Pro Bono OVERVIEW

WilmerHale maintains a steadfast commitment to pro bono representation and public service, and believes in an inherent obligation to ensure equal access to justice for underserved communities around the world.


Our commitment to providing a voice for all is demonstrated through pro bono contributions that range from cases of national importance before the US Supreme Court to litigation on behalf of individuals who lack the means to secure necessities as fundamental as housing, adequate medical care, and protection from abuse and exploitation. Through these efforts, and through community service initiatives that have grown into thriving partnerships, we work to enhance the quality of life for many in our local neighborhoods and around the globe.

We have a responsibility to help strengthen our communities, and encourage our lawyers to meet this obligation through pro bono work, government service, service to the bar and teaching. We support public institutions and charitable organizations in the communities in which we practice, and encourage leadership and support on the part of our lawyers through matching gift programs and service on boards and committees.

Contacts

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Herrling, Christopher J.

Christopher J. Herrling

Pro Bono Counsel

+1 202 663 6780 (t)

christopher.herrling@wilmerhale.com

Bowie, Anne

Anne Bowie

Public Service Manager

+1 617 526 5526 (t)

anne.bowie@wilmerhale.com

History

A steadfast commitment to pro bono representation has been a hallmark of the firm since the early 20th century, when Partner Reginald Heber Smith—considered the father of legal aid in the United States—authored the seminal book Justice and the Poor and galvanized the organized bar nationally to secure equal justice for those unable to afford counsel. More than seven decades later, in 1992, Partner John Pickering led the effort to establish the Pro Bono Institute's Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge and ensured that WilmerHale was its charter signatory. Today, as measured by The American Lawyer and other leading publications, WilmerHale's pro bono program ranks as one of the top in the country.

Our lawyers have been involved in many of the influential legal cases and social developments that have shaped the nation. In 1954, Partner Joseph Welch, assisted by lawyers James St. Clair and Jack Kimball, represented the US Army on a pro bono basis in the nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings. In 1963, Partner Lloyd Cutler served as a leading force in creating the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, at the behest of President John F. Kennedy.

The firm's pro bono efforts have also influenced historic developments around the world. Through the Southern Africa Legal Support and Education Project, WilmerHale joined with others to fight apartheid and establish the rule of law in South Africa. Our lawyers also helped write the constitutions of several central European countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.

For more than a decade, our lawyers have provided pro bono legal services to indigent persons through the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, a major clinical teaching facility that has assisted more than 20,000 individuals.

Experience

Our pro bono efforts span a diverse range of issues and interests, and include the following highlights:

  • Obtaining a significant judgment from the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights—the highest court in the African Union—in the first freedom of expression case in the court's history. The case, Konaté v. Burkina Faso, involved Lohé Issa Konaté, a journalist from Burkina Faso, who was imprisoned for a year, and whose newspaper was closed for allegedly insulting and defaming a local prosecutor in Burkina Faso.
  • Representing First Step Economic Opportunity Zone in negotiations with the government of Sierra Leone for the construction of a $150 million steel plant—the nation's first, and the only one in West Africa—to bring manufacturing capability, jobs and export business in the aftermath of the country's civil war. In 2009, the firm helped negotiate an agreement between Washington DC–based nonprofit World Hope International, its subsidiary First Step and the Sierra Leone government to create a special economic zone in that country.
  • Helping to remove barriers in public schools on behalf of Richmond, Virginia's citizens with disabilities. In an important ruling, the court required that Richmond City Public Schools comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act so that the city's citizens with disabilities would have full access to services, programs and activities held at school facilities.
  • Representing 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 contending 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.
  • Overturning the wrongful conviction of Dewey Bozella, who spent 26 years in a New York prison for a murder he did not commit. WilmerHale continues to support the Dewey Bozella Foundation and provides other legal services (in 2011, ESPN presented Bozella with its Arthur Ashe Courage Award and released a documentary on his long quest for justice).
  • Representing the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in arbitration at The Hague's Peace Palace, during which boundary disputes giving rise to ongoing conflict were resolved.

Community Partnerships

The firm continues to honor the legacy of its founders through an innovative community partnership model that brings lawyers and staff together as volunteers to make a decisive impact on issues facing our local communities. The model includes multi-year financial support, pro bono legal representation, volunteer service and in-kind donations agreed upon by the firm and the participating organizations.

