The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Public Interest

August 4, 2014

Video: WDPB – Bill Lienhard, Volunteers of Legal Service

Many attorneys remember their first time representing a client in court and how intimidating it was. Now imagine how intimidating it must be for clients who are forced to represent themselves without proper training and guidance. This week, we hear from Executive Director of Volunteers of Legal Service Bill Lienhard as he explains his personal experience as a new attorney and the importance of pro bono.

June 2, 2014

Video: WDPB – Garth Meintjes, International Senior Lawyers Project

There are so many great reasons to do pro bono! This week, we hear from Garth Meintjes, executive director, International Senior Lawyers Project as he shares what he believes is the most important reason to do pro bono.

May 23, 2014

Brown v. Board of Education and the Future of Civil Rights

On May 17, 1954, America reached a milestone in its fight for justice and equality when the Supreme Court released its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The Court reached a unanimous decision that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine and outlawed segregation in public schools. For the millions of African-American children and parents forced to deal with the consequences of this institutionalized discrimination, the ruling represented a turning point in their fight for basic civil rights and freedom.

Sixty years later, Brown v. Board still impels many to fight all forms of discrimination and protect the civil rights of marginalized groups. Today, individuals and organizations advocate for the rights of the LGBT community, immigrants, and other underrepresented persons. Pro bono attorneys have been at the forefront of many of these issues, using their unique skills to ensure that every individual has freedom from discrimination.

Attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison*† followed the precedent set by Brown v. Board and took their case for same-sex marriage rights before the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. They joined attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court ruled that DOMA violates equal protection by denying married same-sex couples recognition under federal law, and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married same-sex couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections.

Covington & Burling*† attorneys have also dedicated a significant portion of their pro bono work to civil rights, particularly focusing on the issue of racial profiling. Covington pro bono lawyers devoted numerous hours and resources to proving that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona racially profiled Latinos and illegally detained minorities. In New York City, they convinced a New York federal judge to order changes to the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies after finding they disproportionately discriminated against Hispanics and African-Americans.

Of course, much work still needs to be done before the individual freedoms of every person are guaranteed, even in the area of school segregation. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice continues to actively enforce and monitor nearly 200 desegregation cases where school districts have not yet fulfilled their legal obligation to eliminate segregation. Many groups are still fighting for equality, and it is essential for every citizen to advocate for tolerance. As President Barack Obama stated on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, “Let us march together, meet our obligations to one another, and remember that progress has never come easily, but even in the face of impossible odds, those who love their country can change it.”

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

May 21, 2014

2014 Pro Bono Marketplace of Ideas: Global

The 2014 PBI Annual Conference featured three fast-paced “Marketplace of Ideas” sessions, including one dedicated to global pro bono projects. During these sessions, participants shared experiences and attendees learned about new opportunities, offerings, and other global pro bono developments.

The PBEye is pleased to share these ideas with the hope that they may serve to guide and inspire others to think creatively, strategically, and collaboratively about future pro bono projects. A few of the projects featured include:

Submissions to U.N. on Behalf of Nonprofits

Dianne Heins of Faegre Baker Daniels*† discussed her firm’s work in bringing international attention to human rights issues through submissions of human rights reports at the U.N. The goal is to expand the capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to advocate at the U.N. on these issues.

Faegre works with civil society groups to help prepare and submit a stakeholders report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. This report informs a dialogue in which Council members question the country’s representatives on their human rights record.

In addition, Faegre recently submitted three reports on Cameroon in connection with its review under The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

International Legal Network

Anne-Françoise Meeùs discussed her role as coordinator of the International Legal Network (ILN) of Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF). ASF has changed its focus from direct pro bono representation of individual clients in Africa to capacity-building of local NGOs so they can provide quality legal services to serve local needs. ILN projects involve lawyers in larger ongoing ASF projects. It’s not just a case of participating in a one-time training but rather a training event that continues through a larger project financed by institutional donors such as UKAID, USAID, or EU.

Genocide Prevention and Holocaust-Looted Art

Owen Pell of White & Case*† discussed several pro bono projects he has been working on in genocide prevention and Holocaust-looted property, particularly art. Pell described the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), the main organization recognized by the U.N. for genocide prevention.

Pell noted that Holocaust looting, including Holocaust-looted art, is an area where pro bono lawyers can make a big difference. His work has included proposals for title-clearing and a dispute resolution entity to address claims relating to Holocaust-looted art.


Look out for more information on other innovative pro bono projects featured during our Marketplace of Ideas session in the May edition of The Pro Bono Wire! We look forward to learning more and sharing other replicable ideas and projects at the 2015 PBI Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 4-6. We invite those wishing to serve as presenters to submit brief proposals in advance describing their initiatives to ensure adequate planning and capacity. Please send submissions to Law Firm Pro Bono Project Director Tammy Taylor (due to time limitations, we may not be able to accept all proposals).

