Ballard Spahr is profoundly honored to receive the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the firm’s pro bono program, our commitment to providing free legal services to those in need remains more steadfast than ever. Over the past three decades, our lawyers have contributed more than half a million hours of pro bono work to individuals, organizations, and causes far too numerous to list. While celebrating those accomplishments, we are looking ahead to new opportunities and challenges.
The past year has been particularly rewarding. We helped clients ranging from individual asylum seekers to seekers of post-conviction relief to internationally renowned elite athletes fighting for gender parity. When the Trump administration unexpectedly issued a travel ban, our lawyers took shifts at airports around the country to help non-U.S. citizens navigate the process. Ballard Spahr attorneys were featured in a documentary film—honored at the Sundance Film Festival—about a woman we represented through Clemency Project 2014. And our pro bono efforts received international news coverage when we helped the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team secure an equitable labor contract.
We are committed to serving the most vulnerable in our community, including immigrants and asylum seekers. Over the years, we have counseled the Lost Boys of Sudan and victims of human trafficking, and we assisted immigrants affected by the travel ban. Last year, our lawyers teamed with the organization Appleseed to draft a manual to help undocumented immigrants protect their families and assets in the event of deportation. Ballard Spahr lawyers also trained Mexican consular officials in U.S. family law so they could better advise panicked Mexican nationals reaching out for help as deportation efforts increased. And, with the administration’s zero-tolerance policy of separating families at U.S. borders, our lawyers have mobilized to represent detainees at bond hearings and to reunite these families.
More than 100 Ballard Spahr attorneys represented clients pro bono through Clemency Project 2014, assisting inmates serving disproportionately harsh prison terms for non-violent offenses under then-mandatory sentencing laws. The firm filed petitions for 81 clients with the Office of the Pardon Attorney; 29 of which were granted by President Obama.
Cindy Shank is one of the prisoners we helped. Sentenced to 15 years for a first-time, nonviolent, drug offense tied to an abusive ex-boyfriend, Cindy left behind three young daughters when she went to federal prison. Her brother, filmmaker Rudy Valdez, documented the story of Cindy's incarceration, the effects it had on her children, and her family's efforts to lobby for sentencing reform. What started as a personal project became The Sentence, a full-length documentary. The film won the Audience Award for a U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this year and landed a deal with HBO for U.S. television and streaming rights.
Ballard Spahr has a longstanding commitment to advancing gender equality. A number of professional female athletes have relied on the firm's pro bono counsel in their fight for equitable pay. For nearly two decades, the firm represented the Olympic gold medal-winning players of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, who, in 1998, sought our assistance on questions involving their contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The firm continues to work pro bono on behalf of high-profile women athletes with its representation of the players of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team. The team, which had won seven world titles leading up to the 2017 World Championships, captured international attention when the players announced that they would protest more than a year of stalled contract negotiations by skipping the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships rather than defend their gold medals. Facing the boycott, USA Hockey resumed negotiations. The players and the firm made history when they negotiated a labor contract with the team's national governing body that provides fair pay and equitable support for women’s and girls’ programs nationwide. The parties agreed on the contract just in time for the team to play in the World Championships—where they beat archrival Canada to win gold. They later went on to win gold at the 2018 Olympics as well.
As we commence our pro bono program's fourth decade, the program has been made stronger than ever by the firm's recent mergers. In January 2018, Ballard Spahr merged with Lindquist & Vennum, a firm with an accomplished pro bono program of its own, touting 100 percent lawyer participation and robust clinical programs. In October 2017, we merged with Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, a media law boutique and longtime contributor of cutting-edge pro bono work in the important area of First Amendment rights. Together, the firms' attorneys contributed more than 50,000 hours of pro bono service in 2017—and we look forward to combined efforts in the years to come.
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