The Center for Pro Bono spoke with attorneys from Holwell Shuster and Goldberg about the firm’s pro bono work over the past 10 years. Law 360 recently ranked HSG first in the nation in their 2023 Pro Bono Rankings for firms with less than 100 attorneys. Law360 notes that the firm “posted prodigious numbers in all three scoring areas despite its small size.” In 2022, over 85% of attorneys at the firm participated in pro bono work. The Center spoke with Vincent Levy, partner at HSG and head of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, and Jayme Jonat, partner at HSG about the firm’s commitment to pro bono.
What is the pro bono structure at HSG?
Vince Levy: Our pro bono work comes into the firm in two ways. We have relationship partners that we have built relationships with over the years in areas such as immigrant rights, court pro bono programs such as the SDNY pro bono panel and the 2nd circuit pro bono panel, or organizations such as the ACLU. Our other pro bono work is driven by associates. When associates have areas of interest, we encourage them to strategize ways to get involved, either by handling a case from scratch or submitting an amicus brief.
What policies does the firm have to encourage pro bono work?
Vince: HSG has a culture where pro bono is encouraged from the top down. As a matter of culture, the firm encourages attorneys to have an active pro bono practice. We have a very collegial working environment at HSG. Pro bono is another opportunity for everyone to work on various types of cases and for associates to get mentorship opportunities. Partners are working pro bono as much as the associates. Attorneys at the firm have relationships with various courts and when pro bono opportunities come in from partners, if they are worthwhile causes and provide experience for associates, they encourage people to take it on.
Several of our more successful pro bono matters are appeals that involve writing a brief and then arguing the appeal. These are great ways for associates to take ownership of a case. When those cases come in, we will encourage associates to take those on. If there is pro bono work in a field where a shared interest exists, it’s another way to establish relationships between partners and associates.
How do attorneys find pro bono matters?
Vince: We hold monthly luncheons for anyone interested in pro bono. At the luncheons, we brainstorm cases and talk about opportunities. There is also a listserv we use to circulate opportunities. We also hold clinics with various organizations, which is another way to connect attorneys with opportunities.
Describe some of the pro bono work you have done.
Jayme: I have mainly worked on one pro bono case for the past eight years, and it’s one of the cases I’m most proud of. The firm works with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project to establish better practices for working mothers in industries where women are underrepresented or struggle after coming back to work after pregnancy. We represented pilots and flight attendants from Frontier who faced discrimination when they became pregnant or had a child. Specifically, our clients wanted to continue breastfeeding and needed to pump milk at work. We were able to successfully achieve a settlement for the flight attendants, where they are now permitted to use wearable breast pumps when safe. The pilot’s case is still pending. It has been a fantastic case for me and the associates to work on. It’s not only a great cause, but it gave the associates the opportunity to take depositions, defend depositions, and draft briefs.
What is most meaningful about your pro bono work?
Jayme: Definitely the clients. My practice is primarily representing companies. I have spent eight years representing these particular clients and I can see how this case is affecting them on a daily basis. That is the most rewarding part for me.
Vince: We have had some great clients and the results of these case are amazing to see. We have had successes in the immigration arena, which has been phenomenal. In some of the immigration cases related to the immigration ban in 2016, we were able to reunite families. We were able to get a conviction reversed in the New York Court of Appeals and we are working on compensation for a conviction that was reversed on the basis of the client’s innocence. The opportunity to work with associates who are really behind some of these cases and see them take ownership of cases and develop professionally has been really rewarding.
What would you tell others about doing pro bono at a firm?
Vince: It pays off to do pro bono. We often think of it as part of our ethical responsibility, but it has tangible benefits for the attorneys. Diverse attorneys can work on diverse matters. There is a benefit to attorney satisfaction and having the institutional support of the firm is important.
Jayme: I have met with attorneys who were thinking of joining the firm but were hesitant to jump into the private sector from public interest. I think that the ability to spend a portion of their time on pro bono work and a good cause is a good way to bring in talented associates who are interested in public interest work. Pro bono at HSG allows you to have the best of both worlds.
Thanks Vince and Jayme for telling us about the pro bono work at Holwell Shuster and Goldberg. Thank you for sharing examples of how others at law firms can make a difference through pro bono work and thank for all you do to help clients in need.
Update: After the date of this interview, the pilots reached a settlement with Frontier Airlines in the ongoing litigation related to pregnant and lactating pilots. You can read more about the settlement here. Congratulations to Jayme and the team at HSG and thank you for your hard work to accomplish this historic settlement!