Mayer Brown announced the winners of its ninth annual Pro Bono Awards, which 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, human rights and the environment.
In 2014, the firm’s global pro bono program donated more than 48,000 hours, providing legal services and other assistance to hundreds of individuals and organizations around the world. Many of these efforts were recognized through numerous awards received by the firm and by individual lawyers.
“At Mayer Brown, we believe pro bono work is a critical component of the legal profession and an important responsibility lawyers should uphold,” said Marc Kadish, Mayer Brown’s Director of Pro Bono Activities and Litigation Training. “In 2014, Mayer Brown dedicated thousands of hours to representing disadvantaged clients and challenging the law on behalf of important causes across the globe.”
A complete list of the 2015 award recipients follows:
Pro Bono Projects of the Year – Forced Marriage Initiative and the Coral Reef Preservation Project
Forced Marriage Initiative
Part of the firm’s commitment to supporting international human rights matters, the Forced Marriage Initiative is a pro bono partnership with client Caterpillar Inc. and the Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit dedicated to protecting immigrant women and girls from gender-based violence. Almost 80 Mayer Brown and Caterpillar lawyers in Asia, Europe and the Americas researched the laws in 25 countries related to marriage, dissolution of marriage, domestic violence and other relevant areas. They developed a series of reports profiling the relevant human rights conditions, laws and customary practices in these countries. The Tahirih Justice Center used the research to create a website with an interactive map providing information on each country, which is designed to help public service organizations and lawyers who may be contacted by victims. The website also provides emergency contact information to potential victims. According to the Tahirih Justice Center, the research is already having a lifesaving impact—it is helping people from the US who are facing forced marriage situations overseas find safety, dignity and freedom. The Tahirih Justice Center named Mayer Brown and Caterpillar Inc. its 2014 “Corporate Partners of the Year” for investing more than 3,500 pro bono hours in the project.
Coral Reef Preservation Project
Mayer Brown also recognized lawyers in six offices for their involvement with a pro bono research project to promote the protection of coral reef structures in Latin America in partnership with the Interamerican Association of Environmental Defense and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. The project was part of the firm’s Global Environmental Protection and Sustainability Initiative. Over a two-year period, approximately 25 Mayer Brown and Tauil & Chequer lawyers in Chicago, Houston, New York, Palo Alto, Washington DC and Rio de Janeiro spent more than 1,000 hours researching, evaluating and contributing to the International Best Practices for Coral Reef Protection, which provides basic legal and regulatory tools and practices that can be modified, improved and applied according to unique circumstances of each country seeking to implement stronger protections for coral reef resources. Mayer Brown also acted as coordinating counsel for several other firms around the world. The project was led by Banking & Finance partner Paul Forrester (Chicago) and managed by associate Sean Kulkarni (Washington DC).
Pro Bono Litigation Matter of the Year – Marriage Equality
Mayer Brown has a tradition of advancing civil liberties and civil rights through its litigation efforts related to marriage equality. The firm honored lawyers in Chicago, New York, Palo Alto and Washington DC who have dedicated more than 2,000 hours to various marriage equality cases since 2006.
In 2014, Mayer Brown lawyers partnered with the ACLU of Wisconsin on Wolf v. Walker, a case that successfully overturned Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on the marriages of same-sex couples. On expedited appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that decision in a widely publicized opinion by Judge Richard Posner. Mayer Brown also partnered with the ACLU of Wisconsin and the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project on Bloechel-Karlsen v. Walker, a lawsuit filed in federal court to vindicate the marriages of more than 500 same-sex couples who were married in Wisconsin in a single week after the district court’s ruling in Wolf.
In addition, Mayer Brown briefed and argued several other LGBT discrimination cases on behalf of business interests and civil liberties organizations. The firm has also filed amicus briefs in four other marriage equality cases before the Eighth Circuit.
Pro Bono Transactional Matter of the Year – Carrington Charitable Foundation Project
Mayer Brown provided litigation, real estate, tax and trust advice to Carrington Charitable Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation in their joint mission to provide custom smart homes for severely wounded veterans and their families. The homes are provided to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost multiple limbs and have had to re-learn how to function in their daily lives with unique physical challenges. The firm’s work has included advising the organizations on charitable trust matters, preparing the program and trust documents for service members participating in the program, and resolving ownership and funding issues. Mayer Brown partnered with client the Carrington Companies on the project.
