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Pro Bono Attorneys: Getting Children off a Tightrope and onto Solid Ground

October 20, 2014

Spotlight on Skadden’s Gerald Richman

When you ask Gerald Richman why he volunteers as a pro bono attorney for Children’s Law Center, he is quick to talk about the vulnerable children who need someone in their corner.

“A lot of these families are walking on a tightrope,” he says.  “But when you take a case and can reach a successful resolution, you can see immediate benefits for someone who needs help, who doesn’t have a lot of advantages in life.”

As a seasoned attorney at the Skadden law firm, Richman spends most of his days advising corporate clients about energy regulation. But his pro bono work lets him get involved “in another side of life,” he says. Through his work with Children’s Law Center, Richman has helped many parents fight landlords who refused to fix dangerous housing conditions that threatened their children’s health.

His most recent case involved a mom with three young children, living in an apartment with leaking water coming through the ceiling, a broken toilet, mice and mold.

“The landlord was very unresponsive until an attorney got involved,” Richman said. “This is true in all my cases.”

It’s a story we see far too often. Through our partnerships with pediatricians across the city, Children’s Law Center meets hundreds of families each year whose children are suffering from health problems that can’t be solved by medicine alone. The reason? Apartments that are infested by rats, mold and cockroaches.

Though we are the largest non-profit legal provider in DC, many more children come to us than we can help. That’s why we turn to more than 500 top-notch attorneys each year from outside firms to take pro bono cases – attorneys like Gerald Richman.

In Richman’s most recent case, the mom came to her pediatrician’s office in a panic when her son fell through balcony bars outside of her apartment.  Fortunately, her son wasn’t seriously injured. But, it turns out that her daughter who came along was suffering from severe asthma. That’s when the pediatrician also learned of the mold and mice in the family’s apartment, which together with the sub-standard balcony painted a picture of an apartment that was putting the children’s health in danger.

The pediatrician turned to Children’s Law Center, and we turned to Skadden.

Once Richman got involved, he ordered an independent housing inspection, which verified all of the mom’s concerns. He then filed a complaint in court to get the items fixed. The once unresponsive landlord at long last got to work solving all the issues, something that Richman sees often.

“Nine times out of 10, if an attorney gets involved, the landlord suddenly has a strong incentive to fix the problem,” he said. “It changes the equation for them,” he said. It also changed the equation for the mom and her young children, who are now on the mend living in an apartment that no longer threatens their health and safety.

Richman has had similar results with his other pro bono cases. “I’ve had good luck with this,” he says.

By now, Richman is an old pro in housing court but that wasn’t always the case. “I feel more experienced now, but my first case, I didn’t know anything about this stuff,” he said. He talks about how the formal training provided by Children’s Law Center helped prepare him, and the support he’s gotten from our resources and mentors.

He emphasizes how valuable the mentorship has been. “That’s what’s been most helpful,” he said, “the opportunity to bounce ideas off of someone, to talk to someone.”

Richman also credits Skadden’s Children and Family Pro Bono Impact Project, a signature effort within their DC office to provide pro bono help on a large scale on issues including housing, custody, domestic violence and other matters. Skadden’s approach pairs attorneys to work on pro bono cases together, lightening the workload and creating an experienced pool of talented colleagues to turn to with questions.

In the end, Richman shares many reasons that pro bono work has been rewarding for him – and why more attorneys should volunteer their help.  “If you’re a junior person, these cases may be your best way to get ‘first-chair’ litigation experience,” he says. “And it’s a way to do something different, too, to try out different skills.”

But most of all, he says “it’s a good way to give back to the community, to help a family that doesn’t have a lot of advantages in life.”

And, a good way to help get a child off a tightrope and onto a better future.


To learn more about Children’s Law Center’s pro bono program, click on the Pro Bono link below or go to