Mayer Brown, a leading global law firm, announced the winners of its seventh annual Pro Bono Awards. The awards honor the outstanding achievements by the firm’s lawyers in providing legal services to individuals and groups with limited means and to organizations seeking to protect civil liberties, civil rights and human rights. 

In 2012, Mayer Brown played a significant role in a broad range of pro bono matters related to marriage equality, access to justice, immigration, education and global poverty. The firm made important contributions toward government transparency and continued advocating for the institutionalization of pro bono outside the US.

“As lawyers, we have the potential to change individual lives, to influence public policy, to promote good government and to support social justice in communities near and far,” said Marc Kadish, Mayer Brown’s Director of Pro Bono Activities and Litigation Training. “This year’s award recipients represent Mayer Brown’s strong commitment to pro bono and reflect the firm’s involvement in all types of matters – large and small, litigation-oriented and transactional, domestic and global.”

A complete list of the 2013 award recipients follows: 

Pro Bono Office of the Year – Palo Alto

Mayer Brown’s Palo Alto office was honored for providing exceptional service to pro bono clients on a wide range of projects in 2012, including: representing individuals facing evictions from their homes in unlawful detainer cases; working with Stanford Law School to release from prison a terminally ill woman who was serving a life sentence for possession of $10 worth of cocaine; seeking asylum and deferred action for a Salvadoran boy who fled his country to escape gang violence; assisting the Family Violence Appellate Project at UC Berkeley Law School; and working with Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto (CLSEPA) to help undocumented immigrants who were victims of violent crimes apply for and obtain U-Visas. In recognition of the Palo Alto office’s efforts to assist undocumented immigrants, the CLSEPA named Mayer Brown its 2012 “Law Firm of the Year”.

Pro Bono Project of the Year – Alternative Dispute Resolution

Three Mayer Brown offices were honored for a combined effort to expand access to justice by providing mediation and settlement representation to pro se, or self-represented, litigants. Since 2005, the Chicago office has been involved in the federal court Pro Se Settlement Assistance Program, handling 38 cases and devoting more than 3,000 hours to the project. In London, 17 lawyers helped operate a mediation telephone line created in collaboration with LawWorks, a provider of free legal services to individuals and community groups that cannot afford to pay for counsel. And Mayer Brown’s Washington DC office has been involved in a pilot program established by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that provides representation to pro se appellants in employment discrimination and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cases.

Pro Bono Litigation Matter of the Year – Marriage Equality
Mayer Brown lawyers have dedicated more than 2,000 hours to marriage equality litigation since 2006. Most recently, the firm filed a historic amicus brief on behalf of 172 members of the US House of Representatives and 40 US senators in United States v. Edith Windsor, the landmark case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. Before that, Mayer Brown lawyers had represented 132 members of Congress in litigation challenging the constitutionality of DOMA before the First, Second and Ninth Circuits, all of which found Section 3 unconstitutional. 

Mayer Brown took several other important steps to advocate marriage equality, including: filing an amicus brief at the request of Campaign for All DC Families in a case challenging the District of Columbia’s law legalizing same-sex marriage; co-counseling with the ACLU of Illinois and Lambda Legal on legislative action and litigation challenging Illinois’ law that prohibits same-sex marriage; and filing an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU of Illinois in a “de facto” parenting case that has significant implications for parenting and custody rights for same-sex couples.

Pro Bono Transactional Matter of the Year – Accion International
Mayer Brown is heavily involved in microfinance, an important tool in combating poverty that provides financial services to the poor and low-income households that do not have access to typical banking services. Cross-office, cross-practice Mayer Brown teams have handled many sophisticated fund formations and capital markets transactions to help microfinance organizations expand their reach to areas such as Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, India, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Most recently, Mayer Brown dedicated 775 pro bono hours to representing ACCION International, a global anti-poverty organization that supports the development and growth of microfinance institutions worldwide, on the sale of a controlling interest in a microfinance fund and the related sale of certain microfinance investments held by the fund, for an aggregate purchase price of $105 million. 

