Pro Bono Publico Awards

2016 Award Recipients

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, New York, NY (and other U.S. and international offices)

Cleary Gottlieb is sincerely honored and humbled to receive the American Bar Association’s 2016 Pro Bono Publico Award. Since its founding, the firm has believed that the practice of law is a privilege, one that carries with it the responsibility to apply its lawyers’ talents for the benefit of underserved individuals and communities. We approach our pro bono initiatives exactly as we approach our other matters: putting the full needs of the client front and center.

In 2015, the firm’s U.S.-based lawyers dedicated more than 63,000 hours to pro bono matters, assisting more than 400 clients. We are proud of these numbers, but the true measure of our pro bono program is the impact that our work has had on our clients. Mr. Olatushani, for example, had already been on death row for ten years when Cleary started working on his case in 1995. Following more than fifteen years of litigation in Tennessee state courts, Mr. Olatushani was released from prison in 2012. Mr. Olatushani is now an activist, artist, husband and father.

Our lawyers provide critically needed legal services to a broad range of clients like Mr. Olatushani who desperately need lawyers but cannot afford them. We defend the rights of the homeless, represent victims of gender violence, fight for better access to public facilities for people with disabilities, address delays in the Bronx criminal courts, represent immigrants, help community organizations incorporate and operate, and assist micro-lenders in their efforts to expand programs. In addition to our robust in-house pro bono program, in 1968, Cleary became the first law firm to establish an externship program, granting lawyers the opportunity to work at select legal services organizations while receiving full salary and benefits from the firm.

Cleary focuses much of its efforts on representing those most marginalized in our society. Since 2011, for example, Cleary has been working with The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project which seeks to prevent trafficking survivors from being re-victimized by prior criminal convictions that act as barriers to empowerment, freedom and self-sustainability. Cleary has co-counseled dozens of cases with The Legal Aid Society, resulting in hundreds of prior criminal convictions being vacated on behalf of survivors of human trafficking. Wherever possible, we have sought to provide holistic services to these clients, taking on immigration cases, custody disputes and government benefits matters in addition to the vacatur motions.

On the civil rights front, in 2015, the firm, along with co-counsel Southern Poverty Law Center and Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC, obtained a major victory on behalf of plaintiffs in a first-of-its-kind consumer fraud lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH). Following a three week trial, the jury found that JONAH’s “conversion therapy program,” offering services it claimed could turn clients from gay to straight, was fraudulent and unconscionable. The case has helped spark legislation nationwide to protect consumers from conversion therapies.

With respect to protecting the rights of immigrants, Cleary not only helps scores of individuals and families apply for a range of relief each year, but when necessary, we initiate litigation to ensure that the rights of immigrants are protected from government overreach. In 2015 we settled two significant cases, one brought on behalf of an unaccompanied minor who was improperly used by U.S. Customs & Border Protection in a sting operation to catch her smugglers and one on behalf of a four-year old U.S. Citizen child who was improperly detained at Dulles Airport and then sent back to Guatemala rather than reunited with her parents in the United States.

In the years ahead, we look forward to continuing our pro bono efforts and to identifying innovative ways to deploy the talent of our lawyers to make a difference in our communities.


This award is truly a reflection of our long-term partnerships with a range of legal services organizations that are dedicated to expanding access to justice. We would especially like to thank Lawyers Alliance for New York, New York Lawyers for Public Interest and The Legal Aid Society for nominating us for the award. Our nomination -- from these organizations that work tirelessly to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable individuals and communities -- is itself an honor. We would also like to thank LatinoJustice, Sanctuary for Families, and Southern Poverty Law Center, for supporting Cleary for this award and for all of the guidance that you give us throughout each year on the matters we work on together. Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to Mr. Ndume Olatshuni for his support for this award and for his perseverance and friendship over the years.

John O. Goss, Goss and Fentress, Norfolk, VA

I’m sure this has been said before, but I was startled to hear that I was being nominated for this award. I thought the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award was reserved for much more deserving members of our legal community than me. I still can’t shake that feeling, so I am both humbled and gratified.

Attorneys don’t have to go looking for pro bono work. It usually finds us. The work for which I am being honored is like that.

It all began harmlessly enough. Last year I began writing articles for the firm’s website. I sought in one series to explain to our Social Security disability clients (my field of endeavor) whether ALJs were truly independent or independent with qualifications. That required a foray for material through constitutional, statutory and administrative law that turned out to be perfect preparation for the pro bono work that found me.

