Davis Polk and JPMorgan Chase & Co. partner to support Volunteers of Legal Service’s Incarcerated Mothers Law Project
Recently, volunteers from JPMorgan Chase’s legal department joined Davis Polk’s long-standing pro bono work supporting the Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) Incarcerated Mothers Law Project.
To discuss this collaboration and the experience of working with mothers at Taconic Correctional Facility, we sat down with Stephanie Heglund and Kiki Taylor of JPMorgan Chase and Sidney Bashago, a Davis Polk partner.
Stephanie, Kiki, can you describe your roles at JPMorgan and your leadership in pro bono work?
Stephanie and Kiki: We both were recently promoted and are currently Executive Directors and Assistant General Counsels in JPMorgan Chase’s Government Investigations and Regulatory Enforcement (GIRE) group, which is part of the Litigation department. We also are members of GIRE’s Pro Bono Forum – a steering group that was co-created by Kiki in 2021. The Forum helps identify, organize and facilitate GIRE’s involvement in meaningful legal pro bono opportunities across the different regional offices in which we are located. Kiki also serves as a member of the Legal Department’s Northeast Regional Pro Bono Program.
Sidney, can you tell us about your practice at Davis Polk?
Sidney: I was recently promoted to partner in Davis Polk’s White Collar Defense & Investigations practice. My practice focuses on criminal, regulatory and internal investigations involving allegations of securities fraud, violations of the FCPA, money laundering and other financial crimes. I also specialize in workplace misconduct matters, including sensitive sexual misconduct investigations, proactive assessments, crisis management and related compliance advice.
During my years at the firm, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of pro bono matters, including various immigration issues, post-conviction motions, criminal defense and workplace conduct investigations for non-profit organizations. It has been a privilege to work on every one of these matters, and I have learned an enormous amount and grown as a lawyer and a person as a result.
Can you also tell us a bit about Davis Polk’s pro bono work with incarcerated mothers?
Sidney: Davis Polk lawyers have been volunteering with VOLS’ Incarcerated Mothers Clinic for decades, visiting Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, NY once a month to meet with mothers and provide them critical legal advice about custody, visitation and child protective matters. This guidance helps incarcerated mothers maintain meaningful contact with their children.
In addition to this clinic work, through VOLS we also represent incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers in family court custody/visitation proceedings throughout the state, resulting in mothers regaining custody of their children after being released and establishing their security. Another important part of this focus is criminal resentencing applications under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), which provide for a reduced sentence when substantial domestic violence was a significant contributing factor to the underlying criminal conduct. Davis Polk’s DVSJA work has already led to the release of over a dozen survivors of domestic violence who would have served years longer but for the resentencing.
Given the overwhelmingly high percentage of women in prison who have histories of domestic violence and trafficking, many, if not most, of the mothers we meet with at the VOLS Taconic Correctional Facility clinic are survivors.
Stephanie, Kiki, how did you come to be involved in the VOLS Incarcerated Mothers Law Project?
Stephanie and Kiki: Stephanie had reached out to Davis Polk to explore ways in which Davis Polk and GIRE’s Pro Bono Forum could potentially partner on pro bono efforts. Davis Polk suggested the VOLS clinic (among a handful of other interesting initiatives) for our consideration. Our group was particularly enthusiastic about the VOLS clinic – we had a handful of team members promptly volunteer to participate.
What was your experience like at the clinic? Were there any particularly memorable interactions during your work with the incarcerated mothers?
Stephanie: I had a very positive experience with the VOLS clinic. I enjoyed learning a bit more about family law through the training session for the clinic and the clinic itself, meeting with the mothers at Taconic and spending time with legal colleagues who are passionate about pro bono service.
Kiki: I enjoyed meeting with the women at Taconic and partnering with Davis Polk lawyers to learn more about the women’s experiences and why they were seeking legal pro bono assistance. Oftentimes those who are incarcerated are stigmatized as bad people or individuals less-deserving of rights. What resonated with me the most is that the assistance we provided during the clinic would impact not only the women but also their children and families.
Sidney: Participating in the VOLS clinic was extremely rewarding, and a great learning experience. Every Davis Polk lawyer who participated was paired with a JPMorgan lawyer; each team spent over an hour with an incarcerated mother, listening to her concerns and asking questions to try to better understand her circumstances and what we could do to help. One of VOLS’ experienced family law attorneys circulated through the clinic and was available to consult with each team on the different family law issues that arose. It was great to work collaboratively with our colleagues at JPMorgan on issues that are so important to our clients and to have such an impact on their lives.
More generally, what makes pro bono work meaningful to you? Is working with women clients or parents of particular meaning?
Stephanie: While at JPMorgan (and as a relatively new mom), I have focused primarily on pro bono initiatives aiding women and children.
Kiki: Identifying pro bono opportunities that assist women of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels is important, and women’s rights is one of the Forum’s areas of interest for the year. Others include racial and criminal justice, immigration and LGBTQ rights. I enjoy working on projects that address the root causes of issues and result in long-lasting changes.
Sidney: I have always found pro bono work to be among the most gratifying parts of my practice. Our pro bono clients often face critical circumstances and it is a privilege to use my skills and training as a lawyer to help them navigate those situations. This was my first experience with family law and custody issues and, being a mother myself, I found the work to be particularly meaningful and emotional.
What, if any, other types of pro bono work do you have experience with?
Stephanie: Prior to joining JPMorgan, while at a law firm, I focused primarily on pro bono representations of criminal defendants and incarcerated persons – including taking a case to trial where I represented an incarcerated plaintiff who alleged that police used excessive force against him.
Kiki: Before joining JPMorgan, I volunteered on pro bono projects focused on housing rights and youth legal education. While at my prior law firm, I assisted with the firm’s representation of a military veteran who had received a life sentence in the 90s for a non-violent drug crime. We filed an executive clemency petition and subsequent motion for sentence reduction on his behalf in federal court (which was granted). At JPMorgan, I have participated in a number of pro bono initiatives including providing services to individuals seeking fair housing, criminal expungement, immigration relief and military discharge upgrades.
What advice would you have for lawyers seeking to do pro bono work while in-house?
Stephanie: Collaborating with outside counsel is a wonderful way to gain exposure to new pro bono opportunities. I recommend they take on meaningful assignments with additional support and deepen relationships with partner law firms.
Kiki: The role of the in-house lawyer/business advisor involves wearing many hats every day, which means your free time is limited. Those interested in pro bono work first should decide what level of commitment they are prepared to make and then manage their time effectively to ensure that commitment is honored. Choose issues that you care about and select two or three opportunities for the year where you can provide meaningful assistance. Lastly, find opportunities where you can partner with outside counsel, nonprofit organizations and colleagues at your company.