Community Partners

  • 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.
  • Citizen Schools is revolutionizing the way children spend their out-of-school time through challenging, hands-on apprenticeships that unite volunteer citizen teachers with children ages 10 to 14. WilmerHale works with the organization in Boston and Palo Alto.
  • The 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 domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims and their children with a range of comprehensive services in New York City. Annually, more than 10,000 domestic violence survivors and their children are reached through direct services, and more than 20,000 community members are reached through awareness-building initiatives.
  • 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.

Volunteer Programs

WilmerHale hosts numerous volunteer events in its offices, with firm lawyers and staff coming together to serve the community. For example:

  • through WilmerHale's Youth and Education Initiative, the firm promotes the academic and personal development of urban youth through weekly tutoring programs and career preparation workshops in Boston, New York and Washington DC;
  • twice a year, lawyers teach middle school students the basics of litigation in preparation for their own 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; and
  • lawyers and staff participate in food and clothing drives in the cities in which the firm has offices, with a particular focus on healthy food for the recipients and on supporting sustainable local agriculture.

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.

Pickering Fellowships

WilmerHale continues to honor founding Partner John Pickering's legacy and lifelong commitment to public service through the annual presentation of the Pickering Fellowship. This program allows a selected associate to spend six months working at a public interest organization.

Pickering Fellowship placements include:

Publications & News

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December 11, 2017

National Veterans Legal Services Program Honors WilmerHale as a Pro Bono Partner of the Year

The National Veterans Legal Services Program, a nonprofit organization that offers pro bono support to help veterans and active duty personnel obtain compensation and benefits from the US government, honored WilmerHale with its 2017 Pro Bono Partner of the Year Award.

December 1, 2017

The Boston Globe Ranks WilmerHale Among Top 10 Best Places to Work

The firm was ranked ninth out of a total of 35 similarly-sized Boston employers, and is the only law firm that placed to the large employer list.

December 1, 2017

The Equal Rights Center Resolves Race and Source of Income Discrimination Complaint Through Robust, Court Enforced Agreement with DC Housing Provider

The ERC, a civil rights organization that seeks to promote equal opportunity in housing, has entered into a consent agreement with The Lenkin Company Management/Residential, Inc. and related entities.

October 25, 2017

WilmerHale Celebrates 20 Years of Strategic Philanthropy

This year marks an important milestone in WilmerHale's history, with the anniversary of the firm's adoption of a distinctive philanthropy model that has guided the firm's community service efforts for 20 years.

August 29, 2017

Felicia Ellsworth Appointed to Standing Advisory Committee on Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure

The committee reviews issues and proposals concerning the Massachusetts Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure, and advises the Justices on the rules of civil and appellate procedure.

August 29, 2017

WilmerHale Assists Pepe the Frog Creator in Enforcing IP, Striking Back at Islamophobic Children’s Book

On behalf of client and artist Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe the Frog, WilmerHale has enforced Furie's intellectual property rights to shut down distribution of Eric Hauser's controversial children's book The Adventures of Pepe and Pede.

August 10, 2017

DC Lawyers Support Record-Breaking Legal Aid Fundraising Campaign

Lawyers in WilmerHale's Washington DC office raised $135,000 for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia's annual Generous Associates Campaign, a fundraiser run by associates at DC law firms each summer.

August 10, 2017

WilmerHale Team Offers Pro Bono Support at Detention Center

Volunteers from the Washington DC office traveled to the Farmville Detention Center in rural Virginia to meet with detainees awaiting deportation proceedings.

August 3, 2017

WilmerHale Advances on The American Lawyer A-List

WilmerHale has earned the number four spot among the nation's top 20 law firms in the 2017 edition of The American Lawyer's A-List.

July 17, 2017

WilmerHale Announces 2017 Pickering Fellow

Senior Associate Nana Wilberforce has been selected as WilmerHale's 2017 Pickering fellow. Wilberforce, based in Washington DC, is a member of the Antitrust and Competition Practice.

Recognition

Our pro bono work and philanthropy have garnered numerous awards and honors.

2017

  • 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.

2016

  • 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.

2015

  • 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

  • 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.

2013

  • 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.

2012

  • 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. 

2011

  • 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.

2010

  • 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.

View a list of our pro bono honors prior to 2010.