Having first seen it on TV, I was aware early on of the dire situation in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. Because of the fraud investigation of a disability attorney with offices in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, nearly 2,000 persons who were found disabled years ago were being terminated from the program unless they could re-prove disability cases that had long since become stale. These desperate souls couldn’t afford lawyers because the termination cases were not fee-generating. My professional organization, the National Organization of Social Security Claims Representatives, called on its members to volunteer to represent claimants pro bono. I am just one of many lawyers who answered the call.

It soon became clear that issues of ALJ independence, constitutional due process and compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act were crucial issues. The pure coincidence of my blog research grounded me enough to recognize them. Attorney Charles Hall, a leading expert in our field, created the list serve that was instrumental in letting me share my thoughts with fellow volunteers. That led to training work for less experienced volunteers, and to being asked to get involved in the class action litigation that is underway. Now, I find myself pushed out front to accept this award in behalf of all of my fellow pro bono publico volunteers. With gratitude to them, I am doing so.

I get asked from time to time why I got so involved. After some reflection, this is what I came up with: first and foremost, it was simply instinctive, as it is with most of us. We attorneys want to help people. Second, I began my career as a legal aid attorney. You can take the lawyer out of legal aid, but you can never take legal aid out of the lawyer. I remember putting my freshly-minted license on the wall of my first law office at the Tidewater Legal Aid Society in Norfolk, Virginia. I remember being instantly overwhelmed by what I was being asked to do. I wished I knew more. I wished I had more experience. I wished I was coming of age in a more protected environment, enfolded by water-carrying, experienced associates and partners. Then I put my head down and just fought as hard as I could for my clients. That’s legal aid.

That was almost forty years ago. Now I have become one of those old guys who have learned enough to be able to carry some water. Then I got the chance to be a resource for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, and West Virginia’s Mountain State Justice as they undertook the fight for these folks. It was an easy call.

I have spectacular teammates in this work. John Rosenberg needs no introduction. The more I get to know him, the more I admire him. Arpit Garg, who is an attorney with WilmerHale in Washington D.C., is likely the most capable attorney I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He has taken my amateurish offerings and put a professional sheen on them that takes my breath away. Ned Pillersdorf, who practices in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, has fought with unquenchable fire for his fellow Kentuckians. Evan Smith, with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Anne Marie Regan with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, and Bren Pomponio with Mountain State Justice remind me of myself from long ago, only they are a greatly improved version.

I thank my law partners at Goss & Fentress, PLC. They have let me go on this very personal excellent adventure without protest, while we also address the mundane necessity of making a living from what we do. I think this ABA Pro Bono Publico Award is the best award I could ever hope to get, and it belongs to them as much as it belongs to me.

 

 

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, Chicago, IL (and other U.S. and international offices)

On behalf of Katten Muchin Rosenman, we are truly honored to receive the American Bar Association’s 2016 Pro Bono Publico Award. While Katten has a long history of providing diverse pro bono services, this award is a special distinction for the firm as it recognizes outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged. Katten firmly believes in our ethical obligation to serve individuals and organizations in need and to partner with local legal service providers to ensure access to the justice system. As such, we are privileged to have our pro bono efforts recognized for helping provide legal support to underserved communities.

The Katten Legal Clinic at José de Diego Community Academy, the first legal clinic located in a Chicago Public School, was established with the goal of providing basic legal assistance to members of the school community while supporting education, a cause the firm is passionate about and has long maintained. In close cooperation with LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago), our Clinic is open on the third Wednesday evening of every month during the school year, addressing legal issues ranging from landlord-tenant disputes and housing matters to wills, expungements, and consumer and family law. Since its launch in 2013, the Clinic has provided legal assistance to nearly 200 people. Last year alone, Katten attorneys and staff provided more than 800 hours of pro bono legal services, including extended representation of many Clinic clients.

Katten also is pleased to be recognized for its nationwide commitment to serving people in need. The firm’s pro bono work includes a range of legal assistance nationally: in Chicago, attorneys have won asylum in the United States for families fleeing ISIS persecution in Iraq and drug cartel persecution in Mexico; in Washington, DC, attorneys regularly provide legal services at a walk-in legal clinic run by the DC Bar; in Charlotte, attorneys formed a partnership with the Safe Child Immigrant Project of Legal Services of Southern Piedmont to successfully obtain custody orders for mothers of unaccompanied minors; in New York, attorneys secured asylum for a Tibetan refugee who was being persecuted by the Chinese government; and in Los Angeles, attorneys secured adoptions for scores of children who were former wards of the state and saved the home of an elderly Alzheimer’s victim from unscrupulous neighbors.

