In 2014, Amazon’s legal team launched the Pro Bono Program to make it easier for Amazon lawyers and legal professionals around the world to provide pro bono services for underserved communities and access to justice. for people who can’t pay.
Since its founding by General Counsel David Zapolsky, Amazon’s legal teams have contributed more than 38,000 hours of legal services to customers in a variety of ways. The project builds projects from scratch, such as the legal health center it supports Mary’s Place, an emergency family shelter in Seattle. The legal team also participates in current pro bono programs, such as Pacific Island Abolition Projectworking to prevent and correct the prosecution of innocent people in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, and Children in Need of Carecommitted to protecting unaccompanied and separated immigrant children.
The program continues to expand to new issues and geographies. More than 700 Amazon attorneys and legal professionals have participated so far, and many more are joining the program to take advantage of new ways to provide affordable legal services to small communities. . Amazon recently published a new report detailing the work of Amazon’s legal pro bono program.
We spoke with Zapolsky to learn more about this important work. Here are the highlights from the conversation:
Why is pro bono work important to you, and why does the group dedicate so many resources to this cause?
We believe that providing legal services to the indigent is not an ethical obligation for lawyers and legal professionals. Amazon employees have opportunities to serve and learn about their communities in new and meaningful ways.
Companies have a responsibility to the communities they serve, and as one of the largest employers in the world, it’s important for Amazon to lead the way. We can use the passion of our growing legal team to expand existing projects and create new projects from scratch, often with the cooperation of law firms we work with worldwide. I think the best thing lies ahead in terms of the impact we can make through our pro bono work.
Is there a pro bono project you’ve done that is important to you?
I’ve had the privilege of taking on a variety of pro bono cases during my career at Amazon, but one that I’m most passionate about is the King County Bar Association’s Record Project, which seeks to unmask allegations former for Washington state residents. have met their penalty requirements.
Removed from publicly available background search services, these agents are given the ability to tell employers or landlords that they have not been convicted of a crime. This gift of our time makes a huge difference in the lives of these consumers, often opening up economic opportunities through employment or a new home. Bringing our skills as legal professionals and our ability to innovate as Amazon employees to this role is a special mark in our communities, and I am happy and excited that many of my colleagues have stepped up. more to enter.
There are 18 comments of interest identified in the report. Which of them stand out the most to you?
Each case presented in the report provides an overview of the interests that our in-house legal team achieves through its pro bono work, such as correcting wrongful convictions, correcting negligence home, advocating for the rights of immigrants and refugees, protecting children from abuse, and protecting voters. participate.
The immigration system in the US is very complicated. One of the most difficult ways is to be able to give the right information to people who are caught in that system, especially children. More than 180 attorneys and legal professionals from Amazon, Audible, and our reporting partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, represented 28 of these unaccompanied minors on a case-by-case basis, helping them to stay in the US through a special visa for immigrant children or, in some cases, asylum. Under the leadership of Amazon attorney Ajay Patel, this partnership is the largest legal and private partnership for the Kids In Need of Defense Fund (KIND) in terms of geographic scope and number. of working children, something I am very proud of and appreciate. to participate in.
What are you most proud of when it comes to these pro bono efforts?
One of the things that really amazes me is the way we’ve scaled up our pro bono work to make a difference, not just in our headquarters community but around the world in different and creative ways. .
We have set up a global program that allows members of our law firm around the world to contribute from wherever they are to a wide range of urgent issues, such as working for wrongly accused persons with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and/or helping minors who are refugees of the war in Ukraine with KIND.
One project that stands out to me is the partnership we created with Mary’s Place, a Seattle nonprofit that provides emergency shelter and outreach services to families experiencing homelessness. Many people know that Amazon is donating a lot in downtown Seattle to house a Mary’s Place family shelter in Seattle. But what few people know is that we provide free legal advice to their guests, in person and virtually.
Amazon attorneys like Yousri Omar, who have been involved with Mary’s Place since the beginning of the relationship, help guests move toward the goal of securing permanent housing for their families by face barriers such as previous mortgages, previous evictions, and other barriers to credit and Lease history can be a deterrent to landlords. In 2020 alone, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal team provided more than 700 hours of legal services to Mary’s Place guests.
Learn more about work pro bono at Amazon.