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

May 9, 2014

Webinar Recap: Human Trafficking

Human TraffickingLast week, PBI hosted the first in our “Best of the 2014 PBI Annual Conference” series of webinars “Pro Bono in Practice: Human Trafficking.” The panel consisted of Patrick Rickerfor, global pro bono manager at White & Case LLP*†; Hilary Axam, director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, U.S. Department of Justice; Jeanne Cohn-Connor, partner at Kirkland & Ellis*†; and Martina Vandenberg, president and founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center.

Setting the framework for the discussion, Axam noted that “trafficking” is a misnomer, as it does not require “movement.” Trafficking requires coercion, forcing a victim to engage in activities such as commercial sex work or forced labor. The coercion can often be psychological rather than physical and not necessarily involve the “chains and shackles” portrayals of Hollywood movies.

According to Axam and Vandenberg, pro bono counsel play a critical role in combating human trafficking because it is only when victims feel safe and ready to come forward to law enforcement that prosecution can take place. But victims often have other needs, including a “buffet” of civil legal needs, which must be addressed before prosecution is pursued. This is where the private bar can play a uniquely important role. For example, victims may need immigration assistance or estate planning to ensure the flow of money to their children should something happen to them before they feel comfortable seeking assistance.

Rickerfor highlighted the tremendous attorney interest his firm tapped into when it began working on human trafficking. The firm has had approximately 300 of its attorneys working on a variety of human trafficking projects, including creation of a global trafficking database. Rickerfor emphasized that this subject represents an opportunity for lawyers within a firm to collaborate from their offices around the world as well as include transactional attorneys.

Vandenberg discussed how pro bono assistance in this quest for justice can be emotionally rewarding for attorneys because, as she put it, it is moving to watch a client walk off the witness stand as if they have “grown two feet” after telling the judge their story. Vandenberg’s organization provides firms or legal departments with free CLE training in human trafficking during a firm or department-provided lunch.

Cohn-Connor echoed the point that there are a variety of ways to participate and that one need not be a litigator. Types of work in this area include legislative advocacy, a 50 state survey or direct representation of victims. Sources of opportunities for Cohn-Connor’s firm included Sanctuary for Families, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Legal Momentum, and the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project.

Vandenberg’s closing remarks emphasized what a remarkable time this is to work on trafficking given the interest in this issue by the federal government.

Missed it? Don’t worry, the program is available on-demand. In-house participants should contact CPBO Project Assistant Eric Florenz for registration information. Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member law firms should contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Eva Richardson for the promotional code to register. CLE credit is also available for this program in many states.

denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project


March 13, 2014

Video: WDPB – Annie Pineda, The Bronx Defenders

Pro bono gives lawyers an opportunity to think creatively and use problem-solving skills that they may not use in their everyday line of work. This week, we hear from Annie Pineda, pro bono attorney at The Bronx Defenders, as she explains why doing pro bono can be an eye-opening experience.

September 3, 2013

Video: WDPB – David Stern, Equal Justice Works

Pro bono can be very rewarding and powerful for lawyers. This week we hear from David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works on why instilling certain values in young lawyers is so important.

June 24, 2013

Video: WDPB – Margaret Middleton, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center

Partnerships formed between public interest groups and law firms can be very beneficial to pro bono clients. This week we hear from Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center as she explains the importance of the legal community taking on pro bono projects together.

April 23, 2013

Pro Bono Assistance for Young Immigrants

When President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June 2012, undocumented immigrants were given the opportunity to step out of the shadows and finally pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and teachers in the U.S. The program gives a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants who meet a variety of eligibility requirements, including those who came to the U.S. before age 16 and are in school, high school graduates, or military veterans. Potential participants also need to be under the age of 31 and have lived in the U.S. for five years. An estimated 1.7 million people are eligible for the program and as of January 154,404 have been granted deferred action.

The large demand for legal advice for those seeking a reprieve has led lawyers around the country to gather and provide pro bono assistance to the qualifying immigrants. In Illinois, the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) holds weekly clinics to meet the needs of the estimated 75,000 youth between the ages of 16 to 30 in Illinois eligible for the DACA program. Attorneys from Exelon Corporation** partnered with Dentons*† (formerly SNR Denton) to help staff these clinics. The legal department at United Airlines and the Chicago chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel also volunteer at these clinics. They work directly with clients to fill out the 20-page application for deferred action and help them find document evidence to prove their eligibility.

Volunteer lawyers from Latham & Watkins LLP*† have focused their efforts on meeting with young undocumented immigrants in San Diego and determining their eligibility for the DACA program. These meetings have been invaluable for Latham lawyers, as they have underscored the importance of equal access to justice to all members of society, including those living in the shadows.