We would like to thank LAF for nominating us for this award and acknowledge the enthusiastic cooperation of the Chicago Public Schools in our Clinic. We also would like to acknowledge the generous letters of support submitted on our behalf by legal aid agencies across the country – Bet Tzedek (Los Angeles), Domestic Violence Legal Clinic (Chicago), Legal Services NYC (New York) and Public Counsel Law Center (Los Angeles). These organizations serve as indispensable pro bono partners, both guiding and inspiring our efforts to create a level playing field for those who cannot otherwise afford an attorney.


Since our founding, Katten’s attorneys have pursued involvement in pro bono projects with the same unwavering dedication, commitment to hard work and legal excellence that they bring to all client matters. Katten backed that commitment by making me, more than 20 years ago, the first law firm partner in the Midwest to focus exclusively on the delivery of pro bono services. With that backing, we have actively nurtured our attorneys’ individual commitment to give their talents for the public good. The outstanding activities recognized by this award represent a fraction of the pro bono efforts provided by hundreds of Katten attorneys each year. The firm is truly honored to receive the 2016 ABA Pro Bono Publico Award, but the biggest honor, and privilege, is being able to help improve the lives of so many.

Renee M. Schoenberg, DLA Piper, Chicago IL

My practice has always been substantially transactional in nature, emphasizing corporate and tax law, closely-held businesses and estate planning. However, I learned a long time ago that I enjoy the challenge of advising nonprofit organization pro bono clients because it provides the opportunity to develop and apply skills in substantive areas of the law I find interesting while allowing me to help the clients fulfill their missions for the ultimate benefit of the larger public.

My introduction to tax-exempt organizations was in the late 1970s, to create and obtain recognition of Section 501(c)(3) status for a private operating foundation and several grant making foundations for a family as an extension of their estate planning. Soon thereafter, I started to do pro bono work, typically to structure and create new nonprofit organizations and obtain recognition of 501(c)(3) status, although sometimes I continued to advise them on governance and other operational matters if I felt connected to their missions. The volume, variety and complexity of my pro bono work grew over time to the point that I now devote nearly half my practice to it, serving as "the lawyer" to three very different small charitable organizations, mentoring or assisting numerous lawyers in the firm on their pro bono matters and providing advice to a number of very large charities and even a United Nations agency. This type of practice has also enhanced my ability to advise business and private clients on substantive charitable matters while being sensitive to the needs and point of view of the donee organizations. Two recent examples are a particular source of professional and personal pride.

I was asked in fall 2014 to assist Georgetown University Law Center, DLA Piper and Arent Fox to create the DC Affordable Law Firm to address the "access to justice gap" which leaves persons overqualified for legal aid effectively without representation in civil matters because they cannot afford the normal rates charged by lawyers. The firm would be staffed by six recent Georgetown Law graduates participating in a tuition-free LLM program and supervised and mentored by volunteers from Arent Fox and DLA Piper. This model appeared to be novel compared to the few other 501(c)(3) "low bono" firms known to the sponsors. My research and experience convinced me—and I convinced the sponsors—that exempt status was attainable with appropriately defined charitable classes, a below-market fee structure, and demographic data supporting the conclusion that the firm was charitable, not commercial. Less than two months after I filed my exemption application, the IRS issued its favorable determination letter—no questions asked—and the firm is now operational.

The other example is Project Exploration, a small-staffed and relatively small budget organization that dreams big which has been my client since incorporating it in 1999. Project Exploration seeks to address issues of equity, access and opportunity in public education and beyond through programs for low-income minority youth and girls from underserved neighborhoods who are enrolled in Chicago Public Schools. It is "changing the face of science" (its tagline) by connecting its students with practicing scientists and other skilled facilitators through personalized out-of-school experiences in science, technology and engineering without regard to the students' academic standing and without cost to participate. It serves on average 900 students annually. Its impact has been pretty incredible: 95% of its students have graduated or are on track to graduate high school; 50% are enrolled in or have graduated from 4-year colleges or universities, with many being the first in their families to attend college; 60% are pursuing, or received their degrees in, STEM; 32% hold science-related employment; and 85% of its students say that the organization introduced them to educational options they had not considered. Project Exploration has received national awards for its work and in 2015 became a member of the National STEM Ecosystem Community of Practice as part of the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative Strategy. All of this is despite the fact that, in 2012, it experienced a severe fundraising shortfall compounded by both internal issues and difficult legal disputes with large institutional third parties. Project Exploration could not be allowed to fail, if at all possible. Following a very intense, and legal time-intensive, period Project Exploration survived and is thriving.


