Hong Kong: Matters That Matter: Monthly Pro Bono Roundup

Last Updated: 15 July 2019
Article by Morrison & Foerster LLP

MoFo pro bono lawyers pour their hearts and souls — and hours — into a variety of worthy projects. And, no matter the result, our attorneys always leave behind a mark on the clients we serve and the causes that we share a passion for.

Matters That Matter looks at some of the most significant recently opened matters and developments in our global pro bono efforts, from staffing legal clinics and advising nonprofits on their legal needs to advocating for individuals who would otherwise be denied equal access to justice. Below are a few examples of the many ways our lawyers are living out our proud pro bono tradition every day.

Promoting Cost-Effective Watershed Conservation

A team of MoFo tax, finance, and corporate attorneys have been advising The Nature Conservancy on the creation of a groundbreaking "pay-for-success" water fund designed to dramatically increase the pace, scale and efficiency of water-quality conservation for the city of Newark, Delaware. The city, along with the Revolving Water Fund, recently announced the closing of the first-ever pay-for-success transaction, which will fund on-farm agricultural restoration activities to reduce nutrients and sediment flowing into surrounding waterways.

The project was a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and i2 Capital and is part of a pilot program to examine whether investment in agricultural best management practices on farms can achieve cost-effective pollution reductions that meet regulatory compliance requirements under the Clean Water Act, while also achieving watershed conservation goals.

Providing Tax & Trademark Advice to "Girls Crushing It"

San Francisco tax attorneys are providing tax advice to Girls Crushing It and also assisting the organization with general trademark matters. Girls Crushing It is an entrepreneurship organization that teaches leadership, marketing, and public speaking to girls. The "girlpreneurs" learn the skills necessary to run a business and run a functioning market where they sell their products to shoppers. Even if the girls do not all become small business owners, they will have the opportunity to learn valuable skills and be well equipped to take on more leadership roles.

Mentoring Legal Fellows From Justice Without Borders

A group of Singapore attorneys are mentoring the legal fellows of our pro bono client Justice Without Borders (JWB), a nonprofit dedicated to helping migrant and foreign domestic workers in Southeast Asia enforce their rights to compensation. The mentoring program is designed to teach the legal fellows useful skills, such as legal drafting, analysis and research, fact gathering and interviewing, and communication skills that the legal fellows can then put to use in support of JWB mission. MoFo is one of 21 local and international law firms that have partnered with JWB to help serve migrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines who have faced employment difficulties in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Advising a Filipina Guest Worker in Hong Kong

Hong Kong litigation attorneys are representing a Filipina domestic helper in a labor claim against her employer in Hong Kong. In the matter, referred by JWB, our client filed claims with the Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board, asserting she was constructively dismissed from her employment by adverse job conditions and that her employer forged her signature on a supposedly voluntary resignation letter.

The Board, however, has stayed the action while police investigate the client's forgery allegation. The police investigation has so far lasted four months, and our client, who now has no income and lives in a shelter, wishes to return to the Philippines. We have been asked to advise the client on how her civil claim may survive her departure from Hong Kong and whether an additional claim should be added to her case.

Defending New York Students Subjected to Illegal Searches

MoFo, in partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents whose 12-year-old daughters were subjected to illegal strip searches at a middle school in Binghamton, New York. School officials escorted four Black and Latina girls, who were talking and laughing in the hallway during their lunch period, to the health office because of what the officials considered "unusual behavior." At the direction of the principal and assistant principal, the school nurse conducted an intrusive and demeaning search of each girl without properly notifying or obtaining consent from the girls' parents. The legal complaint — filed after the school district failed to rectify the situation, including a refusal to issue an apology for the girls' mistreatment — alleges that the strip searches were motivated by the school officials' racial bias.

Increasing Support for Children in New York's Foster Care System

A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is helping to move forward a decade-old suit that MoFo filed on behalf of the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York (formerly the New York State Citizens Coalition for Children). The suit seeks to bring New York's foster care reimbursement rates into compliance with the federal Child Welfare Laws, which require states that accept federal child welfare funds to provide foster parents with monthly payments that "cover the cost (and the cost of providing)" of basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Thanks to the ruling, the prospect of increased support for New York State's children in foster care is on the horizon.

Ensuring Equitable Space Exploration and Living

A team from Palo Alto and Northern Virginia is advising Future Frontiers Institute, a nonprofit whose mission is to expand human presence across the solar system and ensure that the frameworks that govern space exploration and future life in space are as equitable as they can be. The organization has sought MoFo's help with corporate governance and partnership agreements that will be critical to their goal of ensuring the benefits of going to space can be enjoyed by everyone, not just a select few.

Ensuring Legal Representation for Foster Children

MoFo is representing a class of foster children in a suit against the state of Indiana for violating their constitutional right to legal representation in dependency proceedings, also referred to as Children in Need of Supervision proceedings. The suit contends that failure to provide these children of abusive and/or neglectful parents with adequate legal representation often results in decisions about their fate being left to the mercy of the system. Indiana is behind the rest of the nation in making it mandatory to appoint counsel to children in such proceedings. The lawsuit seeks certification of a class of more than 5,000 children and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief that would require appointment of licensed attorneys to represent children in court proceedings.

Assisting a Food Charity

Hong Kong attorneys are providing a broad range of legal assistance to Bo Charity Foundation Ltd., a.k.a. Food Angel. To date, Food Angel has asked us to advise it on sponsorship, service, and other agreements, as well as other legal issues arising from its day-to-day operations. Food Angel, which was launched in 2011, is a food rescue and food assistance program that rescues edible surplus food from various sectors of the food industry that would otherwise be disposed of as waste. Following strict safety protocols, the rescued food items are prepared as nutritious hot meals in Food Angel's central kitchen and to be redistributed to underprivileged communities in Hong Kong.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

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