Public Service and Pro Bono
With the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, successfully convinced the US government to release a non-citizen who had been detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement for more than three months, separating her from her US citizen husband and 10-year-old son. This client is among many others represented by WilmerHale who are challenging the US government's efforts to separate families pursuing lawful immigration status, including a proposed class action specifically challenging the separation of married couples.
Obtained approval from the US military on behalf of a 90-year-old client to have her 1955 discharge from the Air Force upgraded to “honorable” after finding that her separation from the service was more than likely due solely to her being a lesbian. She had been expelled from the Air Force with an “undesirable” discharge.
Argued to the US Supreme Court that the Veterans Benefits, Heath Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to restrict competition for certain contracts to veteran-owned small businesses. On behalf of a veteran-owned business in Maryland, argued that the contracting preference was mandatory, while the United States argued that the contracting preference was discretionary. The court ruled on behalf of our client, meaning veteran-owned small businesses will receive priority to compete for billions of dollars in contracts each year before the VA can turn to other suppliers.
Acting as pro bono co-counsel with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, achieved a major victory when the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously held the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. That decision marked the first ruling striking down DOMA by a federal appeals court, and was affirmed by the US Supreme Court’s historic decision in United States v. Windsor, which ensured the legality of same-sex marriage.
Obtained a verdict on behalf of a death row inmate in a US Supreme Court case in which the Court declared unconstitutional Florida’s use of a clinically arbitrary IQ test score cutoff to determine whether an individual has an intellectual disability and is thus ineligible for the death penalty—without regard for the measurement error inherent in IQ testing.
Represented the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) in a key election law case before the US Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of the AIRC, created by the People of Arizona using their initiative power under the Arizona Constitution to eliminate gerrymandering by elected officials. The decision affirmed the constitutionality of similar commissions created in California and other states, and acknowledged that the People of the States may reform the political process through direct popular lawmaking.
Represented six Bosnian-Algerians who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for seven years in the historic Boumediene v. Bush decision, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. Subsequently, a federal court upheld the claim that the US government had no lawful basis for imprisoning five of the six Bosnian-Algerian men at Guantanamo Bay.
Successfully contended that the Eighth Amendment forbids the death penalty for persons under the age of 18 in Simmons v. Roper, one of the most significant death-penalty decisions in recent history.
On behalf of the creator of Pepe the Frog, enforced intellectual property rights to shut down distribution of a controversial children’s book that featured a character named Pepe the Frog; espoused racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes; included allusions to the alt-right movement; and was deliberately targeted at children. Under threat of litigation, the defendant admitted infringement and agreed to stop distribution of the book in all forms.
Prosecuted a civil human trafficking complaint on behalf of a young woman from Cambodia alleging that the defendants in the case participated in a scheme to traffic, exploit and abuse her in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, California and Federal labor laws, tort law, and RICO. The team successfully defended a motion to dismiss and secured a favorable holding from the chief judge of the Central District of California. Trial is set for early 2019.
For several years, along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, represented a single plaintiff challenging Texas’ unduly restrictive and racially discriminatory voter identification requirements. The Fifth Circuit ultimately held that Texas’s voter ID law had a discriminatory effect on minority voters. In April 2017, on remand from the Fifth Circuit, the district court held that the voter ID law was also passed with a discriminatory intent.
In August 2017, filed suit on behalf of five Jane Doe plaintiffs seeking to declare that the US president’s directive to categorically exclude transgender people from military service is unconstitutional and to enjoin its enforcement. Following on several federal court rulings that blocked the president’s directive, the Department of Justice withdrew its initial appeals, paving the way for transgender people to enlist in the military beginning on January 1 of the year.
Pro Bono Contacts
Kimberly A. Parker
Vice Chair, Litigation/Controversy Department[email protected] +1 202 663 6987
Felicia H. Ellsworth
Vice Chair, Litigation/Controversy Department[email protected] +1 617 526 6687
Christopher J. Herrling
Pro Bono Counsel[email protected] +1 202 663 6780
Public Service Manager[email protected] +1 617 526 5526
WilmerHale hosts a range of volunteer events in its offices, with firm lawyers and staff coming together to serve the community.
