Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
Sonnenschein (59)


At a Lavender Law Conference in September 2006, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal associate Claire Black heard about the work of Immigration Equality. The organization helps seek asylum for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals who face persecution in their home countries.

The Am Law Pro Bono 100After Black returned from the conference, she told New York partner Deborah Renner about the group’s work. Renner, who was then the chair of the New York office’s diversity committee, met with Immigration Equality’s executive director shortly thereafter and was impressed. In October 2006 Sonnenschein hosted a two-hour training session with the group and other New York law firms.

Sonnenschein took on its first asylum case in partnership with Immigration Equality in late 2006 on behalf of a young gay Jamaican woman who had been brutalized because of her sexuality. “It’s eye-opening to represent someone who has experienced physical abuse as a result of who they are,” Renner says. “It’s a moving, very difficult experience.”

Each case takes about 400 to 600 hours in lawyer time, she says. A large portion of the firm’s time is spent meeting with clients, learning their story, and developing a rapport. (In 2008 the firm dedicated 1,000 hours to Immigration Equality cases.) “We’re helping clients in developing a way to talk about issues that are not talked about in their home countries,” Renner says. “Giving them the ability to talk about their story is what makes or breaks a case.”

So far, lawyers in Sonnenschein’s New York and Phoenix offices have helped win asylum for three clients: the Jamaican woman in October 2007, a Jamaican man in December 2008, and a Saudi Arabian man in January 2009. “I remember after our first victory we were all ecstatic,” Renner says. “One young associate turned to me and said, ‘Now I know why I became a lawyer.’ “

—Ross Todd | July 1, 2009

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