Brought to you free by the New York Law Journal.
There is no question the efforts of law firms, bar groups and service providers make a huge difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities. But in this relentlessly tough economy, the poor are slipping further down the economic ladder and even once solidly middle class families are losing economic ground. But there is good news, and you will find it in the profiles of the New York Law Journal's second annual Lawyers Who Lead by Example.
Shearman & Sterling
Although Shearman requires each of its lawyers in the United States to spend at least 25 hours on pro bono annually, the New York attorneys go far beyond the minimum. The office's 340 attorneys logged more than 27,000 hours each year from 2009 through 2011, working on cases that range from clearing a man wrongly convicted of murder to assisting veterans in obtaining benefits to standing up for the rights of pizza delivery workers.
Selfhelp Community Services has been assisting victims of Nazi persecution and elderly New Yorkers for decades, but until Valerie Bogart arrived the not-for-profit had a skeletal legal operation, with a single part-time attorney who handled an advice hotline once a week. Now, it has a potent office that in the last fiscal year provided advice to 658 individuals, including 130 victims of the Holocaust.
Sarah Cave, a securities and bankruptcy litigation partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, has been involved in some of the most high-profile securities matters in the last decade. But in spite of the demanding nature of her practice, she has found time to develop an additional expertise in immigration law and devote significant hours to individual pro bono cases and recruiting others to the cause.
In the three years since Donald Curry, a partner at 175-lawyer Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto in Manhattan, has been running the firm's pro bono committee, the average per-lawyer commitment increased from one hour annually to 39 while the percentage of attorneys devoting more than 20 hours a year jumped from 0.8 percent to nearly 35 percent.
As a trusts and estates associate at Duane Morris, Jamie Dyce's practice wouldn't normally intersect with sex trafficking victims. But through a partnership with a non-profit organization, Dyce and the firm's New York office have made representation of former sex slaves their signature pro bono initiative. For Dyce, the unofficial coordinator, service to the sexually exploited has become the centerpiece of her ambitious 200-hour-per-year pro bono commitment.
As attorney-in-charge of the Office of the Appellate Defender, Richard Greenberg is all-too aware of the difficulties and dangers offenders encounter when they return from the void of prison to a society that moved beyond them during their time behind bars. So in 2001 the New York OAD became the first in the country to combine a direct-service, social work re-entry program with an indigent appellate practice.
As the oldest of nine children, watching other people's backs comes naturally to Nixon Peabody partner Daniel Hurteau. "I didn't come from a family that had a lot of money and I didn't have a ton of opportunities," said Hurteau, who grew up in a farm town of 235 nestled in the upper reaches of the Adirondack wilderness. "But I am extremely fortunate. I think personally that we all need to give back, because there are people you can help with really a minimum effort."
When Sharlene Tillett walked into Alla Kazakina's New York Legal Assistance Group office 10 years ago, she was trying to escape a life of domestic abuse and looking for someone to guide her on the long road to becoming a U.S. citizen. What she found was not just a lawyer, but a confidant, counselor, therapist and friend. "She's just there no matter what," said Tillett.
Coming from a family of modest means, Barbara King understands how the legal needs of middle America can fall between the cracks. The wealthy can afford to hire attorneys, the indigent have various avenues of obtaining legal assistance, but the middle class are, well, in the middle. To address that problem, King created the Modest Means Program for the Schenectady County Bar Association three years ago.
Helping people who otherwise may get lost trying to navigate the legal system is something that is second nature to Jamie Levitt. From 1996, when the Columbia Law School graduate joined Morrison & Foerster, until 2011, Levitt averaged more than 170 pro bono hours per year, and she has a particular passion for defending vulnerable populations against fraud, even in the most controversial matters.
Toni Anne Nichels
Toni Anne Nichels, senior managing employment and human resources counsel at Xerox, found the perfect solution for an in-house lawyer with a long-term and serious commitment to pro bono. As a volunteer for the Pro Bono Partnership, she advises nonprofits - ranging from a child-care center to a cancer support team to Meals on Wheels - on employment and personnel matters, shielding those groups from what could be devastating litigation.
Todd Norbitz said he is motivated only by knowing "how wonderful it feels to help another person. I feel privileged to have a law degree and the tools to be able to help." As chair of the pro bono committee of Foley & Lardner's New York office, he has not only himself contributed nearly 1,200 hours from 2005 through last year, but encourages colleagues to seek out matters they're most passionate about.
Angela Vicari said she jumped at the chance to join a Kaye Scholer team representing migrant farm workers after she joined the firm in 2004 because "it sounded like a very complex case, not one where you handle and wrap up in a few months," and it would offer opportunities for professional development. Her instincts on both counts were correct. Seven years later, Vicari, who has become lead counsel for her firm in the case, has spent more than 1,035 pro bono hours on the workers' wage claims.
NYU School of Law
Few lawyers can claim their work directly prompted the U.S. Solicitor General's Office to admit it misrepresented facts before the U.S. Supreme Court. Students in New York University School of Law's Immigrant Rights Clinic, however, can lay claim to that boast, after their Freedom of Information Act request led to the federal government backing off its claim that it helps facilitate the return of deported immigrants who win their appeal.
Articles: John Caher, Laura Haring, Christine Simmons
Photos: Rick Kopstein
Print Design: Miguel Romero