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Despite a weak economy, 2002 was a good year for pro bono work, according to the people most involved. While there are no numbers to track the contribution of the nation’s nearly one million lawyers, many of the experts say that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helped breed a renewed commitment. “We can’t underestimate the power of that,” Debbie Segal, chair of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) standing committee on pro bono and public service, says of the terrorist attacks. “For some people, it brought a need to feel they were helping and participating in some way.” The work of winners of The National Law Journal‘s pro bono awards for 2002 is described in detail in this special section. The criteria for selection included the importance of the cases, the cost in time and dollars and, in some cases, the unpopularity of the clients. However, the winners were just a few of those doing noteworthy free work. The Association of the Trial Lawyers of America continued to help many families of Sept. 11 victims. Dozens of firms have also helped victims’ families and small businesses hurt by the attacks. Also growing from the attacks was the volunteer work of two associates at New York’s Davis Polk & Wardwell. They interviewed and documented the experiences of 100 Arab, Muslim and Southeast Asian men locked up for immigration violations in sweeps after the attacks. The associates, Alais Griffin and Rashid Alvi, spent several hundred hours interviewing detainees on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), at a time of widespread fear and anxiety about Middle Eastern men. “We needed a few people willing to work really hard, fight the INS on the access hurdles and interview people under very difficult conditions,” says Ahilan Arulanantham, a former ACLU lawyer coordinating the interviews. “In the end, we found very few people to do this, because it required a lot of courage politically and because it was so onerous to battle with the INS.” Davis Polk attorney Ogden Lewis, who supervised the work, says the lawyers were at first concerned that the controversy around the project could hurt the firm — but not for long. “It didn’t seem to us to be a difficult issue that lawyers should be able to get information about the status of these individuals and whether there was wrongful detention or improper deprivation of rights,” he says. Noteworthy projects included O’Melveny & Myers’ suit on behalf of a young man who was beaten up, yelled at and discriminated against in high school because he is gay. The suit, Henkle v. Gregory, was litigated with the LAMBDA Legal Defense and Education Fund. It resulted in a $451,000 settlement and the creation of educational programs on harassment and intimidation in an 86-school Nevada school district. The Washington, D.C., law firm of Hogan & Hartson had several noteworthy projects. Its attorneys researched and wrote two extensive legal guides for the ABA. One related to INS detainees petitioning for release from indefinite detention; the other, actions that could be brought against the INS for personal injury, property damage or loss. In criminal law, Courtland Reichman of Atlanta’s King & Spalding helped indigent defendants in rural Georgia. Lawyers from Boston’s Bingham McCutchen have spent 25,505 hours over four years in a case on behalf of California parolees. A federal judge found in June that the parole-revocation system was unconstitutional because it denied parolees a prompt hearing to challenge the grounds for their detention. An unusual case involving intellectual property was handled by Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco. The firm represented artist Tom Forsythe, whose use of Barbie dolls incurred the wrath of Mattel, Inc., which sued him for copyright and trademark infringement. The firm’s lawyers obtained summary judgement in Forsythe’s favor. The toy company continues to appeal. Don Saunders, director of civil legal services at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, says that there’s been some impressive commitment to pro bono work in the past year. He points to the involvement of attorneys at Washington, D.C.’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and Seattle’s Perkins Coie in suits before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the use of interest on lawyers’ trust accounts for funding of legal services for the poor. Saunders notes, however, that there continues to be a dearth of pro bono attorneys in rural areas. And, everywhere, cases offering messy fact patterns involving, say, an ugly divorce are difficult to place with volunteers. One trend that appeared to boost the pro bono involvement of lawyers in 2002 was a noticeable increase in work by business lawyers both in and out of corporate legal departments. The ABA’s Segal notes that its pro bono committee has six new members, including two who are business lawyers and two corporate counsel. She attributes the growth of contributed work by business lawyers to two factors. “It’s a combination of a desire and an expanding horizon of what business lawyers can do,” she says. Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute in Washington, says that, despite the economy, a lot of firms have visibly signaled their commitment through the creation of support staffs, internal pro bono awards and newsletters. An example is Holland & Knight, which went through something of a crisis when a partner’s memo — leaked to a newspaper — suggested that pro bono work was too costly. The firm examined its lawyers’ pro bono hours and economic targets. It concluded that pro bono doesn’t displace paying work and that full billable hour credit for pro bono is worth the cost. As a result, it strengthened its commitment. Partner Stephen Hanlon, who heads the firm’s community services team, says, “It’s fair to say that we have a broad and deep consensus after a deep and thorough review. Pro bono is a core function of this firm and a core value.”

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