The economic crisis may be taking its toll on law firms across Washington, but that hasn’t stopped 26 firms from logging a record-setting number of pro bono hours.
In recognition of that effort this morning, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia hosted the sixth annual “Forty at Fifty Judicial Pro Bono Recognition” breakfast to honor firms that had 40 percent of their lawyers contribute 50 or more hours of pro bono work. This year 26 of the 109 firms that have offices in D.C. with at least 25 lawyers met that requirement and logged a combined 27,000 hours of pro bono work. Last year, 21 firms met the “40 at 50” benchmark.
“The law firms are really stepping up on pro bono work, and it’s so necessary in today’s economic environment,” says Judge Rosemary Collyer, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Law firms are feeling the pinch of the times, but they’re still managing to make time to show their commitment to pro bono work.”
This year marked the first time the celebration honored firms that had at least 40 percent of its partners meet the 50-hour benchmark. The firms that received a special mention included DLA Piper; Gilbert Oshinsky; Jenner & Block; Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and Chief Judge David Sentelle, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, addressed the crowd of about 50 people who gathered for the celebration and congratulated Washington attorneys for their continued commitment to pro bono work.
“There is nothing wrong with making money, and I wouldn’t besmirch that for attorneys at all,” Sentelle says. “But at the end of your career, when you’re talking to your children and your grandchildren, Is it enough to say you made a lot of money or that you made your billable hours? Or would you rather say you helped a widow stay in her home, or kept an innocent person out of jail?”
Lamberth took time to congratulate his former clerk Thomas Perrelli, President Barack Obama’s new associate attorney general and the former managing partner of Jenner & Block’s Washington office, for entering government and going on “a pro bono kick of a different sort.” (To read more about Perrelli’s successor Michael DeSanctis, click here).
Lamberth also roguishly applauded Wilmer Hale’s success in their pro bono work for several Guantanamo Bay detainees. The firm’s Supreme Court victory in Boumediene v. Bush granted habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo Bay prisoners and allowed them to challenge their detention in U.S. federal courts
“In the case of Boumediene v. Bush, Wilmer Hale is the firm that won in the Supreme Court and ruined my life,” Lamberth joked. “Since June 12, I’ve been thanking Wilmer Hale every day.”
See more photos of the event after the jump.