Law students have also recognized the necessity of providing quality pro bono legal services to young, undocumented immigrants. Professors and students at the University of Texas School of Law created a partnership between the Law School’s Pro Bono Program and the Immigration Clinic in order to hold legal clinics for undocumented immigrants. The clinics, held in the Austin area, assist qualifying attendees in completing and filing applications for the program. The astounding success of these clinics has led the law school to partner with organizations in the Rio Grande Valley to serve young immigrants in the border region.

While immigration law is a new venture for many attorneys, they have quickly risen to the occasion and are well aware of what is at stake for many of the young men and women they are helping. As Ben Weinberg, pro bono partner at Dentons who volunteers with NIJC, stated:  “These are people who are underground, coming out and saying we feel so strongly about working and being productive members of society that we’re going to shine a light on ourselves to the federal government that has the power to send them far away.”

Immigration will continue to be a hot button issue as Congress works to find a cohesive solution to assist all undocumented immigrants. To learn about immigration-related pro bono opportunities and developments, contact Tammy Taylor or Eve Runyon.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

November 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Attorneys, Advocates, and Law Students Collaborate with Appleseed to Reimagine U.S. Immigration Courts

By Betsy Cavendish, Appleseed, and Malcolm Rich and Katy Welter, Chicago Appleseed

Collaborating across firms, disciplines, and cities, a team of attorneys, advocates, and law students evaluated the federal Immigration Court system and recently released its findings in “Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line:  Transformative Change for the Immigration Justice System.”  The report is the product of a model approach to pro bono advocacy efforts, and work to implement its reforms has already begun. 

“Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line” grades the U.S. Immigration Court system’s response to recommendations from the team’s 2009 “Assembly Line Injustice” report. Pro bono attorney teams from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP*† and Latham & Watkins LLP*† partnered with Appleseed’s flagship office and affiliate Chicago Appleseed on both investigations. The 2009 report detailed a number of failings in the Immigration Court process, and true to the Appleseed model, proposed realistic, achievable recommendations for reform.

Soon after the 2009 report’s release, its lead author, Steven Schulman, pro bono partner at Akin Gump, began planning a follow-up as part of its outreach to persuade Obama administration officials to adopt policies in line with the recommendations.  The report gave tough grades – no A’s, lots of C’s, and even an F – but Schulman complimented the administration both on achieving some progress and being open with pro bono counsel:

“The cooperation and [openness] from the administration was really exemplary. Especially the Executive Office for Immigration Review, but the Department of Homeland Security, too, was more open than in the past.”

Both Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed are dedicated to achieving upstream, systemic changes to make our justice system fair to all. Pro bono lawyers contributed nearly all of the research. Latham & Watkins dedicated more than 900 hours over the past year, and this year alone, Akin Gump’s lawyers have devoted nearly 400 pro bono hours. A member of the Appleseed Board of Directors and an immigration law expert, Schulman was also the lead author of the most recent report.

The project was an ideal pro bono opportunity for both firms.  Deadlines were somewhat flexible, making the large project manageable internally, and it was inspiring to a number of volunteers to be able to work on a project that could impact tens to hundreds of thousands of cases.

“Many of our attorneys work on immigration cases.  It’s rewarding to take the collective wisdom – as well as frustration – of the firm’s attorneys and our allies and translate it into calls for systemic reforms,” Schulman said.  “Akin Gump also has a robust government affairs practice.  It’s great to use our expertise in government operations for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.”

Latham & Watkins Associate Matthew Cronin remarked:

The Appleseed project allowed junior attorneys at the firms to get a lot of substantive experience in court proceedings and to look at the law from a different perspective. Attorneys normally analyze the law through the lens of litigation.   With Appleseed, we look at what the policy should be, rather than just the precedent and rules of evidence.  It is a different type of advocacy that focuses on systemic rather than individual considerations.  Given political and economic realities, we proposed feasible changes to enhance the justice, efficiency, and legitimacy of the immigration courts. 

The project provided leadership opportunities for Cronin and one-of-a-kind experiences for a group of law students as well.  Cronin coordinated with George Washington University Law School Dean of Public Interest and Public Service Law David Johnson to lead a short-term legal clinic specifically for this project. As part of the clinic, GW Law students conducted dozens of court observations, which provided the researchers with perspective on the current system and made a powerful contribution to the report.

The team is already celebrating major policy changes recommended in both the 2009 and 2012 efforts.  Less than one month after the 2012 report release, the Department of Homeland Security announced a policy lifting the threat of deportation for two years for certain young immigrants. The Appleseed team applauded the change and raised the grade on one section of the report.  The team will focus on local and efficient implementation of such policies as it accelerates its advocacy phase. However, both Schulman and Cronin noted that federal policy promises aren’t always implemented locally in the intended way or time frame.

Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed both hold as a core belief that civically-engaged pro bono lawyers play a powerful watchdog function and can help bridge the gap between policy and practice.