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Pro bono isn’t always warm and fuzzy. In Aaron Lee Jones, for example, White & Case partners Vincent R. Fitzpatrick and Heather K. McDevitt had a client who had murdered an Alabama couple during a home robbery. While at it, he and an accomplice shot and stabbed the couple’s three children and their grandmother. Law firms take cases like Jones’ because even the dregs of society have rights. The rewards often prove elusive. Maybe the lawyers will get lucky and win one for the little guy. Quite possibly, not. Jones died by lethal injection on May 3, 2007, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. We learned of the firm’s efforts on Jones’ behalf while reviewing nominations for The National Law Journal‘s annual Pro Bono Awards. It was among the many pro bono efforts we admired but didn’t pick this year � in part because the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on arguments scheduled for Jan. 7 on a key legal issue in his case: What is the standard for evaluating challenges to lethal injection protocols under the Eighth Amendment? Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439. The NLJ publishes these awards every year to showcase 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. We dug through scores of nominations and conducted our own research, looking for the firms and individuals who made the biggest commitments in time and money on behalf of people and causes without the means to pay a lawyer. Bonus points were given if the firm had the courage to risk opprobrium by taking care of the despised and rejected. Making these selections is always difficult. This year, we settled on four firms: • Cozen O’Connor of Philadelphia, which defeated a Hazleton, Pa., ordinance that would have required proof of citizenship for anyone hoping to rent an apartment or purchase any good or service within the city limits. The firm’s reward for taking on this sensitive issue included hate mail and nasty telephone calls from the public, as Vesna Jaksic of our staff reports. [ Related article.] • Kilpatrick Stockton of Atlanta spearheaded representation for parents in international child abduction cases � among the most bitter, painful and downright ugly disputes known to the profession. “These cases stay with you. You’re dealing with such raw emotions,” partner Bill Dorris told contributing writer June D. Bell. [ Related article.] • Sidley Austin was a driving force in a campaign to secure medical benefits for war veterans. The hope is to shave some time off the seven years that these cases can run, staff reporter Lynne Marek found. With veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq flooding the system, this project promises major improvements in the quality of life for a vast number of Americans. [ Related article.] • Houston-based Susman Godfrey threw resources into a campaign by a group of Texas cities to block the construction of 10 coal-fired power plants. Although the jury’s still out whether this could prove the next big plaintiffs’ cause of action, litigator Steve Susman says this dispute provides a template for other popular campaigns to stave off global warming, contributor Emily Heller reports. [ Related article.] There exists no definitive measure of pro bono demand and supply. Demandwise, the Legal Services Corp. estimated in 2005 that 80% of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans were not being met. That and other studies tend not to account for civil rights cases, according to Esther Lardent, president of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Pro Bono Institute. In terms of supply, the most recent figures available from Lardent’s institute suggest that the profession donated more than 3.4 million billable hours in 2006. The numbers represent the large firms that signed the institute’s Pro Bono Challenge (agreeing to meet certain benchmarks for pro bono work) and have reported their data for the year. Of the hours donated, 66% went to low-income people or groups dedicated to serving the poor. In 1995, 130 firms reported contributing 1.58 million hours. The American Lawyer, an affiliate of the NLJ, keeps a separate tally, reporting in July that the 200 highest-grossing firms donated 4.3 million hours of pro bono work within the United States in 2006, an average of 22,866 hours per firm, a 14.7% increase from 2005. Also notable is the increased participation in pro bono by corporate law departments. One hundred or so companies have signed on to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge, a joint project of the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Georgetown Pro Bono Institute, Lardent said. That figure may underreport the full extent of corporate interest in pro bono, which Lardent said has been “going through the roof.” In some cases, law departments have started formal programs even if they’re not ready yet to sign the corporate challenge. “They want to have a solid program before they make a contract,” Lardent said. To some extent, the trend reflects the so-called business argument for pro bono � in this case, that a joint project can be a way of “enriching the relationship” between a law firm and its corporate clients, Lardent said. As an example, she cited the collaboration between Citigroup Inc. and Weil, Gotshal & Manges on legal issues involving the elderly. Future tense The real payoff, if any, might lie years in the future. For Jones on death row, for example, the execution-protocol issue emerged too late � his attorneys were litigating a civil rights suit on that ground but the courts declined to let him live long enough to see it through. The legal issue lives on, though: Two other White & Case clients in Alabama, and many others elsewhere, are awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court arguments in Baze. For attorneys, such cases are professionally demanding and may be “devastating personally,” White & Case’s McDevitt said. “But to me, this is what lawyering is all about. Sometimes you end up taking a matter that has a low chance of succeeding. Obviously, you hope and work as hard as you can to win. It doesn’t always happen that way, but you do everything you possibly can do.” Fitzpatrick and McDevitt and their firm donated 8,600 billable hours last year � and more than 14,000 hours since 1992 � trying to keep Jones out of Alabama’s execution chamber. What some see as altruism, others resent as out-of-state lawyers defending killers. But Alabama doesn’t supply lawyers in post-conviction death cases, McDevitt noted. “We are large law firms,” she said. “We have resources and the ability. It is imperative that we fulfill our pro bono obligation in these kinds of cases.”

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