Leah Tulin of Jenner & Block (Courtesy photo)
Jenner & Block’s pro bono work dates back to at least the 1950s, when a small group of the firm’s lawyers began representing indigent criminals in Chicago’s courtrooms.
Fast forward to 2016 and the growth of the firm’s pro bono program can be viewed by the amount of work its lawyers do before the U.S. Supreme Court. Last year, the firm successfully argued six cases before the high court, winning results including solidifying the law banning execution of the intellectually disabled, defending a challenge to re-districting, and protecting the rights of adoptive parents in same-sex relationships.
The high court work, including a high number of oral arguments presented by associates, contributed to the firm’s more than 75,000 hours of pro bono work last year. Across the firm, lawyers averaged 138 hours of pro bono work, and nearly 94 percent did more than 20 hours of donated time.
“There is something that is uniquely exciting and impactful about being able to represent pro bono clients in the Supreme Court,” said partner Leah Tulin.
Tulin, along with Washington-based partner Adam G. Unikowsky helped remove from Death Row a man named Kevan Brumfield.
Louisiana had sentenced Brumfield to die in 1995 as a result of a first-degree murder conviction.
Five years later, the U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of mentally disabled adults, which Brumfield successfully argued he was in a habeas petition to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed that ruling, however, and in stepped Jenner & Block’s pro bono team.
The team eventually scored a triple victory. It got the Supreme Court to hear the case, overturn the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and have a panel of judges from the appeals court vacate Brumfield’s death sentence.
In a show of the firm’s pro bono staying power at the court, Unikowsky is scheduled to present at least two pro bono arguments to the court this year.
The firm’s pro bono work last year was not limited to the courtroom. One major transactional pro bono representation involved helping The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights based in Chicago spin off from its fiscal sponsor, The Tides Center.
The Young Center in 2013 received a government contract making it the legal advocate for unaccompanied child immigrants detained at the nation’s borders. That contract meant the organization needed to open offices in six new cities over the past 18 months. Jenner & Block’s legal help on the split was invaluable, said Maria Woltjen, The Young Center’s executive director.
“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Woltjen said.