This story was written by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
In 2016, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner established a unique partnership with Concordance Academy of Leadership in St. Louis, a non-profit organization providing holistic re-entry services to individuals released from incarceration. Since 2016, Concordance Academy (“Concordance”) has provided its quality, integrated services to more than 500 program participants, and in doing so, has proven to reduce recidivism by more than 38%. The Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner/Concordance Academy Fellows (the “Fellows”) provide legal services to program participants, spending approximately 50% of their time on these matters on a pro bono basis. The Fellows spend the remainder of their time on associate work at BCLP. To date, four female attorneys have held the fellowship role.
The Fellows have a passionate commitment to pro bono work, especially involving clients from vulnerable populations. They find great personal reward in working with program participants to resolve their legal concerns. Even efforts that may seem small can have a huge impact on the participants’ ability to smoothly transition back into society. It is intensely gratifying for the Fellows to witness first-hand the real-world impact of this work on their clients’ lives and their ability to successfully obtain employment and be self-sufficient. Client legal needs regularly addressed include misdemeanor charges, traffic cases, child support-related issues, driver’s license holds, felony detainers, and commutation of fines. However, the Fellows are regularly called upon to address any legal concerns of the program participants, including civil subrogation matters, orders of protection, and small business formation.
The Fellows have facilitated a number of notable successes for members of the St. Louis community. To date, they have assisted with clearing 422 warrants, entering on/resolving 535 outstanding cases, attending 463 court appearances, and commuting more than $10,000 in fines. These efforts save the state significant resources and relieve program participants of financial and legal burdens. In addition, the Fellows have assisted with the acquisition of 273 vital records, essential for the protection of legal rights and identification. These successes have helped to clear the way for the participants of the program to be able to focus on important personal goals such as education, employment, sobriety, and reconnecting with their families.
Shelby Hewerdine, the inaugural Fellow, joined Concordance fulltime at the conclusion of her fellowship term, and acts as a liaison with BCLP and the ongoing Fellows in their work with Concordance.
The impact of the Fellows is clear and concrete — they are changing lives and helping to heal and restructure our community. By establishing and pouring into such an innovative fellowship, the St. Louis office and BCLP have set up an excellent example of public interest partnership for others to model after.”
Kaitlyn Parker, the second Fellow, joined the Firm fulltime at the conclusion of her fellowship tenure. She is a member of the Commercial Disputes practice group in St. Louis, but remains active with Concordance. She has said about her experience, “The fellowship provides an unparalleled opportunity to serve others through hands-on legal experience while learning from some of the best attorneys in the St. Louis region. More importantly, the impact we have is visible — we clear the way for participants to continue programming with Concordance, which helps them strive to live joyful, abundant, and purposeful lives, and it is extremely rewarding to watch the participants achieve their goals.”
Ellen Whitehorn, the third Fellow, is currently the Senior Fellow and practicing primarily in the Intellectual Property and Commercial Disputes practice groups. She says, “by serving this population, we get to provide direct services that make a meaningful, near-immediate difference in clients’ lives. Building relationships with these clients at an initial pre-release prison visit, then watching them thrive as successful employees and community members months down the line is so rewarding. The fellowship has provided me the opportunity to hone my skills in client interaction, courtroom experience, and high-level case management in my first two years of practice. Getting to do this work while simultaneously practicing in the intellectual property group at a global firm like BCLP has been incredibly fulfilling.”
Jasmine Sharma, the 2019 Fellow, is currently the junior Fellow and practicing primarily in the Commercial Disputes practice group. She states, “It is a rare and rewarding experience for young attorneys to be given the opportunity immediately out of law school to provide direct pro bono representation alongside being an associate at a global law firm like BCLP. The impact of these experiences is reciprocal — Concordance participants receive legal assistance in maneuvering a complicated and bureaucratic legal system while young associates sharpen important skills in litigation case management at the system and firm level, client interaction, and courtroom experience. This experience has made me grateful for the opportunity to use my education and skills to help eliminate the barriers previously incarcerated individuals face while serving an underserved community.” Past and present, all of the Fellows are excited to support Concordance and the partnership with BCLP as the program continues to grow and impact those living in Missouri, Illinois, and beyond.