Pro Bono Spotlights
Thompson Knight’s ‘This is Our Town’ Initiative By Michele (Mitch) Gibbons
In light of the stay-at-home orders, business shutdowns, and economic downturn at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses in Houston, which play an important part in our communities and broader economy, faced an uncertain future. Businesses we rely on every day, such as restaurants, laundromats and beauty salons, do not generally have access to the Mitch Gibbons traditional avenues for pro bono assistance. In response to the hardships faced by these businesses, in April 2020, Thompson & Knight LLP established the “This Is
Our Town” initiative, intended to fill the pro bono gap and provide legal assistance to small business owners. Over the course of the year, as part of the initiative, Thompson & Knight attorneys assisted local businesses with a broad range of legal issues, including applying for government assistance programs (such as Paycheck Protection Program [PPP] loans); lease and real property disputes; and contract interpretation, enforcement and drafting. In addition to presenting an opportunity to give back, it was an avenue for our attorneys to connect to the Houston community at a time when many felt isolated and uncertain about the prospects for reentering public life. Mitch Gibbons is a partner at Thompson & Knight LLP who focuses on securities regulation and compliance.
Representing Protestors By Anietie Akpan As anti-police brutality protests broke out across the country after the murder of George Floyd last summer, thousands of people were arrested in connection to those demonstrations. While the majority of the gatherings were overwhelmingly peaceful, some became chaotic or even violent, and some demonstrators were met with tear gas, pepper Stacy Allen spray, and rubber bullets. Seeking to ensure fair legal treatment of demonstrators who were apprehended, some Houston lawyers offered pro bono representation for detained protestors. One of those lawyers was Stacy Allen, a Houston-based family and criminal defense attorney. When asked why providing this service was important to her, Stacy shared: “I pride myself on being a social engineer, someone who utilizes her legal skill set for the betterment of society. We all have a role to play in bending the moral arc toward justice and for me, ensuring that the constitutional right of free speech and assembly was protected, especially when those rights are utilized in demanding a more equitable and just system and for the liberation of Black people and all oppressed, was a no brainer. It was 16 May/June 2021
my privilege and duty to be of service.”1 Approximately seven different demonstrators contacted Stacy over the course of the summer. “There were many lawyers like myself who volunteered through organizations or social media to represent anyone charged with a crime related to their participation in the George Floyd protests,” she explained, “so thankfully there was an abundance of help to go around.” In reflecting on how events of the past year could shape the legal community’s future civil rights-focused efforts, Stacy believes that attorneys cannot afford to become complacent in doing the good that our legal education empowers us to do. “You don’t have to be an expert in a particular area of law,” she said, “you just have to care” and, at times, be on the frontlines where the people in need are located. Anietie Akpan is in-house counsel for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) and serves as Articles Editor for The Houston Lawyer.
1. The late Charles Hamilton Houston – who served as Dean of Howard University School of Law (Stacy’s alma mater) – once famously said, “A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.” Mr. Houston was credited as the legal architect of civil rights arguments that led to the end of legalized racial segregation in the United States.