Pro Bono Lawyers of the Year

The following individuals each earned the distinction of Lawyer of the Year, awarded to attorneys who have shown a deep commitment to the firm’s pro bono program.

Pro Bono Partner of the Year – Elizabeth Mann
A Litigation & Dispute Resolution partner in Mayer Brown’s Los Angeles office, Ms. Mann provided legal assistance to LA’s Promise, a nonprofit organization focused on school reform and neighborhood revitalization in South Los Angeles. She also represented a low-income mother in the enforcement of a child support order and supervised several eviction defense cases being handled by lawyers in the Los Angeles office.

As a testament to her deep commitment to pro bono, Ms. Mann was appointed by the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court to chair a committee that will propose significant changes to the California Rules of Civil Procedure to streamline the bench trial process, making the courts more efficient and increasing access to justice.

Pro Bono Partner of the Year – Marius Boewe
A Corporate and Securities partner in Düsseldorf, Mr. Boewe represented the Abbey of St. Ursula, a convent in the city of Villingenthat is being closed. A native of Villingen, Mr. Boewe has had close ties to the abbey since his youth. In 2010, he and a team of lawyers from the Düsseldorf office began negotiating with the city and Episcopal authorities regarding the future of the convent buildings, as well as the archival documents and sacral works of art housed in the convent. Many of these items will become exhibits in a museum of monastic life on the convent’s property.

In addition, together with Real Estate partner Jürgen Streng, Mr. Boewe successfully handled the challenging issue of ownership of some of the abbey’s property by developing a creative solution to transfer ownership back to the convent. 

Pro Bono Counsel of the Year – Kim Leffert
Since 2006, Ms. Leffert has devoted nearly 700 hours to helping vital nonprofit community organizations fulfill their missions and navigate employment matters—from the routine to the highly complex. A Litigation & Dispute Resolution counsel in Chicago, Ms. Leffert has advised pro bono clients including AIDsCare, The Corporation for Supportive Housing, the Latino Education Alliance and Leadership for Quality Education. Ms. Leffert also has represented Women Thrive Worldwide and Arzu Studio Hope, two organizations that help women in developing countries break the cycle of poverty. In addition, she leads a team of lawyers who advise the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago on significant labor and employment-related matters. As a result of Ms. Leffert’s work, United Way recognized Mayer Brown with its 2013 Pro Bono Partner Award.

Pro Bono Associate of the Year – Lisa Plush
Since joining Mayer Brown in 2007, New York Litigation & Dispute Resolution associate Lisa Plush has been heavily involved in pro bono matters. She played an integral role in representing the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network and several other organizations in a FOIA suit seeking government records relating to the US government’s controversial Secure Communities deportation program, and achieved an amicable settlement for a contested adoption case that had spanned several years.

Ms. Plush has taken a leadership role within Mayer Brown’s pro bono program, coordinating the firm’s work on more than 50 cases for the Supplemental Needs Trust Project, which helps low-income elderly disabled individuals access their Medicaid benefits. Ms. Plush also is coordinating Mayer Brown’s work on a major new litigation project with The Bronx Defenders Family Defense Practice.

Pro Bono Leadership Award – Mayer Brown offices in Asia

In Asia, the provision of pro bono legal services is not as institutionalized as it is in other regions. Mayer Brown’s offices in Asia— Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore—have made significant strides in promoting the practice of pro bono law in the region. The offices have created a system and committee for taking on pro bono matters, and a policy to provide credit for pro bono work – something that is still unusual for law firms in Asia.

Participation in the Asia region’s pro bono program tripled last year. The offices have provided legal assistance to nonprofit organizations that promote the welfare of women and girls and care for single girls facing crisis pregnancies, resulting in Mayer Brown’s selection as “Best Firm for Pro Bono Work” at the 2012 Asia Women in Business Law Awards.  The firm’s Asia offices also performed work on behalf of The Nature Conservancy, The World Bank and Global Witness, an organization that campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption.