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Law firms had a tough 2002, and they have been sharing the pain — with some of the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society. Because many firms have been cutting back on their pro bono programs. But not Arnold & Porter. The Washington, D.C.-based firm has taken the opposite tack and increased its already impressive pro bono efforts. Last year, the firm reported spending 4.9 percent of its billable hours on pro bono, putting it within the top 10 of all firms surveyed. This year, the figure jumped to 6.7 percent of billables. The average attorney at the firm put in 127.5 hours of pro bono work. It was not simply the quantity of hours that made Arnold & Porter’s pro bono efforts stand out. The firm brought numerous high-profile lawsuits, as well as providing unsung legal assistance in many more routine matters. EXPANDING ‘GIDEON’ For instance, the firm is expanding on its own groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court victory that established the right to counsel for poor criminal defendants. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). It represents three poor, rural Mississippi counties seeking to have the state pay part of the costs for counsel representing indigent defendants. The counties claim that by not providing such funding, the state is breaching its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate criminal defense to needy people. Such challenges to the adequacy of representation have traditionally been litigated by individual defendants following conviction case by case. Arnold & Porter attorneys developed a theory to challenge ineffective representation on a prospective, systemwide basis. The theory was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court, allowing the suit to continue. “I’m very excited about working on this case,” said Kathleen Behan, co-chairwoman of the firm’s pro bono committee. “It is the first time the Mississippi Supreme Court would hear an argument that the state is constitutionally required to fund this type of system.” The firm has made a big push in the area of immigrants’ rights and has developed an expertise in representing people seeking asylum in the United States. “These are reverse death penalty cases,” said Phil Horton, pro bono co-chairman. “We’ve had clients who’ve been brutally beaten, tortured and watched their family members get killed. If they get sent back to their country, they will die.” During the last two years, Arnold & Porter has represented more than 40 asylum-seekers in initial hearings to keep them from being incarcerated. The firm has also represented the clients in all later stages of the asylum process. The firm’s work in this area has gotten more difficult since the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. “Immigrants have been facing an increasingly hostile environment in the U.S. since 9/11,” said Ronald Schechter, a partner who helps lead Arnold & Porter’s efforts on behalf of immigrants. For instance, he said, “the rights of immigrants to appeal have been severely restricted.” The Board of Immigration Appeals — an arm of the Department of Justice that hears immigration and asylum appeals — is doing “rapid-fire rulings to get through its backlog,” spending an average of just 15 minutes per case, said Larry Schneider, who also helps head the firm’s immigration rights efforts. New regulations are threatening to make the situation even worse, eliminating 12 of 23 judge positions. On Oct. 24, Arnold & Porter brought a pro bono suit challenging the new regulations. It alleges that they will curtail meaningful appellate review of immigration and asylum rulings. The firm is also fighting for another aspect of immigrant rights: attempting to protect women brought into the United States by the growing mail-order bride industry. Such women are at risk for domestic abuse by men who are predators, according to a recent INS report to Congress. An innovative suit brought by Arnold & Porter attempts to hold companies involved in this industry responsible for such domestic abuse. The suit’s plaintiff is a Ukrainian woman who was brought into the country and physically attacked by her new spouse, leaving her with serious injuries. The federal suit alleges, among other things, that the company which set up the match between her and her spouse was legally required to inform her about domestic abuse and her rights. Arnold & Porter’s high level of pro bono work can be traced back to the 1950s, according to Horton. “During the heyday of Joe McCarthy, ours was the only firm that represented a large number of people who were under the senator’s spotlight,” he said. “During the mid-’50s, that work accounted for half the firm’s billable time. That was the start of a tradition.” The firm become known as place that encouraged pro bono, and that reputation fed on itself, he adds. “People who want to do pro bono work come here,” he said.

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