- The firm promotes the academic and personal development of diverse youth through weekly enrichment programs and select career preparation workshops in Boston, Dayton, Los Angeles and Washington DC.
- Firm lawyers teach middle school students the basics of litigation in preparation for the students’ mock trial presentations before sitting judges at courthouses in Boston and Palo Alto.
- The firm hires eight Boston-area high school students as interns each year as part of the Summer Leadership Institute, and works with urban young adults in Boston, New York and Washington DC through Year Up.
- Lawyers and staff participate in food and clothing drives in the cities in which the firm has offices, with a particular focus on supplying healthy food and supporting sustainable local agriculture.
- The firm provides high school students with an overview of the diverse job opportunities available in the corporate, financial and cultural sectors through Career Discovery Week, organized by the New York City Department of Education and Partnership for NYC.
FellowshipsThe Payton Fellowship
The Payton Fellowship was established to honor John A. Payton, who was the sixth president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), one of the nation's premiere legal organizations fighting for racial justice. Prior to joining LDF, John was a partner of our firm for more than 10 years. A brilliant litigator, John dedicated his life to justice, equality and opportunity until he died in 2012. Upon his passing, President Barack Obama remembered John as a “legend” and “a true champion of equality,” whose “courage and fierce opposition to discrimination in all its forms” would never be forgotten. Through the fellowship program, selected associates, senior associates and counsel from the firm's US offices spend six months working at a civil rights organization, where they participate as lawyers in the organization’s work.
The Pickering Fellowship
The Pickering Fellowship was established in honor of firm Founding Partner John H. Pickering, who benefited the legal profession and generations of lawyers by his lifelong support for a wide range of public interest activities and his commitment to the training of associates. Through the fellowship program, selected associates, senior associates and counsel from the firm's US offices spend six months at a public interest organization, where they participate as lawyers in the organization's work.
Legal Services Center
In 1993, the firm and its partners who attended Harvard Law School provided the funds to establish a permanent site for the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. Since then, this unique relationship has grown far beyond the initial “bricks and mortar” donation. For more information, visit the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School website.
For a look at the history of the center, view “The Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center: 1993-2003: Ten Years of Creative Collaboration Among a Law School, Its Legal Services Center, and a Private Law Firm,” a case study by Shira Shaiman.
Bread for the City serves 10,000 low-income and homeless people in Washington DC each month through food and clothing distribution, a medical clinic, a legal clinic, and social service programs.
Cathedral High School is an urban, co-educational school in Boston that serves nearly 300 students with a diverse mix of ethnic, economic and faith backgrounds.
Dayton Early College Academy is a K-6 school designed to immerse students in a personalized, rigorous elementary curriculum to ensure they will succeed in high school, college and beyond.
Discovering Justice: The James D. St. Clair Court Education Project is a nonprofit organization in Boston dedicated to providing civic education and teaching children and adults about the role of the justice system in American democracy.
Hyde Square Task Force serves 1,000 youth ages 6 to 21 from across Boston through leadership development, college preparation, arts and cultural enrichment, youth-led community organizing, and positive community-building events.
Sanctuary for Families provides 10,000 domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims and their children with a range of comprehensive services in New York City annually.
See Forever Foundation/Maya Angelou Schools creates learning environments in lower-income Washington DC communities where teens who have not succeeded in traditional schools can reach their full potential.
Bread for the City
Cathedral High School
Dayton Early College Academy
Hyde Square Task Force
Sanctuary for Families
See Forever Foundation/Maya Angelou Schools
Recent Public Service and Pro Bono News
Settlement Reached in Landmark COVID-19 Class Action Case Against Bristol County House of Correction
- Leading up to the 2021 event, the firm is recognized by the Equal Justice Coalition for its advocacy in support of civil legal aid at the prior year's Walk to the Hill in Boston. WilmerHale earns the Team Advocacy Award, which is given to the law firm that visits the most legislative offices during the annual event. Walk to the Hill brings together lawyers, law students and advocates to walk the floors of the Massachusetts State House and lobby legislators to support funding for civil legal aid.
