Brad Smith: KIND Announcement

Brad Smith, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Microsoft Corp.
Launch Announcement of Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)
Grand Hyatt, Washington DC
Oct. 17, 2008

BRAD SMITH: So, I thought I would start just by giving you a little bit of background first about what KIND is, second about the journey that has brought a number of us together, and third, to talk a little bit about why we’re so passionate about it and its future.

The purpose of KIND, in short, is to ensure that unaccompanied children, minors under the age of 18, who have been separated from their families, get legal representation as they go through U.S. immigration proceedings.

Every year there are over 8,000 children in the United States who are in that situation. Perhaps they were separated from their family members before they ever reached our country. In other cases they were separated by events after they arrived.

In every instance they’re facing an immigration proceeding, they need to go before an immigration judge, they in many instances do not come from an English speaking background and they need a lawyer.

And yet today across the country every year more than half of these kids get no legal representation at all.

So many of us have spent our working careers closely related to legal proceedings — we’re lawyers or we work with legal services and the like — and yet I think as familiar as we become over time with what it takes to be successful before any kind of judge, we can also deeply appreciate how challenging that is for someone who’s not yet an adult, who’s never experienced anything like this before, who has no idea what the legal rules are, and may not even speak the same language, literally, that the judge and the government attorney is speaking.

A variety of roads, if you will, have brought us together here to forge the partnership that we’re unveiling today. One path is the path that those of us at Microsoft have traveled. We’re a company of immigrants, if you will. In some ways we’re a company of immigrants in the same way we’re a country of immigrants. We virtually all came from somewhere else.

Microsoft is actually a company of immigrants more so than most institutions. We have about 40,000 employees in the United States, and roughly a third of them come from some other country. They come, in fact, from over 140 other countries. In Washington State, for example, we have 12,000 employees who have come from elsewhere, and those 12,000 employees have 15,000 dependents: spouses, children, others.

And as a company we’ve long had one of the country’s leading corporate immigration legal groups, a group that is responsible for ensuring every day that those 27,000 individuals can stay in the United States on a lawful basis.

About six years ago, we sat down in the Seattle area, and we thought it was time for us to take a step to get more involved in pro bono work. A number of us at the company had started our legal careers here in Washington, DC, and as you all know, I think there is no place in the country where pro bono work has deeper roots or broader branches than here in metropolitan Washington.

And perhaps in part because of that background that a number of us shared, we wanted to get our company more focused and more organized and more committed so that our lawyers — there are now 450 lawyers who work at Microsoft around the world — could do more pro bono work.

One of the early questions we asked ourselves is where we should focus our energy, and in part reflecting the international background of our employees, we decided to focus on providing legal representation for immigrants, especially refugees facing asylum issues but immigrants more broadly.

It’s also something that had come out of the company’s partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an organization that has done so many important things since the close of the Second World War.

When there was the Bosnian refugee crisis in the late 1990s, some of our employees traveled from our European headquarters in Paris to UNHCR’s headquarters in Geneva and asked what we could do to help, and it was out of that first conversation that there emerged a technical partnership to use technology tools to provide assistance to refugees and refugee camps first in Bosnia and subsequently around the world, and there also emerged from that a much broader based corporate partnership program that enlists companies around the world in working with UNHCR on refugee issues.

When we got involved in our own pro bono work in the Seattle area in 2002, we knew there was a lot that we didn’t know, and we knew that there was little that we could accomplish if we worked by ourselves.

So, we formed a partnership with law firms in the Seattle area, with the American Bar Association, with local non-governmental groups, and we launched a new program called Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice. The group hired a fulltime attorney and a paralegal who would provide training to pro bono attorneys who would screen cases, provide support, and we started to take cases. And we started to win cases. But more importantly, we saw a new slice of the issues, the daily challenges confronting an important group of people.

About two years ago, in 2006, there was an event, as there is most summers, to say thank you to all of the volunteers in the Seattle area. And interestingly, someone from a Lutheran services group in Southern California came up to recognize the work that was going on, because they said that in the entire country at that time Washington State was the only state in the country where every unaccompanied minor going through an immigration proceeding was, in fact, getting legal representation.

I will admit to some degree we were surprised. We were excited by what we were doing, we were proud of some of the steps that we had taken; we had no idea that elsewhere there was such a significant number of kids that were going unrepresented.

So, in the fall of 2006, literally two years ago, we started to ask ourselves a question: What would it take to get legal representation for every unaccompanied minor in the country going through the immigration process?

I called on Lydia Tamez, who had been so involved on Microsoft’s behalf as our chief immigration lawyer, and then so much of the moving spirit behind VAIJ; Chris Nugent at Holland & Knight, who had been doing work in this field; got some others together. And, of course, the first question we asked was, how many kids are there who face this situation every year? And the most interesting thing at first was that no one knew.

And when you think about it, one of the great things about being a lawyer is that we handle one case at a time, we work with one client at a time, we focus on one person at a time, but this also raised anew the broader question: How do we seek to solve this problem from a national perspective and not just keep making a difference to individuals on a case by case basis?

