With a $98,127 Pro Bono Transformation grant from The Florida Bar Foundation, Southern Legal Counsel has hired Samantha Howell as its first pro bono director and tasked her with integrating pro bono lawyers, law students, psychologists, social workers and other professionals into all aspects of SLC’s litigation and advocacy.
A member of the New York State Bar and the federal bar of the Southern District of New York, Howell most recently served as executive director of the NYS Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. She previously served as pro bono director at Prisoners’ Legal Services, a statewide organization based in Albany, N.Y., where she developed the nation’s only pro bono program tasked specifically with referring civil legal cases involving conditions of confinement for indigent New Yorkers.
“Samantha’s qualifications make her a perfect fit for this position,” said SLC Executive Director Jodi Siegel. “We’re grateful to receive this transformation grant from The Florida Bar Foundation, as we fully expect Samantha’s work to be just that – transformative to our organization and the clients we serve.”
Howell is an active member of the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals and has served on the New York State Bar Association’s President’s Committee on Access to Justice, the Pro Bono Coordinators Network, and the state board of the New York State Civil Liberties Union, among other organizations. She continues to serve on the board of a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides poverty simulations nationwide.
She is a 2010 graduate of Albany Law School, where she received the Edward M. Cameron, Jr. Memorial Prize for Public Interest Law for her work on revitalizing and redeveloping the school’s pro bono program.
In 2014, she received the Supervising Attorney award from Albany Law School for her work with law interns at Prisoners' Legal Services, and in 2017 she was recognized by the NYS Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers as their Public Citizen of the Year for her efforts to integrate social welfare students into civil legal service offices.
Howell regularly presents on a variety of topics, such as pro bono program development and growth, prisoners’ rights, the criminalization of poverty, and professional development.
At SLC, Howell will be responsible for enlisting volunteers in systems-focused litigation and advocacy on behalf of vulnerable Floridians with the most severe civil legal needs, beginning with the initial factual investigation and legal research phase and continuing through complex litigation.
"I am honored to be at SLC developing a program that will not only increase capacity for our staff, but that will significantly increase access to justice for indigent and marginalized Floridians,” Howell said. “I look forward to meeting and working with volunteers and supporters throughout the state to ensure that we achieve our goals of improving access to justice and the protection of civil rights."
Howell will work with a Guiding Coalition and other stakeholders to develop written pro bono policies and procedures to expand SLC’s ability to service clients through high-impact litigation, the UF Healthy Kids Medical Legal Partnership, and SLC projects in LGBTQ rights, homeless advocacy and other areas.
“Because SLC’s advocacy work is statewide, finding attorneys who are the right match for our clients, the venue, and our staff is very time consuming, typically taking up to six months to find the right partners,” Siegel said, adding that one goal of the new pro bono project is to reduce that time frame.
“The major task of formalizing and transforming our pro bono program is to form a conflict panel of bold law firms willing to partner with us on controversial cases that expand beyond typical conflicts in family law or landlord-tenant. We need volunteers who are skilled in trial and appellate work, as well as discrete substantive areas of law,” Siegel said.
SLC also needs volunteers who are willing and able to assist in multi-year litigation and to advance costs or donate fees toward litigation expenses.
“In return, these volunteers have the opportunity to join with us in overturning unjust laws, setting legal precedent, protecting civil and human rights, and defending the U.S. Constitution,” Siegel said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”