As a firm of trusted advisors with capabilities spanning virtually every industry and all areas of the law, Venable has long recognized the importance of providing quality representation to those who cannot afford an attorney. Our unparalleled legal knowledge and experience translate into a major funding priority for the Venable Foundation and its mission to give back and to better the communities where our clients and professionals work and live.
Human trafficking survivors are often arrested and convicted for criminal acts over which they had no control, and the resulting criminal records can be a barrier preventing them from being able to move forward with their lives in safety.
The Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP) provides holistic legal services to survivors and those vulnerable to exploitation to help reduce the collateral consequences of having a criminal record. A partnership between Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) and the University of Baltimore School of Law, HTPP can help expunge or shield criminal convictions and ask courts to vacate, or set aside, prostitution and other trafficking-related convictions.
Funding from the Venable Foundation has helped MVLS provide direct legal services, community education, and targeted outreach to human trafficking survivors for whom legal representation can be instrumental in eliminating the barriers preventing them from moving forward with their lives.
The HTPP can also help clients access free legal assistance with divorce, custody, consumer debt and bankruptcy, name and gender marker changes, landlord and tenant disputes, tax controversies, and other civil legal issues.
"If you have been exploited, if you have been involved in a criminal justice system, and if you have been traumatized in trusting it," explained Heather Heiman, manager of the HTPP, "reaching out for legal help and engaging with the courts again for something like criminal record relief to ask that your record be expunged can be really, really challenging."
When survivors of trafficking are arrested, they are often too frightened to talk to police about their experience, but legal issues resulting from repeated law enforcement encounters put survivors at a higher risk of future exploitation. Heiman said she has noticed that criminal records can become an afterthought for survivors of trafficking, trauma, or past violence, because service providers prioritize other emergency and mental health needs. This is problematic, as criminal records make finding a job and a safe and stable place to live much more difficult.
Venable attorneys have also advised MVLS on legislative policy and advocacy to help improve state laws and work for systemic change.
"Venable has been such an incredible partner for MVLS, as well as for this specific project, and we just appreciate the support," Heiman said. "It's really an incredible partnership, and we couldn't do it without firms and foundations like Venable."
Additional New Grantees from Around the Country
Inner City Law Center
The only provider of legal services on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, Inner City Law Center (ICLC) combats slum housing while developing strategies to end homelessness. General operating support from the Venable Foundation gave ICLC the flexibility to allocate funds where they were most needed, in preparation for a dramatic increase in the need for services due to the housing and homelessness crisis and economic impacts of the pandemic.
New York Legal Assistance Group
New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is a leading legal services organization combating economic, racial, and social injustices by advocating for people experiencing poverty or in crisis. Past Venable Foundation funding supported the organization's core initiatives. One of those, LegalHealth Veterans Initiative, operates nationally recognized legal clinics for patients of the Bronx and Manhattan VA Medical Centers (VAMCs), providing free civil legal services to veterans.
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley advances the rights of underrepresented individuals and families through legal services, strategic advocacy, and educational outreach. Funding from the Venable Foundation helped the organization successfully provide legal aid to over 10,000 low-income Silicon Valley residents, impacting more than 7,000 households, including immigrant children in detention and those with mental disabilities.
Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project
A national leader in appellate advocacy, the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) makes the law work for survivors of domestic violence by challenging unjust trial outcomes; advancing legal protections through pro bono advocacy; training lawyers, advocates, and judges on best practices; and spearheading litigation in the Supreme Court. Funding from the Venable Foundation has supported this critical work in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia.
Read Our 2021 Annual Report
This year, the Venable Foundation 2021 Annual Report highlighted education and youth engagement. Each Venable office awarded $100,000 in Impact Grants to bridge the achievement gap and help grantees bring students up to grade-level proficiency in math and literacy.
Visit Venable.com/Foundation to learn more about our funding priorities and application process.