Well, coming from a business background, we decided that what we needed to do was go out and do some real business consulting work. Lydia and Chris interviewed a number of business consulting firms before settling on one in Connecticut, and they did a lot of great work two years ago to go survey this country as a whole.

What they found was that there were over 8,000 kids in the country who had been separated from their families who had this type of need for representation. They found that over half of them today do not get legal representation. We got a sense of roughly speaking where the kids are in terms of different cities and parts of the country. And we started to build a business case, a model, if you will, to try to fill that gap.

They looked at the average number of hours it would take to meet the needs of each additional child; on average 50 hours per case.

They estimated the economic value. We did a study to determine to what degree we thought this could be filled through pro bono time, and to what degree it would need to rely on paid staff in cities much as we do in terms of our coordinators in Seattle.

There were some big numbers. It was clear that it would take a big effort, it would be a big goal, but a year and a half ago, we said we were going to see what we could do. We knew that we weren’t alone, there were many other groups across the country that were doing great work in this area, major pro bono groups here in Washington, in Los Angeles, in New York, across the country, but we knew that if we could bring ourselves together and add capacity, there might indeed be a way to meet the remaining needs.

About 13 months ago, a couple of us from Microsoft sat down with Angelina Jolie in New York. Angelina for years had been focused on the issues of refugees. She’s been a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She personally has donated her time, her energy and her money to important legal work to provide representation for refugees.

We sent her our 75-page, single-spaced document that had our business case and our model, and we sat down for breakfast and we talked about it. And we said to her that if we could partner, we thought that would take a first step towards trying to meet these needs more broadly.

She was interested, she was enthusiastic, and we left the first meeting in New York last year with a determination to do more work to see what it would take to put this together.

It’s taken us 13 months to get from that point to this point, and that journey over the last year has already involved many of you in this room.

One of the things that we decided was that we wanted to build a new model, if you will, for pro bono work, not a model that was writing on a blank slate of paper, by any means, but rather a model that would seek to connect the dots and bring people together in new ways so that we could create new synergies and really grow the capacity of pro bono work.

We built a lot on what we had learned in Washington State, a lot on what the Pro Bono Institute has championed here in Washington for a number of years. We decided that if this was going to succeed, it was going to need to be a partnership that would bring together corporate legal departments and companies, pro bono lawyers at law firms, non-governmental organizations that are already focused on doing this work, foundations who we hoped would provide financial support, and the voice of someone like Angelina Jolie, who could help raise visibility about these issues and what they really mean.

The response has been overwhelming, and it’s great to see some of that reflected in the energy in this room. It has been amazing to see people come forward in recent months.

As we launch this effort today, we do so with commitments from 26 law firms, law firms that together with the support of Microsoft, Merck, News Corporation – and we hope many additional corporate legal departments will add more and more support as the months unfold.

Already we have commitments for 13,000 hours of pro bono work per year. That is a very important step in our meeting these needs.

Already we have financial support for more than US$2 million per year to help put in place a small headquarters here in Washington, DC, and pro bono coordinators in major cities across the country.

We’ve received enthusiastic support from many of the nonprofit groups, the non-governmental organizations that have been focused on this already. We’ve gone to them and said, let us work together. Our goal isn’t to create a new organization but to put a pro bono coordinator in your office, affiliated with you, so that instead of doing 50 cases a year, you can do 150, and we’ll grow capacity in that way.

We therefore reach a point where we have today a huge amount of optimism about what we think we can accomplish as we go forward.

We don’t yet know whether we’ll be able to meet our goal of providing representation for every single unaccompanied minor in the country, but we do know two things, that already we’re taking a very significant stride, probably the biggest step ever taken in adding legal representation for this population; and second, we understand better than ever just how critical the need is for this group.

People often ask, well, how did these kids come to be here, how did they become separated from their parents, from their family, and the truth is that the diversity of backgrounds from which they come, the diversity of circumstances that they face is as diverse as the world itself. In some cases kids have been fleeing a situation of violence where perhaps their parents were killed and they’ve literally been orphaned.

In some cases we’ve represented kids who were separated from their parents in flight. In Washington State we represented a 15-year old boy from North Korea who left the country in flight with his father, they got to China, but he was separated from his father in China, and yet he somehow found a way to make it first to Canada and then to the U.S. border.

In some cases we’ve represented kids who’ve been separated from their families in the confusion of crossing the border or in confusing circumstances after they got to the United States.

Our youngest client was a three-year-old girl, a three-year old who was separated from her aunts when they went from Mexico into the United States, and ultimately she was put in foster care in Washington State but needed a lawyer to represent her in the immigration proceeding.

We’ve learned a lot along the way. We’ve learned that a child that has a lawyer is eight times more likely to win a case, for example, in the political asylum arena than a child who is unrepresented.

We’ve learned that a child who has a lawyer in effect is given a voice, a voice to make their case, a voice to speak on their behalf, a voice to speak to them and guide them through what is obviously an enormously important and yet unbelievably challenging experience.

So, what we wanted to do this afternoon was share with you a video that we’ve created to help bring some of these stories to light, and then I’ll come back and I’ll introduce to you a couple of the other people who’ve been instrumental not only in getting us to where we are today, but where we want to go in the future.