McCown & Evans Senior Associate Erin Elskes Recognized as 2019 Pro Bono Champion

Erin Elskes is a Senior Associate at McCown & Evans LLP and has been practicing immigration law since 2009. As a part of her practice, Erin has provided pro bono representation for over 40 underprivileged clients through nonprofit organization Bay Area Legal Aid and continues as an active pro bono volunteer. Erin’s pro bono work focuses on serving undocumented victims of crime and their families in U visa, I-929, and Adjustment of Status matters.

In recognition for her dedicated work, Erin was recognized by the Northern California Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) as Northern California’s 2019 Pro Bono Champion. According to the award:

Erin Elskes of McCown and Evans has undertaken pro bono representation for 32 clients for Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) since 2015 and continues as an active volunteer. Erin enjoys working on pro bono cases and tries to take as many as she can. She is currently working on a U AOS for a spouse who recently had his I-929 approved. Andrea Del Pan, BayLegal’s Pro Bono Director says, “Erin’s expertise in immigration law has increased BayLegal’s capacity to provide comprehensive legal services to immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our clients and their children. She has helped 32 individuals in their applications for immigration relief, including I-929s, I-918/I-918A and EAD applications. Erin has secured lawful permanent residency for ten clients to date, paving the way for greater economic opportunities and the right to live free from fear of family separation and deportation for our valued members of our community.”

Erin was also recently featured in an interview on AILA’s national website for her valuable work:

1.  How did you get started with pro bono work?

I began my career as an attorney with the intention of helping others. After law school, I volunteered with the Immigration Institute of the Bay Area in Oakland, CA, and later worked as an attorney at Canal Alliance, a wonderful community non-profit located in San Rafael, CA. My experience with U visas at these organizations really opened my eyes to the struggles, trauma, and stigmatization that undocumented immigrants face, which is often magnified for those who have been victims of crime. As I transitioned out of the non-profit setting, I promised myself I would not forget those in need and have dedicated part of my practice to pro bono work ever since.

2. Why do you do pro bono? What do you personally get out of doing pro bono work?

I believe that if a person has the skill and knowledge to serve others, they need to serve even if the gesture is small. In my case, I have the privilege of having a legal education and a position at an outstanding firm that supports social justice and pro bono work. I do pro bono because I enjoy seeing the hope in my clients’ eyes when they glimpse a light at the end of the tunnel and because I believe it is my civic, moral, and karmic duty to help where I can.

3. What has been your most rewarding experience and your most challenging experience doing this work?

Two of my most rewarding pro bono experiences have been reuniting a woman with her ailing mother in Mexico after being separated for over 13 years and telling a little boy who had been mercilessly bullied for being “illegal” that he now had lawful status. It’s humbling to impact someone’s life in such a significant way. The most challenging aspect for me with U visas is on an emotional/empathetic level, in seeing the pain it causes clients to re-tell their stories and open up about very personal, and many times horrific, experiences in their lives. Although my discomfort is miniscule compared to their own, it’s hard sometimes not to internalize their trauma and take home that sense of helplessness, frustration, and injustice.

4. What is a pro bono project you are currently working on that you are most passionate about?

I’m currently working on finalizing a U visa matter for a family of four, which was recently approved after a 5-year wait. The special thing about this family is that I’ve taken on an almost social worker-like role for them over the years, outside my role as a pro bono attorney – I’ve helped schedule doctor appointments, assisted with applications for medical insurance and IDs, acted as a translator, mentored the kids on college admissions, contacted employers, and more. Needless to say, I have a close relationship with the family and it has been especially exciting getting their U visas approved.

5. Do you have advice for other attorneys interested in taking on pro bono matters?

To get started with pro bono work, I would first suggest contacting a local non-profit organization to see if they need assistance. Partnering with a non-profit is wonderful because they often have a steady supply of clients in need, in addition to training materials and a point person who can answer any questions you may have. I’ve had a wonderful experience partnering with Bay Area Legal Aid, which in turn makes me excited to take on more pro bono cases.