DWT partner Mark Hutcheson has helped secure nearly $20 million for civil legal aid for those with nowhere to turn.
Since the late 1980s, labor and employment attorney Mark Hutcheson, a partner in DWT’s Seattle office, has been championing Washington state’s nationally recognized civil legal-aid network, which works to ensure that justice remains a basic civil right and not an entitlement for the privileged few.
Civil legal-aid services evolved in the U.S. in an effort to ensure that poverty is not an insurmountable barrier to justice. Free legal aid can mean the difference between shelter and homelessness, productive work and unemployment, food on the table and hunger, or economic stability and bankruptcy for vulnerable families and individuals.
Mark Hutcheson became involved with civil legal aid in the 1980s when he was retained as labor counsel for Washington state’s then-largest legal-aid services program, Evergreen Legal Services.
Soon after Mark became involved, legal aid began experiencing a series of setbacks including funding cuts and increasing restrictions on public funding that limited the kinds of clients legal aid programs could represent. Mark asked how he could be of service and was undaunted when the response was, “help start a charitable fundraising effort.”
Creating LAW Fund
Mark and two other leaders in the private bar immediately got to work to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, Legal Aid for Washington Fund (LAW Fund), to raise charitable contributions. Mark personally raised the seed money of $25,000 to get LAW Fund off the ground and enlisted the assistance of Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys to help with its incorporation.
Washington’s civil legal aid system is somewhat unique in its collaborative structure. Twenty-five legal aid programs work closely together and play complementary roles. Certain programs provide client intake, others serve large numbers of individuals, some work with special populations, and others focus on systemic advocacy. Collectively each year these programs help almost 50,000 vulnerable families and individuals.
Mark and his peers saw the benefit of a similarly collaborative approach to fundraising. They saw that a unified fundraising effort for the state’s legal aid programs would reduce competition between organizations for the same donor dollars, free up programs to focus their efforts on serving clients, and with consistent identity and messages create greater awareness for legal aid and attract more supporters.
Consequently, Mark and other leaders from the bar and bench helped transform LAW Fund over the past 10 years into the Washington state legal community’s fundraising effort for all 25 legal aid programs. LAW Fund, through its collaborative Campaign for Equal Justice annual fund drive last year, raised $1.38 million for legal aid operating support and achieved 28 percent participation from the state’s lawyers and judges. Prior to collaboration, annual fund revenue for legal aid was approximately $650,000 a year, and annual legal community participation in our fundraising efforts was just 4 percent.
Preserving Aid During the Recession and Beyond
The current economy has underscored the fact that funding insecurity is still civil legal aid’s greatest challenge. Despite the efforts of leadership, generous annual fund supporters, dedicated legal aid staff, pro bono attorneys, and programmatic efficiency, historically inadequate and inconsistent public funding has resulted in legal aid being able to meet the urgent civil legal needs of less than 20 percent of the families and individuals in need.
Mark Hutcheson once again is at the forefront providing a solution. In addition to securing robust individual and law-firm contributions during this difficult time, LAW Fund also secured a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Mark played a primary role by heading up the team visiting Bill Gates, Sr., at the Foundation and personally making the successful request during that meeting.
Mark and other leaders, including J. David Andrews of Perkins Coie LLP, now are working on securing a permanent funding solution for legal aid by creating the Endowment for Equal Justice.
President of the Endowment for Equal Justice
The Endowment for Equal Justice is the complementary collaborative effort to LAW Fund’s Campaign for Equal Justice. Whereas the Campaign for Equal Justice provides ongoing operating support to legal aid serving vulnerable families and individuals, the Endowment for Equal Justice will ensure that legal aid will be available in perpetuity.
Mark has been the president of the Endowment for Equal Justice since 2009 and is raising major and planned gift contributions for the Endowment. The first fundraising milestone he and his fellow board members are striving to achieve is to raise $10 million by the end of 2012, and they have decided not to spend any interest income off the Endowment until they reach that point. In this way, they are growing the Endowment as quickly as possible, and will be providing a meaningful level of support of at least approximately $500,000 for Washington’s legal aid programs each year once that threshold is met.
Today the Endowment for Equal Justice stands at $5.6 million and is one of the largest endowments for civil legal aid in the country. Mark and the Endowment’s board of directors won’t stop once they reach $10 million, however. They have set an intermediate goal of $200 million, and an eventual goal of $500 million, to secure the financial independence for civil legal aid programs in our state.
“Mark is a natural leader who is able to bring out the best in everybody,” says David Andrews of Perkins Coie. “There is no doubt that under Mark’s leadership the Endowment will reach its goals.”
The Role of Davis Wright Tremaine
This story would not be complete without the acknowledgement of Davis Wright Tremaine and the culture of civic leadership, philanthropy, and engagement it has nurtured and encouraged among its ranks. DWT has provided critical support for civil legal aid through its strong commitment to pro bono service, annual leadership giving to the Campaign for Equal Justice, event sponsorship, in-kind support through hosting board meetings, designing collateral materials, and supporting leaders like Mark in their legal aid efforts.
The Seattle office has several civil legal-aid leaders serving alongside Mark, including new Legal Services Corporation Trustee Harry Korrell; LAW Fund Board Member Susan Duffy ; Julie Orr, DWT’s pro bono coordinator; LaVerne Woods, who has provided essential counsel over the years including incorporation of the Endowment for Equal Justice; King County Bar Foundation Past President Steve Ellis; former Legal Foundation of Washington trustee, past chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, and WSBA President-Elect Michele Radosevich; paralegals Mieko Beyeler and Patrick Watts; legal secretaries Margaret Sinnott and Diane Mehlman-Semler; senior marketing manager Barrie Handy; graphic designer Sara Psachos; and many others.
The legal aid community is indebted to Mark, DWT, and the scores of attorneys and staff for countless investments which have made civil legal aid more secure and able to provide assistance to so many thousands more. You have raised the bar for law firms nationwide.