New Jersey's top 20 firms racked up 100,746 pro bono hours in 2011, breaking 100,000 for the second time but leaving intact last year's record of nearly 104,000 hours.
Still, the 2011 figure represents an impressive average of more than 33 hours for each of the 3,027 attorneys at the top 20 firms.
And the proportion of those who did 20 hours or more of pro bono went up in 2011, from 25.7 percent to 28 percent.
Leading the pack once again were the same firms that have held the top four spots since 2008: Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, Gibbons and McCarter & English, both in Newark, and Porzio Bromberg & Newman in Morristown.
The most significant change among them was that Gibbons -- fourth last year -- climbed back into second place, its highest showing since 2007. Its 200 lawyers recorded 11,040 hours, averaging more than 55 hours apiece and 80 of them -- 40 percent -- had 20 or more hours.
Among Gibbons' more notable achievements was an unprecedented ruling granting sanctions against the Central Intelligence Agency for destroying 92 videotapes of detainee interrogation sessions. Twelve tapes showed the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding of two Saudi Arabian men alleged to be part of al-Qaeda.
The sanctions were imposed in a long-running Freedom of Information Act suit, ACLU v. Department of Defense, 04-cv-4151.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2004 against the CIA, Department of Justice and other federal agencies on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and veterans' and physicians' groups, the suit has resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents.
Lawrence Lustberg, director of the firm's John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest and Constitutional Law, which does most of the firm's pro bono work, has been the lead lawyer on the case, assisted by a changing cast of Gibbons fellows.
"This case is one of the most gratifying that we've ever done at Gibbons because it is responsible for a great deal of what we know about the abuse and torture of detainees," says Lustberg.