Microsoft attorney recognized by White House for KIND pro bono work

For three years, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has been helping children by providing them with legal representation in immigration court.

Earlier this month

Earlier this month

For three years, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has been helping children by providing them with legal representation in immigration court.

And earlier this month, Brad Smith was honored by the White House for his work with KIND as founder and board of directors co-chair. The Microsoft Corp. executive vice president and general counsel was honored as part of the White House’s weekly Champions of Change initiative, which recognizes Americans who are making an impact in their communities in different fields each week. Smith was one of 16 attorneys honored as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative, which focuses on the importance of pro bono work.

Smith said KIND’s work focuses on children who have been separated from their families and are going through the immigration system.

“There are about 8,000 (children) a year who fall into this group (nationwide),” he said. “It’s amazingly varied. We’ve worked with kids from 50 countries.”

Smith explained that the actual work varies from case to case, but most of what they do involves establishing a child’s legal basis for being in the United States such as qualifying as a refugee.

KIND began in 2008 as a partnership between Redmond-based Microsoft and actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, who co-chairs the board with Smith. It started out with about 120 law firms and attorneys involved. That number has since expanded to 3,000. KIND is headquartered in Washington D.C. with an affiliate in Seattle as well as sites in Los Angeles, Houston, Baltimore, Boston, Newark, New York and an additional Washington D.C. location.

“It’s been exciting for those of us involved,” Smith said about the growth.

Both he and Executive Director Wendy Young said meeting and working with the attorneys — who volunteer their time and expertise to perform the pro bono work — is one of the things they enjoy the most about KIND. Young said being able to make a real difference in someone’s life like they do at KIND is the reason most attorneys go to law school.

Additionally, being able to make a difference in a child’s life is another aspect of the job she enjoys. Young said usually their clients have never had anyone they could trust, don’t speak English, are unfamiliar with the U.S. legal system and in many cases, have been traumatized in some way. Having someone in their corner goes a long way.

“It’s literally life altering,” Young said.

Smith agreed, saying one of his favorite things about KIND is the impact they have on children’s lives especially since sometimes it can mean the difference between life or death.

For example, Smith said they once worked with a 15-year-old boy from North Korea who entered the country via Canada after being separated from his father when they escaped to China. Smith said they were able to establish the boy as a refugee, but if they couldn’t, he would have had to return to North Korea where he most likely would have been persecuted.

It has been this type of work that has led Smith to be recognized by the White House.

“We were very excited,” Young said about Smith’s honor.

She said it was appropriate for Smith to be recognized because his passion and personal commitment to KIND and its cause is very obvious. Young added that Smith, the only one of the 16 who was not from a non-governmental organization (NGO) or university, also brings the Microsoft spirit of innovation and delivering the best possible product in order to help children.

Young, who has worked with immigration and refugee affairs for more than 20 years, said this was one of the reasons she became involved with KIND.

“I really saw it as a unique model for generating legal representation for unaccompanied children,” she said.

Despite the praise he has personally received, Smith said the Champion of Change honor is more of a reflection of the work KIND has done as an organization. He added that although he was the only individual from the private sector recognized, there are others who are also doing good work.

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