Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
Irell & Manella (120)


In many ways, Laguna Beach typifies the lavish southern California lifestyle found in television shows such as “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and “The O.C.” The tony suburb has more than three-dozen art galleries, a seven-mile resort-filled coastline and hillsides dotted with million-dollar homes. The Am Law Pro Bono 100But the 24,000-resident seaside community also has a small (court records put the number between 45-55) homeless population. In 2007 town authorities began cracking down on this group using a local ordinance that outlawed sleeping on public property. (The effort included late night and early morning police sweeps of the beach. The city does not have a full-time, overnight homeless shelter.)

In December 2008 lawyers in the Newport Beach office of Irell & Manella teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to challenge the municipal ordinance in court. The court filing came after year-long negotiations between lawyers for the homeless and the city yielded no progress. “It was very disturbing what was going on,” says Andra Barmash Greene, managing partner of Irell’s Newport Beach office, “and we felt the city left us no other option.” Greene was first made aware of the city’s actions by a client, who has become very active in homeless matters. Four attorneys at the firm worked on the case. The complaint alleges that the police officers’ actions violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution, because the homeless were selectively targeted and prosecuted, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, because many of the city’s homeless suffer from mental and physical disabilities. Earlier this year, the city repealed the ordinance at the center of the lawsuit, but not before Irell lawyers got a lesson in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of local politics. The firm was the subject of a political cartoon in a Laguna Beach local newspaper that portrayed it and the ACLU as interlopers, and many Laguna Beach residents questioned the firm’s motives even though it took the case pro bono. “I have never seen anything that incited so much passion,” Greene says.

—Drew Combs | July 1, 2009

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