- The firm earns a spot among the top 10 on The American Lawyer’s 2020 A-List, which honors the 20 “most elite law firms in America” that have illustrated excellence in five important categories, including pro bono work. This marks the 17th year that WilmerHale has been included on the A-List, and the fifth consecutive year among the top 10, since its inception 18 years ago.
- WilmerHale is named to The National Law Journal’s 2020 Pro Bono Hot List, which features the law firms and lawyers dedicated to making a monumental impact on the lives of those in need, and Partner Mark Fleming is recognized as an Immigration Law Trailblazer.
- WilmerHale receives the Equal Justice Coalition’s Team Advocacy Award for visiting the most legislative offices during the previous year’s Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, an annual event that draws hundreds of legal professionals to the Massachusetts State House to advocate for legal aid funding.
- WilmerHale is recognized by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) for its successes in pro bono litigation against the Social Security Administration. Counsel Arpit Garg receives the NOSSCR’s Eileen P. Sweeney Award, which is presented to an “individual whose outstanding service has resulted in a significant…improvement in the Social Security adjudicatory process.”
- A WilmerHale team that represented a pro bono client in a precedent-setting sex and labor trafficking case is recognized as the Litigation Team of the Year by the Human Trafficking Legal Center at the On My Side awards. The annual event honors courageous trafficking survivors and the pro bono community that stands with them.
- Sanctuary for Families, New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence, honors a team of WilmerHale lawyers with a 2020 Above & Beyond Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Advocacy. The team is honored for its compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of a trafficking survivor, helping her obtain a T-Visa after achieving a successful resolution in her trafficking case.
- Longtime WilmerHale community partner Bread for the City recognizes the firm on its blog with a Corporate Partnership Spotlight. The post states, “To say WilmerHale's commitment to community service extends far and wide is an understatement,” and summarizes some of the programs WilmerHale has supported since the relationship began in 1996, including running mock trials and weekly enrichment programs for middle school students, hosting food and clothing drives, and pro bono legal work.
- WilmerHale is recognized as a 2020 Top Charitable Contributor in Massachusetts by the Boston Business Journal for the 14th consecutive year. The annual list showcases companies that promote and prioritize giving back to their communities.
- WilmerHale is recognized with Hyde Square Task Force's Corporate Leader Award, which is presented annually to a corporation that exercises good citizenship and embodies the values of the organization. WilmerHale has supported Hyde Square Task Force since 2011 through financial support, hosting college and career-focused workshops for youth, and providing pro bono legal services to the organization’s partner nonprofits.
- WilmerHale is named a Top Corporate Philanthropist by the Washington Business Journal.
- WilmerHale is ranked by the Boston Business Journal as a Top Corporate Charitable Contributor in Massachusetts for the 13th consecutive year.
- WilmerHale is named to The National Law Journal’s 2019 Pro Bono Hot List, which features the nation’s top law firms dedicated to leading the way on access to justice.
- The firm receives the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network’s Immigrant Liberty Awards Pro Bono Service Award.
- WilmerHale is recognized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area with the Jack W. Londen Award for civil rights advocacy.
- The firm is named to MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership’s 2019 National Corporate Mentoring Honor Roll, which recognizes companies for their commitment to connecting young people with career opportunities they might otherwise not be able to access.
- The firm’s Palo Alto office is recognized for its mock trial apprenticeship program by Citizen Schools.
- WilmerHale is recognized by the Boston Bar Association and Volunteer Lawyers Project for its contributions as one of the founding firms of the Lawyer for the Day program in the Boston Housing Court.
- The firm is recognized by the DC Bar Pro Bono Center with the DC Bar Laura Rinaldi Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award.
- WilmerHale is selected as one of two Vanguard Award recipients by the Pro Bono Project Silicon Valley.