I would like to thank the ABA and its Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service for this incredible recognition, and to give my sincere thanks to my clients and colleagues who have supported my nomination and especially to DLA Piper for its deep commitment to pro bono. I would also like to dedicate this Award to my late father, Samuel Schoenberg—a brilliant, yet unassuming, transactional lawyer who practiced for over fifty years and whose devotion to client service and his clients was returned in kind—my first, and best, role model.

Hillary Gaston Walsh, The Law Office of Hillary Gaston Walsh, South Korea

am honored to receive the ABA's prestigious Pro Bono Publico Award. I come from humble beginnings—I grew up poor, lived on a farm in rural Kansas, and was the first person in my family to go to college—so this award is a special milestone for me personally and professionally. Thank you.

Though I'd never met one, my dream of becoming a lawyer began in 6th grade thanks to John Grisham and Hillary Clinton's It Takes A Village. My dream came to life years later, while I was living in Japan due to my husband's assignment there as an F-16 pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He deployed to Iraq for five of our 18 months there, and I spent several of those months apart volunteering in Uganda at an orphanage. In Japan and Uganda, I met women and children who were openly discriminated against and routinely denied access to justice based solely on their gender, sexual orientation, and economic or marital status. When the military moved us to Las Vegas from Japan, I began law school at the William S. Boyd School of Law, hopeful that if I could become a human rights attorney, I could someday advocate for these women and children.

During law school, my passion became focused while working in the immigration clinic, where, under the wing of the brilliant clinic director, Professor Fatma Marouf, I assisted some of the most impoverished, desperate, and neglected members of our society: undocumented noncitizens. My first client was a 14-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and prostituted on the Las Vegas Strip. The stress this caused her mother manifested into Raynaud's disease, an excruciating illness that caused her fingertips to bleed and ache as if they were frostbitten. Though her daughter was now safe, her mother had lost her job because her employer learned she was undocumented; unable to afford food or rent, much less medical care, she was unsure how her family would survive. The T-visa and derivative applications I helped complete were approved, which allowed them to work and access medical benefits. Recently, they applied to become lawful permanent residents.

After graduation, I worked at a leading commercial litigating firm in Las Vegas. Although it wasn't the human rights work I'd set out to do, I enjoyed litigation immensely. Still, I felt most alive when I helped another sex trafficking victim obtain legal status pro bono. Shortly after that case concluded, I read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, and I vowed to become a human rights attorney, starting by taking one asylum case within the year. Days later, however, my husband called from Afghanistan, where he was deployed, telling me that he'd received orders to South Korea; we'd be moving there within the year. I was devastated.

Determined to take my asylum case before we moved, I contacted the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), a renowned nonprofit in Arizona that provides legal services to thousands of detained noncitizens there. FIRRP not only referred an asylum appeal to me, they also helped me navigate this new legal landscape. Fatma, my law school professor, again provided invaluable guidance. Like far too many asylum seekers, this client had been brutally attacked, shot repeatedly, and several of his family members were killed in their Central American home country for his refusal to join the infamous MS-13 gang; this forced him to flee to the U.S. By winning remand, he would get a fair hearing in immigration court, in addition to preventing his errant removal back to his home country (where his persecutors remain). I drafted his appeal at night while my 10-month-old twin daughters slept; days before moving to Korea, FIRRP notified me that I had won remand.

In the two years since moving to Korea, I have taken five more appeals pro bono, three of which were to the Ninth Circuit, and I recently wrote an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court pro bono. These cases all involve clients who have endured horrendous tragedy. One client, for example, fled to the U.S. three times after being raped and impregnated by a gang leader in his effort to "cure" her of her sexual orientation. Not only did immigration authorities wrongly deport her, a bona fide asylum seeker, the immigration court failed to correctly apply the withholding of removal legal standard. Following my appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals remanded her case for a new hearing, possibly saving her life.

I hope I get to do this work for the rest of my life. For now, I'm still a stay-at-home mom to three girls under three, and I still work at odd hours to meet deadlines. This wouldn't be possible without my husband Shawn's unwavering support (and his orders to Korea). I am forever grateful for both.