Legal Freedom Fighter Series: Beth Halpern
We’ve seen it repeatedly throughout our history: When people’s rights are threatened, it’s the lawyers who step up to the plate. Some are true Freedom Fighters, and they deserve special recognition. That’s why each month, we will feature lawyers who are really making a difference.
Today, we are proud to feature Beth Halpern.
Beth Halpern is a partner with Hogan Lovells US LLP, and a member of the firm’s healthcare practice where she helps clients achieve coverage and reimbursement for innovative technologies. She’s also an active participant in the firm’s pro bono efforts. Her recent projects include working with the Tahirih Justice Center on its Forced Marriage Initiative to prevent child marriages in the United States. This effort led to enactment of new laws in Virginia and Texas prohibiting marriage of children under age 18 unless emancipated by a court. Beth continues to work with Tahirih on seeking similar laws in other states.
Beth is also a member of the Tahirih Justice Center’s D.C. Advisory Council. She served as co-chair of Tahirih’s 2017 Gala Committee, and her work contributed to Hogan Lovells being recognized as Firm of the Year by Tahirih in 2015. Beth’s other pro bono matters include working with the D.C. Appleseed Center on its long-running project to help end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the District of Columbia. The American Health Lawyers Association recognized Beth as a member of the Hogan Lovells team of Pro Bono Champions in 2013 for their work on this project. Beth also serves as one of the firm’s U.S. Community Investment Partners, overseeing the firm’s volunteer efforts.
Here’s the interview:
What inspired you to become a lawyer in the first place?
I was interested in American history and politics from a young age—my family visited a lot of historic sites on long road trips. Also, I studied government in college and public policy in graduate school because I wanted to understand how we solve the problems facing our country. After moving to Washington, I quickly realized that to solve a problem, it helps to know the rules and how to change them. I could do that more effectively as a lawyer. My main area of practice is health regulation, helping clients obtain Medicare coverage for new technologies. My firm’s commitment to pro bono also lets me work on other issues I care about, like helping women and girls escape violence and fulfill their potential.
You fight for anti-child marriage laws. Can you please explain your work a bit and why it’s still so important?
Since 2015, I have been working with the Tahirih Justice Center on its Forced Marriage Initiative. When Tahirih first came to us for help with this project, I couldn’t believe that child marriage still happened in this country. Sadly, it does, and contrary to stereotypes, it is not limited to immigrant communities or certain religions. I live in Virginia, where until we successfully advocated for a change in the law, there was no minimum age for marriage. Children as young as 13 have been married in recent years! We formed a team at Hogan Lovells, including attorneys in at least five offices as well as support staff, to address this problem from several angles. Our team prepared a 50-state report on underage marriage and exceptions, researched data on marriage licenses granted in 14 states, and helped draft Virginia’s new law, which raised the minimum age for marriage to 18 in Virginia (except in the case of 16-17 year old court-emancipated minors). We are continuing to work with Tahirih on legislation in other states.
What was your most memorable case?
My most memorable pro bono case was an asylum matter involving a young woman whose family threatened to kill her for violating religious customs. If she had returned to her home country, there would have been no legal protections available to her. Once she found out that she could obtain asylum in the U.S., she had to relive her abuse repeatedly as we prepared her case. At her interview with the immigration officer, she bravely told the story of her abuse and eloquently explained how living without fear was worth losing all of her friends and family at home. Our team of two associates and I had great support from the Tahirih Justice Center, and our client is now living free in the U.S.
In terms of fighting on behalf of children, what challenges do people face today?
There are so many challenges facing children in the U.S. and abroad that it can be difficult to know where to start. If you focus on one problem, you will face “What about . . .?” criticism. In other words, please will ask, “What about problem X or Y, and why aren’t you trying to fix that instead of this?” People may feel overwhelmed by the number of problems rather than picking one where they can help and taking baby steps to address it.
You’ve had so many successes. Which one (or ones) stands out the most for you?
Taking the Virginia bill go from a concept to a law was a huge success for Tahirih and our team, but also helping the conversation about the issue of child marriage laws evolve from doubt to more widespread recognition is a big move forward.
If you could give one piece of advice to other lawyers across the country, what would you say?
You do not have to be a full time “Freedom Fighter” to make a big difference. Finding even small amounts of time to help others outside your usual workload can be very productive and rewarding. I know this can be difficult—lawyers are busy people and we have a lot of competing demands on our time—but the results of your efforts will be worth it, as will the psychological satisfaction from your work.
If an attorney wants to get involved in social justice, how can they get started?
First, know that you are not alone! Pick an issue that you care about and look for others doing work you admire on that issue and ask how you can help them.