- WilmerHale earns the number two spot on The American Lawyer’s A-List, which highlights the best of the best law firms for their commitment to revenue per lawyer, pro bono work, associate satisfaction, racial diversity and gender diversity among the partnership. This year, The American Lawyer cites the firm’s commitment to pro bono work as an example of how the markers measured by the A-List work together to build a successful firm.
- The firm is recognized by the Walden Woods Project for its almost 30 years of pro bono support for the project's mission: preserving Henry David Thoreau's iconic Walden Woods.
- The firm is honored by the Legal Aid Society as a recipient of the 2019 Pro Bono Publico Award for outstanding service to the organization and its clients. Counsel Joanna Howard, Senior Associate Ilya Feldsherov and Associate Jeremy Schiffres are also recognized for their individual efforts.
- WilmerHale receives City Year's Extraordinary Service Award for 30 years of outstanding pro bono legal services to the organization. City Year notes it is "deeply grateful for the firm’s tremendous commitment to our work and mission to help students and schools succeed and develop leaders for the common good."
- The firm is recognized as a 2018 Top Charitable Contributor in Massachusetts by the Boston Business Journal.
- WilmerHale receives Mass Mentoring Partnership’s Excellence in Empowering Youth-Adult Relationships Award.
- The firm is recognized by the Immigrant Defense Project for its work in the area of immigrant rights.
- WilmerHale is recognized by Maya Angelou Public Charter School for its tutoring program and commitment to supporting the school’s mission.
- WilmerHale receives the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice’s Keeper of the Flame Award for its visionary leadership in founding the organization.
- The firm is recognized by the Public Justice Center (PJC) as an Outstanding Partner for its work with the PJC’s National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel to revise the American Bar Association’s Directory of Law Governing Appointment of Counsel in State Civil Proceedings.
- The firm is recognized in The American Lawyer’s annual “A-List” and earns the number four spot—WilmerHale's highest position in these prestigious rankings since they were first published 15 years ago. The American Lawyer notes that WilmerHale’s “pro bono, [revenue per lawyer] and female equity partner scores are among the strongest in The Am Law 200.”
- WilmerHale receives the Pro Bono Partner of the Year Award from the National Veterans Legal Services Program.
- The firm is honored by FamilyAid at its Home for the Holidays celebration for its longstanding pro bono support.
- WilmerHale receives the Foot Soldier in the Sand Award for outstanding contribution of pro bono legal services to the NAACP.
- The firm is honored with the Marvin Frankel Award for outstanding dedication to pro bono service and work on behalf of asylum seekers by Human Rights First.
- WilmerHale is recognized as the Advocacy Firm of the Year from the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center for our extensive work in the human trafficking field.
- WilmerHale receives the Pro Bono Outstanding Service Award from the Political Asylum and Immigration Representation Project (PAIR) for our representation of an pro bono client who was granted asylum in the United States after an 11-year case.
- For the 13th year, the firm is recognized in The American Lawyer’s annual “A-List,” a compilation of leading US firms that recognizes overall excellence, financial success, commitment to pro bono work, workforce diversity, and the training and development of younger lawyers.
- WilmerHale is among the top 20 law firms in The American Lawyer’s list of the top 200 firms for pro bono work, both nationally and internationally.
- Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice honors WilmerHale at its annual benefit in New York for the firm’s impressive level of support provided through monetary contributions, strategic advice and counseling, and leadership on the advisory board.
- The firm is honored at DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice’s awards reception for its pro bono contributions.
- WilmerHale receives the Neighborhood Legal Services Program’s Enduring Impact Award, which recognizes organizations that have a deep impact on the lives of low-income Washington DC residents and provide continued support to the nonprofit.
- For the third consecutive time, Sanctuary for Families, a service provider for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and other related forms of gender violence, honors WilmerHale with an Above & Beyond Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Advocacy.
- WilmerHale is recognized among the Vault Law 100, an annual ranking that honors the best firms based on a compilation of factors, including pro bono work.
