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Pro Bono Digest

Monday, May 12, 2003

  • By: William Dean
  • Organization: Volunteers of Legal Service

Pro Bono Digest
By William J. Dean

The 2002 Survey of Pro Bono Activity by New York Law Firms

In the just-completed Volunteers of Legal Service 2002 survey of New York City law firms taking the VOLS Pro Bono Pledge, 35 of 36 firms reported that they had met, or exceeded, the VOLS annual goal of providing at least an average of 30 hours of qualifying pro bono work per attorney.

These 35 law firms contributed a total of 633,778 pro bono hours during 2002, or during their most recently completed fiscal year. The hours performed in 2002 represent an increase of ten percent over the 573,731 hours performed in 2001.

The VOLS definition of qualifying pro bono work, with a few exceptions, is limited to providing free civil legal services to poor people, or to organizations serving poor people. In 2001, the VOLS definition was expanded to include pro bono assistance "to persons, or businesses, affected by the World Trade Center calamity."

Overall, lawyers at these firms averaged 59 hours of pro bono work, compared to 55 hours in 2001. At nine of the firms, lawyers averaged 30-39 hours; at four firms, 40-49 hours; at eight firms, 50-59 ; and at fourteen firms, 60 or more hours, with four of these firms averaging over 100 hours of pro bono work.

Fifteen of the 35 firms reported increases of more than 5 percent in pro bono hours over the prior year. Many of the increases were dramatic, with twelve firms experiencing increases of over 20 percent, and some even higher. But pro bono hours declined at twelve firms, with five firms experiencing declines of 20 percent or more. Eight firms reported approximately the same number of hours (i.e., were within 5 percent of the prior year's figure, up or down).

The 35 law firms meeting, or exceeding, the VOLS Pro Bono Pledge in 2002 are:

Arnold & Porter
Cahill Gordon & Reindel
Chadbourne & Parke
Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton
Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells
Coudert Brothers
Cravath, Swaine & Moore
Davis Polk & Wardwell
Debevoise & Plimpton
Dorsey & Whitney
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe
Hughes Hubbard & Reed
Hunton & Williams
Kaye Scholer
Kelley, Drye & Warren
KMZ Rosenman
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
Latham & Watkins
LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
Morrison & Foerster
Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
Pillsbury Winthrop
Proskauer Rose
Shearman & Sterling
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan
Sullivan & Cromwell
Weil, Gotshal & Manges
White & Case
Willkie Farr & Gallagher
Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering

Firms participating in the VOLS survey were encouraged to provide additional information on their pro bono programs. Here is a sampling of comments.

Arnold & Porter. "To stimulate both pro bono interest and participation, we have developed a Pro Bono Database that can be accessed through a link appearing on the computer of every lawyer in the firm. This database includes such materials as a memo describing our policies and procedures; lists of upcoming pro bono training, programs and events; opportunities for pro bono work; a sampler describing the kinds of cases we handle; and articles about some of our firm's more famous cases."

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. Cleary sponsors two public interest law externship programs, a concept pioneered by the firm in 1969. "Through our externship programs, a Cleary associate is given a four-month paid leave of absence to work full-time as a staff attorney at legal services organizations in New York City. The externships complement and further our in-house pro bono program. By enabling Cleary lawyers to work full-time at a legal services office, we can deliver legal services efficiently and directly to individual disadvantaged clients while further developing our expertise in public interest matters."

Debevoise & Plimpton. Last year, Debevoise continued its work on several large cases. Among them was Brad H. v. City of New York, a case in which plaintiffs are seeking to establish the right of mentally ill inmates in the New York City jail system to discharge planning - the process of planning for their continued health treatment in the community upon release from incarceration. In this matter, Debevoise has worked with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the Urban Justice Center. Another example of this type of litigation is a major case challenging the practices of the New York Police Department Street Crimes Unit set up during the Giuliani Administration.

Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe. Seventy-five percent of attorneys in the New York office performed pro bono service in 2002.

Latham & Watkins. "In 2002, the New York office had a varied pro bono program, including federal 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund matters, refugee representation, federal court-appointed criminal defense, and federal civil rights and habeas corpus actions. More than 72 percent of New York office attorneys worked for pro bono clients."

Morrison & Foerster. Serving as co-counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice in Johnson v. Bush, "attorneys in the New York office have been working to win back the right to vote for more than 600,000 Florida citizens who have been disenfranchised as a result of prior felony convictions. The class action suit challenges the constitutionality of Florida's permanent disenfranchisement of ex-felons who have served their sentences. By conservative estimates, Florida's lifetime ban denies the vote to more than half a million state residents who have fully served felony sentences - 4.6 percent of the state's voting-age population."

Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. The firm reports 100 percent partner participation in pro bono work last year; 95 percent associate and counsel participation; and 84 percent non-lawyer associate participation. The annual percentage of total attorney time devoted to pro bono work in 2002 was 6.86 percent.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Skadden sponsors two externships, "has a continued increase in non-litigators doing pro bono work," and is undertaking, with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a major lawsuit asserting housing discrimination by a Long Island township.

_____________________________________________________________________ William J. Dean is executive director of Volunteers of Legal Service.

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