Given the high percentage of District of Columbia residents living below the poverty line, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today stressed the importance of law firm pro bono work.
Garland praised 28 local firms where at least 40 percent of lawyers performed a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service last year. He spoke at the 10th annual "40 at 50" Judicial Pro Bono Recognition breakfast at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse.
"With government service agencies facing budget cuts, law firms like yours will be needed to fill the gaps," Garland said.
Hughes Hubbard & Reed and Jenner & Block topped this year's list, with 65 percent or more of lawyers doing at least 50 hours of pro bono work. At least 40 percent of partners at both firms also met the 50-hour goal.
U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth said in his remarks that Jenner was one of the only firms he knew that counted pro bono hours towards attorneys' overall hours for compensation. That policy is "very progressive thinking," he said.
Jenner litigation partner Lindsay Harrison, speaking after the event, said the firm didn't limit the type or amount of pro bono work done by attorneys. "Each lawyer can forge an identity doing pro bono work that interests them," she said. Harrison said one of her pro bono highlights from last year was an immigration case in which the U.S. government agreed to not only allow her client to return after being wrongfully deported, but also to pay for the ticket.
Seven other firms were honored for having at least 50 percent of lawyers meet the 50-hour benchmark: Arnold & Porter, Bryan Cave, Covington & Burling, Crowell & Moring, Paul Hastings, Ropes & Gray, and Winston & Strawn.
Susan Hoffman, Crowell & Moring's public service partner, credited the U.S. District Court and D.C. Circuit judges with promoting pro bono work. In her remarks, she said D.C. Bar members sometimes took that courts' support for granted, noting that she had heard from lawyers in other jurisdictions who didn't enjoy the same level of judicial commitment to pro bono.
The D.C. Circuit Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, chaired by Hoffman and Legal Services Corporation executive director James Sandman, honored Lamberth and D.C. Circuit Senior Judge David Sentelle for their support.
The committee gave Lamberth and Sentelle engraved metal cowboy hats, a nod to their southern roots. Sentelle recently stepped down as chief, and Lamberth will do so as well this summer.
Other firms recognized today for meeting the "40 at 50" goal were Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Debevoise & Plimpton; DLA Piper; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Hogan Lovells; Jones Day; Kirkland & Ellis; McDermott Will & Emery; Miller & Chevalier; O'Melveny & Myers; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Patton Boggs; Reed Smith; Shearman & Sterling; Sidley Austin; Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Steptoe & Johnson; and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr.
National Law Journal photos by Zoe Tillman. Above, D.C. Circuit Senior Judge David Sentelle and U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth receive gifts of appreciation for their support from the pro bono standing committee.
From left, D.C. Bar Foundation Executive Director Katia Garrett and Crowell & Moring public service partner Susan Hoffman.
From left, D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Jenner & Block partners Lindsay Harrison and Joshua Segal.
From left, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras and Eric Angel, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.