- WilmerHale receives the Pro Bono Law Firm Award from PAIR for excellence in and dedication to asylum pro bono service. WilmerHale has represented PAIR clients since 1989, winning asylum for indigent asylum-seekers who fled from Algeria, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ghana, Lebanon, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tibet and Uganda.
- WilmerHale is honored for its leadership and dedication to public service at the City Bar Justice Center’s 10th annual gala. Through programs such as the Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Veteran’s Assistance Program and 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, WilmerHale has provided pro bono legal services to dozens of homeless families, veterans, unaccompanied minors and victims of the 9/11 attack.
- Legal Aid of Western Ohio presents WilmerHale with the Signature Sponsor Award for Access to Justice, recognizing the firm’s continued support.
2014 and Earlier
- For the second consecutive year, Sanctuary for Families honors WilmerHale during the 12th Annual Above & Beyond Event, which celebrates lawyers who have made a positive impact on the lives of domestic violence and sex trafficking victims through pro bono representation.
- WilmerHale is included in Financial Times’ North America Innovative Lawyers Social Responsibility list for its firmwide Community Partnership Model.
- For the third consecutive year, Law360 names WilmerHale to its “Pro Bono Firms of the Year” list for notable successes ranging from issues affecting the United States to life-altering representations of individual clients.
- WilmerHale is recognized among the nation’s top law firms for commitment to pro bono work in The American Lawyer’s AmLaw 200 rankings.
- WilmerHale is honored for outstanding pro bono dedication and efforts at the Healing & Hope reception, an annual awards ceremony and fundraiser for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
- Who’s Who Legal names WilmerHale to its “Pro Bono Leading Firm” list, honoring the firm for committing significant time and resources to strengthen local communities.
- The firm is recognized during a Women's Bar Foundation event in Boston for its longstanding dedication to representing survivors of domestic violence and assisting seniors in need of end-of-life documents.
- WilmerHale receives the Pro Bono Publico Award for outstanding service to the Legal Aid Society and its clients, and is recognized for its representation of the Coalition for the Homeless as well as its partnership with the New York Legal Aid Society.
- WilmerHale is among 14 law firms to receive the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s Beacon of Justice Award. This year’s award recognizes firms that have innovative public-private partnerships that protect equal justice for all through appellate litigation.
- WilmerHale receives The Child Welfare League of America’s annual National Corporate Advocate of the Year Award. The firm is recognized for providing unsurpassed pro bono service to fight laws that prevent gay, lesbian and unmarried families from providing care and homes to children in need.
- The American Constitution Society, Boston Chapter, recognizes WilmerHale as a leader in pro bono representation on important constitutional rights issues. The firm receives this recognition for its representation of the petitioners in Boumediene v. Bush to successfully secure justice for inmates at Guantanamo Bay.
- The American Bar Association’s Litigation Section gives WilmerHale the John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism award. The award is presented to individuals and law firms that have made “outstanding contributions to the quality of justice in their communities, ensuring that the legal system is open and available to all.” Since 2001, only four firms have received the award.
- WilmerHale’s International Arbitration Practice is awarded the honor of Pro Bono Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards in London for the group’s work on behalf of The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army.
- WilmerHale is presented with the Maya Way Award for Community Service and is recognized as a social justice champion and community partner by the See Forever Foundation during a fundraiser to support the Maya Angelou Schools in Washington DC.
- WilmerHale is honored by City Year in recognition of the firm’s 20 years of service representing City Year as its pro bono national counsel.
WilmerHale Recognized for Commitment to Youth MentorshipLearn More
WilmerHale Secures Maryland Congregation’s Right to Vote on Its Church’s FutureLearn More
MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership has named WilmerHale to its 2019 National Corporate Mentoring Honor Roll, which recognizes 61 companies for their commitment to connecting young people with career opportunities they might otherwise not be able to access.
The court ruled that Maryland Corporations and Associations Code § 3-508 had been violated and ordered the defendants to conduct a new vote to get member approval before any further attempts to merge.