Esther Lardent didn’t mince words. The pro bono situation — and access to justice for the poor — is "hideous," Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute, said during an interview. "People talk about the justice gap; I now refer to it as the justice chasm."

There’s a bit of a data lag here — surveys of law firm’s pro bono hours won’t be available until later in the new year. The National Law Journal affiliate The American Lawyer reported in July that large firms reported an 8 percent decline in average pro bono hours during 2010. This year, "anecdotally, I think it’s very likely that the pro bono numbers will be lower, certainly than they were at their 2009 high," Lardent said.

The good news is that the profession is getting more innovative, she said. Judges have joined the agitation for improved access to justice, and corporate legal departments continue to ramp up — according to Lardent, nearly 300 now have forged pro bono partnerships with their outside firms. Global firms are going global with their pro bono programs.

This edition of the NLJ highlights 10 firms that haven’t forgotten their professional obligations even — especially — during hard times. Often, at considerable expense or risk to themselves. — Michael Moline

AKIN GUMP
Relentless pursuit of justice for survivors
Undeterred by setbacks in court, Akin Gump takes Holocaust reparations to Congress.
 
GIBSON DUNN
Case changed immigration enforcement policy
Besides a monetary recovery, profiling action forced the government to prioritize public safety.
 
HOGAN LOVELLS
Activist’s freedom affirmed important principle
Hogan Lovells helped win release of Syrian who won ‘Nobel Prize for Human Rights.’
 
JENNER & BLOCK
This win required a trip to the Legislature
Jenner helped a pro se appellant win a chance for redemption, and set precedent in the process.
 
KIRKLAND & ELLIS
Charter school dispute had a strategic angle
New York City rumble allowed law firms to demonstrate their interest in improving education.
 
MORRISON & FOERSTER
Lawsuits protected troops pending DADT repeal
As Congress debated, litigator kept up the pressure through the courts against the ban on gays.
 
MUNGER TOLLES
Deck was stacked against fight for clean elections
The fight was worth it on principle, Munger Tolles says, and in its lessons for young lawyers.
 
ROPES & GRAY
Defender found the audacity to end a stalemate
Stephen Braga resorted to an Alford plea to free the "West Memphis Three."
 
SKADDEN
‘Religious guy’ took on school prayer case
Thomas Allingham stepped in when local counsel quailed; set 3d Circuit precedent.
 
SULLIVAN & CROMWELL
Arkansas adoption law was ‘personal’ affront
Lawyer’s own adoptive children inspired her to vindicate rights of straight and gay parents.