In hopes of taking on more high-profile pro bono cases, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius has moved a partner into a full-time pro bono role.
The firm has named Washington, D.C.-based Susan Baker Manning as its first senior pro bono trial lawyer, adding to a team of five other full-time legal positions in Morgan Lewis’ pro bono group. Senior pro bono counsel Rachel Strong will continue to lead the firm’s pro bono efforts, while Manning will be more focused on managing certain litigation and handling the client work.
In her new role, Manning will manage what the firm refers to as “large impact litigation matters” for pro bono clients, including those seeking access to housing, heath care and education, as well as individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries.
Manning said the firm was able to achieve “broad participation” in pro bono last year—according to Morgan Lewis, the firm worked more than 117,000 pro bono hours in the 2018 fiscal year, and most of the firm’s lawyers worked at least 20 hours pro bono. The firm had more than 1,800 pro bono clients and 2,000 matters last year.
“The question becomes what next? What do we do to build on that success?” Manning said.
Through implementing her role, she said, the firm will be able to serve pro bono clients with more depth in complicated matters.
Manning has already been involved in those kinds of matters before dedicating her practice to pro bono. She said she has always spent at least 10 percent of her time in any given year on pro bono work, but some years it has been much more than that.
Recently, for example, she filed an amicus brief on behalf of several senators in support of six asylum seekers opposing President Donald Trump’s ban on asylum claims outside ports of entry. Several years ago, she represented a number of businesses who filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, arguing that same-sex marriage discrimination is harmful to the business community.
“Susan has proven her dedication to pro bono representation, and her leadership of our issue-based litigation will enhance our ability to serve those most in need,” firm chair Jami McKeon said in a statement. “In partnership with our clients and the nonprofits we work alongside and support, our firm continually looks for ways to take our efforts to the next level, and we believe having a dedicated pro bono partner lead large-scale litigation matters will help serve the greater good.”
Manning’s background is in intellectual property. While her pro bono work involves different substantive issues, there are similarities.
“Taking complicated facts and figuring out how to turn that into a real advocacy story is one of the things I have loved about intellectual property litigation and it is exactly applicable to a lot of the cases we’re looking at here,” Manning said. “When we’re looking at cases where the law may be unsettled, or the facts are moving quickly, at some level it’s almost a direct parallel.”