Ezra Rosenberg of Dechert.
Ezra Rosenberg of Dechert. ()

Ezra Rosenberg started his legal career in public interest law, serving as a public defender and as a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice. So when he went into private practice at Dechert in 1995, it was no surprise that he set out to make pro bono work a significant part of his practice. What might be surprising is that the firm has supported him consistently ever since. He now spends 50 per cent of his time on pro bono representation. “It’s like holding down two jobs,” said Rosenberg, 63. “It’s very important to me to do this type of work.” The other half of the time, working as a partner from Dechert’s Princeton office, he handles mass-tort and product-liability litigation for corporate clients.

In 2013, Rosenberg helped conduct a closely watched trial challenging the public school student assignment plan in Pitt County, N.C., that worsened racial imbalance, according to the black parents who were his clients. Also serving as a plaintiff was the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children. The school system had been subject to court supervision to desegregate since the late 1960s. Plaintiffs have appealed a decision issued in September that denied an injunction. “I have the greatest respect for Ezra,” said Ken Soo of Tharrington Smith, who represented the school system. “He is a vigorous advocate, but he doesn’t see the need to make litigation unpleasant.”

A year earlier, Rosenberg played a leading role in challenging Texas’ strict voter-identification law. Working with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Brennan Center for Justice, Rosenberg represented Texas NAACP branches and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. As the lead interface among counsel, Rosenberg was “a master at keeping everyone informed,” said J. Gerald Hebert, a Virginia solo practitioner who also represented civil rights groups in the case.

Rosenberg secured a victory in the lower court. However, in June 2103, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act invoked in the case. He is working on a new challenge based on a different part of the law. “There are setbacks in all phases of the law, but you keep going,” Rosenberg said.