Joe is a partner at Wilson Elser where he specializes in professional liability defense, federal statutory litigation, commercial disputes and insurance coverage matters. In 2014, Joe was appointed to his firm’s national pro bono committee; his first order of business was to find an initiative to get more attorneys involved in pro bono. “I wanted to find a program that would offer training, oversight, and a really good cause,” Joe explained. “My theory is that more people would get involved in pro bono, but, they are worried to step out of their comfort zones.” Safe Passage fit the criteria and an initial training for 40 attorneys was scheduled. Joe explained that over 189 attorneys actually showed up for that first training, demonstrating the tremendous interest within the firm. Safe Passage is proud to now be Wilson Elser’s biggest pro bono project, thanks to Joe’s foresight and leadership.
Joe has worked on several of his own Safe Passage pro bono cases, and currently has three active cases. Joe explained that whenever he steps out of his regular work to focus on his Safe Passage clients it is an incredibly rewarding experience. “I know that I am making a real difference in someone’s daily life.”
In the first case Joe took with Safe Passage, his young client was reunited with a family member after being in the United States for several months. “We had to switch course from a SIJS [Special Immigrant Juvenile Status] case to an asylum case because we learned new information about the child’s case,” Joe recalls. “We had to adjust on the fly, but, he qualified for both – the Safe Passage team helped me strategically think through how to proceed.” In another of Joe’s cases it seemed that procedural hurdles were too challenging to overcome. Joe was able to work through the issues with the family court judge, advocate for his client, and ultimately secure SIJS status for his client. As Joe explained, “The judge is going to follow the law and the case law in this instance is on our side – judges are human beings too and are really trying to do what is right.”
Joe is in charge of several pro bono initiatives at his firm, but, Safe Passage is one of his favorites as it was the first big pro bono effort with a lot of firm involvement, and it is an opportunity to provide much needed legal assistance to vulnerable children. “I am always surprised that people have such harsh immigration views because the children Safe Passage is working with usually have more than one basis for staying legally in the United States. They are eligible for a host of protections under our US laws”
Joe feels that pro bono gives attorneys the opportunity to go from theoretical to making a real difference: “Any attorneys reading this, thinking about pro bono, but, afraid to take the first step, with Safe Passage you do not have to worry. They will take your hand and guide you every step of the way. Take a case today.” According to Deputy Executive Director, Gui Stampur, “Joe is one of our most dedicated Pro Bono attorneys. His colleagues at Wilson Elser have been so supportive of our work from the beginning and we cherish our pro bono partnership and hope it will continue for many years to come.”
Thank you Joe for your commitment to Safe Passage and the children we work with. You are an example for others to follow and we are grateful for you and your firm’s dedication to pro bono initiatives. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership on future cases.