Describe your firm’s philosophy on pro bono service.
McGuireWoods looks to take on transformative issues in its pro bono work, but the primary objective of that work is to help people facing life-changing circumstances who lack the resources to hire lawyers overcome challenges. If that results in a U.S. Supreme Court victory that changes public policy, a record-setting judgment or a better way to battle homelessness, that’s just an additional benefit of doing good for our communities.
Of the big cases your firm recently worked on, you represented a human trafficking victim who was introduced into a cult at age 2. Tell us more about that case and how you reached the outcome.
Betsy Hutson met Kendra Ross in 2015 through an aftercare shelter for human trafficking survivors. Over the course of the following two years, Betsy worked to earn Kendra’s trust and discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the regimented cult and its leader, Royall Jenkins, who forced Kendra to work without pay, benefits or breaks for over a decade. In 2017, a dedicated team of McGuireWoods’ attorneys filed a complaint on behalf of Kendra and helped her navigate the difficult steps of litigation. In May 2018, Kendra was awarded nearly $8 million—the largest civil single-plaintiff trafficking award in U.S. history. The court’s opinion provides invaluable precedent for other trafficking survivors seeking justice.
What was the most satisfying aspect of that key case?
The most satisfying part of Kendra’s case was the evidentiary hearing in Kansas in February 2018. Kendra had the incredible courage to return to the epicenter of the cult, take the stand in open court, and testify against her traffickers. After the hearing, the judge walked down from the bench, shook Kendra’s hand, expressed sincere compassion toward her, and said it was a true honor and privilege to meet her.
Discuss other key pro bono matters recently completed by the firm.
The firm won a Fourth Amendment case at the U.S. Supreme Court, with the high court ruling that police officers without a warrant cannot use the automobile exception to enter a home’s curtilage to access a vehicle. The decision changed the way police nationwide are trained to conduct searches. Partner and appellate practice co-chair Matt Fitzgerald led the pro bono McGuireWoods team (all under age 35), which included two former U.S. Supreme Court clerks. Additionally, McGuireWoods helped establish “Charlotte Triage,” in which firm lawyers and corporate general counsel help Charlotte, North Carolina, legal aid providers help underprivileged clients fight evictions, open doors for employment and housing, and preserve access to health care.
Why does your pro bono work matter to you as a lawyer?
As lawyers we have a critical and unique responsibility to ensure access to justice for others. Unfortunately, that access is scarce or unavailable for those of limited means. Without pro bono work, these individuals would not know justice. Performing pro bono work at the firm confirms our commitment to making justice available for as many people as we can, regardless of their ability to pay us.
Responses submitted by Scott Oostdyk, a litigation partner at McGuireWoods.