal services for several hundred non-citizens each year.
What are the key challenges facing your clients, and the work you are doing to address them?
EA: The challenges are constantly changing regulations that are mostly illegal, as well as new barriers to asylum relief, changes in employment authorization, and the demonization of immigrant populations and asylum seekers.
Meryl Friedman (MF): During COVID19, a key challenge has been client preparation so that they know how to use the technology to get the most out of the clinic. SJC created client-facing videos in Spanish and Mam to let them know what to expect from a remote clinic.
Can you describe your partnership with OneJustice and the Justice Bus Network?
MF: Social Justice Collaborative is the first member of the Justice Bus Network, OneJustice’s new redesign of the Justice Bus. OneJustice provides SJC with templates, consulting support, pro bono management to execute legal clinics. SJC manages the planning, client preparation, legal training and application filing.
Due to COVID, the Justice Bus Network pivoted to a remote clinic model. SJC and OneJustice have run 5 clinics, serving 70 clients with the support of 86 pro bono volunteers. We have worked with 5 firms in California, but had a new opportunity to access lawyers and summer associates through their offices in other states.
Can you tell us about any recent clinics or any upcoming clinics with the Justice Bus Network?
MF: After running two Adjustment of Status clinics, we decided to try to run a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) clinic through the Justice Bus Network. SIJS applications are really important, but also very tricky. SJC wanted to expand their reach with SIJS cases, so we thought it would be worth a try. After we conducted a test run, we decided we could run a day-long SIJS workshop using Lawyaw and RingCentral.
The key was to train the pro bonos well. SIJS is not only a long legal process, it is also particularly difficult due to the age and experiences of the young clients. SJC honed in on the training in cross-cultural lawyering – making sure to use examples from past cases to demonstrate how the pro bonos could talk to their clients and escape the temptation of legalese. We were really excited to see the success of the clinic because the opportunities for scale are enormous. If we can continue holding SIJS clinics with law firms, SJC can help so many clients who typically wait a long time. Post-COVID19, it might be the most impactful way to do these clinics!
What drew you to partner with OneJustice and or participate in OneJustice programming, such as the Organizational Change Accelerators (OCA) Pro Bono Track?
EA: SJC has a long history of partnering with OneJustice, our Executive Director has done the Executive Fellowship Program and I did the pro bono accelerator. Even before that, we partnered doing the Justice Bus and Rural Immigrant Connect. We were interested in the Justice Bus Network because it gave us the opportunity to improve our pro bono clinics while earning revenue. We were excited to establish relationships with Bay Area firms and companies.
Can you describe how your work in OCA will influence your work at the Social Justice Collaborative?
EA: This has inspired me to open up new programs within SJC for pro bono, enrich and expand existing pro bono programs. In fact, we are now launching the new pro bono litigation program (https://www.socialjusticecollaborative.org/probono-litigation) which I conceived during the accelerator although it was not my capstone.
For Firms and Companies: OneJustice and SJC are finalizing the fall calendar for remote clinics. If you are interested in scheduling a clinic for 16-10 pro bonos, please email Meryl Friedman (firstname.lastname@example.org). Learn more here.
For LSOs: If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Justice Bus Network member, please contact Meryl. We can provide consulting, training, and strategic program planning to boost your remote and in-person clinics.