Each year, The National Law Journal recognizes the firms that have done the most to uphold the legal profession’s responsibility to ensure that people’s legal rights aren’t contingent on their ability to pay. It is a subjective process, and we unfortunately lack the space to recognize all of the firms we admire. This year, we honor firms engaged in struggles that took on particular resonance in 2008: voting rights, same-sex marriage, refuge for Iraqis who endangered their lives by working with U.S. forces, and reparations for the remaining victims of the Nazis’ “ghetto work” program.
There’s life among the ruins
Let the good times roll. That’s the counterintuitive conclusion we draw from our research for this year’s Pro Bono Awards. The towers of finance and industry are toppling, knocking over law firms on their way down. Yet the firms left standing still recognize that their futures depend in large measure on keeping young associates productive, happy and committed, and that pro bono might be a way to do that.
HOLLAND & KNIGHT, MAYER BROWN, PROSKAUER ROSE
Pending peace, refuge for Iraqis
Eric Blinderman, international legal counsel to Proskauer Rose, had gone to Iraq in March 2004 as an associate general counsel for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Later, he served as chief legal counsel and associate deputy to the Regime Crimes Liaison. In 2007, Blinderman’s firm officially became a part of The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Refugees, a nonprofit organization founded that year to help resettle Iraqis in danger because of their affiliation with the United States. Holland & Knight had already been collaborating with the project, and Mayer Brown signed on this year.
Old crime, new model of activist pro bono
When lawyers volunteered at a Los Angeles legal services agency to help Holocaust survivors complete applications for a German reparations fund, it was a good deed. But then the lawyers and the legal aid attorneys did something different. They created a national legal-assistance network that trained hundreds of volunteer attorneys to assist thousands of Holocaust survivors in 32 U.S. cities. Establishing the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network was not merely another good thing: It rewrote the pro bono playbook.
Full-court press for access to the ballot
Firms nationwide were inspired by the historic 2008 presidential election to devote pro bono time to protecting access to the voting booth. Lawyers went to court in several states on voter access issues, most frequently to prevent a voting reform law, the Help America Vote Act, from becoming a barrier to the ballot. The law required states to match voter rolls with another database, usually the registry of driver licenses, to create a more accurate list of voters
HOWARD RICE NEMEROVSKI
If at first you don’t succeed, keep going
Proposition 8 proponents are going to court to invalidate more than 18,000 marriages performed during the 4 1/2 months that same-sex marriage was legal in California. It’s another stage of a hard, long slog for Bobbie J. Wilson, one of the Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin attorneys who have been working on the issue ever since Valentine’s Day 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared that the state’s existing ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and gay and lesbian couples flocked to the city to get hitched.
See also: Last year’s winners