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People & Culture

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3 ways the Zurich legal team is helping to build social equity
Nov 21, 2022

Afghan refugees, those seeking to clear criminal records and small business owners have found support at pro bono clinics with Zurich North America’s attorneys.

Afghan refugees, people struggling to overcome criminal records and small business owners are just some of the people who have benefited from the estimated 400 hours of pro bono service that Zurich attorneys and legal staff have performed so far in 2022.

The North American Pro Bono program, created by Chief Legal Officer Laura Lazarczyk, has been providing essential legal services free of charge for non-profit organizations and individuals of limited means for more than 10 years.

“We continually look to raise the bar for our pro bono participation,” said Kathy Malamis, Divisional Counsel for Life & Accident and Health at Zurich North America. “This aligns with our company’s commitment to social equity.”

Malamis, who is chair of the pro bono program, highlighted some of the newer volunteer efforts.

Assisting Afghan refugees

Recently the North America Legal Services Pro Bono Committee co-hosted an in-person asylum clinic for Afghan refugees at the Muslim Women’s Resource Center. This clinic was offered in collaboration with the global law firm DLA Piper and the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Since the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, about 2,500 Afghans have resettled in Illinois, where Zurich is based. Many live with worry over being deported and some are separated from family members. They need assistance navigating the process for asylum.

Working alongside interpreters, Zurich’s attorneys and legal staff assisted 10 individuals with completing and filing applications for asylum in the United States as well as “withholding of removal” forms (Form I-589).

“This was a great opportunity to help those who are seeking a safe and secure future in our country,” Malamis said.

The federal government is processing Afghan asylum applications on an expedited basis under Operation Allies Welcome, created by the Department of Homeland Security to support vulnerable Afghans, many of whom worked alongside the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

Helping with criminal records relief

Earlier this year, Zurich attorneys and legal staff hosted a criminal records relief clinic at Zurich’s headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, in collaboration with Legal Aid Chicago. Not all offenses are eligible for criminal records relief. The volunteers helped eligible individuals prepare petitions and court filings to have their criminal records sealed and expunged.

According to the Heartland Alliance, over 1,100 laws on the books in Illinois restrict access to employment, education, housing and more for people with criminal records. It is estimated that 3.3 million people, or 26% of Illinois’ 2020 population, have criminal records. Clearing criminal records by petitioning the court lifts a major barrier these individuals face in securing employment, housing, education and/or other services that enable them to be productive citizens.

Zurich volunteers will host a second clinic (this time virtual) in December.

Supporting minority and women entrepreneurs

This fall, Zurich attorneys provided legal support to small business owners who are minorities or women in collaboration with Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, The Association of Corporate Counsel Chicago and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The participating small business entrepreneurs were referred by the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation, the Women’s Business Development Center and Build Bronzeville. The host organizations gave brief presentations on intellectual property, labor and employment, contracts and business structure issues.

Studies have found that minority and women-owned businesses face higher hurdles to success such as less access to capital. The need to level the playing field is one reason Zurich has a supplier diversity program.

Other pro bono efforts

Zurich’s legal team regularly helps organizations including Equip for Equality, where volunteers staff a virtual helpdesk for parents and legal guardians with special education questions, and the Center for Disability and Elder Law. In September, Zurich attorneys and legal staff participated in a pro bono clinic at an assisted living facility to help low-income seniors and people with disabilities prepare powers of attorney and living wills. Zurich is also a co-sponsor of Legal Aid Chicago’s Uptown Clinic.

For Financial Institution Pro Bono Day in May, Zurich attorneys and legal staff participated in four service projects benefiting the National Homelessness Law Center, the Center for Financial Literacy, Just Deeds  and Equal Justice Works.

Because of its robust pro bono service, Zurich was named to the Public Interest Law Initiative’s Recognition Roster in 2021 and 2022. The team also received the Z Zurich Foundation Community Hero Award in 2021.