The team was led by Litigation & Dispute Resolution partner Bronwyn Pollock and associate Michael Shapiro (both Los Angeles), and included Banking & Finance partner Jon Van Gorp, Wealth Management partner Donna Morgan, Real Estate counsel Jack Edelbrock and Banking & Finance associate Joanna Nicholas (all Chicago). Together, the team donated approximately 650 hours to the matter in 2014.
Pro Bono Leadership Award –Practice Advocates Program in London
Mayer Brown recognized its London office for paving the way for active participation in pro bono in the firm and within the local community. Over the past year, Mayer Brown lawyers in London developed a new pro bono structure, which appointed pro bono advocates for each of the practice groups in that office. At a time when funding cuts in the UK are reducing access to justice to those in need, these advocates delegated pro bono matters, made their groups aware of the business case for pro bono, and advocated the program internally and externally. Not only have the advocates taken on cases themselves, they have increased awareness among lawyers and clients of the purpose and impact of the firm’s pro bono program, encouraging them all to become involved.
Pro Bono Lawyers of the Year
The following lawyers have shown a deep commitment to pro bono work and to the firm’s pro bono program in 2014 and over the course of their careers.
Pro Bono Partner of the Year – Brian Netter
Litigation & Dispute Resolution partner Brian Netter (Washington DC) was honored for securing an important pro bono victory for the DC Council in landmark litigation regarding the District’s budget. After the Council enacted and the voters ratified a budget autonomy referendum that permitted the District to spend its own revenues, the then-Mayor of Washington DC refused to enforce the amendment. A federal district court then invalidated the Budget Autonomy Act and enjoined the Council from enacting the budget.
In 2014, the Council filed suit against the Mayor and the District’s CFO and Mr. Netter and others successfully represented the DC Council before the Court of Appeals. With the support of the new Mayor of Washington DC, they succeeded in reversing the district court and having the injunction vacated.
In 2014, Mr. Netter also worked on an appeal before the Second Circuit on behalf of a small business owner who was sued for unpaid wages. At the Second Circuit’s request, Mr. Netter has agreed to continue representing the client on remand.
Pro Bono Associates of the Year – Michael Lotito and José Caicedo
A New York-based Restructuring, Bankruptcy & Insolvency associate, Michael Lotito devoted 125 hours to pro bono work in 2014. For the past two years, Mr. Lotito has been one of the organizers of the New York office’s work on the Supplemental Needs Trust Project.
Mayer Brown partners with Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest on the Supplemental Needs Trust Project, which helps low-income elderly, disabled or blind individuals place money in trust accounts that are exempt for Medicaid purposes. These individuals can then use this money to pay for other essential expenses, such as food and rent, rather than spending it on costly medical care. The demand is high for supplemental needs trusts – since the program’s inception in 2006, Mayer Brown lawyers have billed approximately 3,000 hours to the project and established trust accounts for almost 90 clients, vastly improving the quality of life for these individuals. In addition to handling many of the trusts himself, Mr. Lotito has organized training programs, recruited and mentored new Mayer Brown participants. With Mr. Lotito’s leadership, the New York office has made a lasting impact on the community and markedly improved the lives of a very vulnerable population.
Litigation & Dispute Resolution associate José Caicedo (Paris) devoted 136 hours to pro bono work in 2014. He led a team of Paris and US lawyers in researching and preparing a white paper on the Dominican Republic’s nationality law as it relates to Dominicans of Haitian descent. The white paper demonstrates how the Dominican Republic’s legal shift in light of international human rights law has resulted in an arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and violated international law. The white paper has been used to advocate before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the denationalized Dominicans of Haitian descent. The work was performed in partnership with the Center for Equality & Justice in International Law and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. Mr. Caicedo coordinated Mayer Brown’s efforts internally, as well as externally with the firm’s partner organizations.
Pro Bono Paralegal of the Year – Neil Taylor
Paralegals are often unsung heroes on pro bono matters. Since 2008, Los Angeles Litigation & Dispute Resolution paralegal Neil Taylor has devoted almost 470 hours to pro bono work. Between 2014 and the first half of 2015, Mr. Taylor spent more than 150 hours on pro bono matters. His work has been primarily focused on a project that advocates reinvestment in the court system. The project supports the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court in an outreach program to educate California legislators about massive funding cuts that have resulted in numerous court closures and consequently impacted victims of domestic violence, as well as low-income Los Angeles residents who need access to family law services. The current Presiding Judge of Los Angeles Superior Court recently praised Mayer Brown and Mr. Taylor’s work on this matter.