[Pro bono work is] a chance to make courts, colleagues and the public see issues in a new way.
Describe your firm’s philosophy on pro bono service.
Mayer Brown has long deployed its resources to confront systemic problems around the world where it can have a major impact. In addition to supporting large-scale projects, including the firm’s most recent work challenging the administration’s immigration policies, the firm also encourages lawyers to pursue individual cases and issues of importance to them. These cases can change people’s lives and have a ripple effect that allows individuals, families and communities to thrive and succeed. –Marcia Maack
What are the two biggest cases your firm worked on in 2019? Tell us more about those cases and how you reached the outcome.
1) We won freedom for a client who had served 23 years of a life sentence for joyriding based on California’s Three Strikes law. Ken Oliver had been forced to serve eight years in solitary confinement—simply for reading a classic novel wrongly deemed “gang material.” Working with Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, we won [Oliver’s] release from prison in June 2019 and a hefty settlement from California’s Department of Corrections. –Ward Johnson
2) Mayer Brown challenged the federal government’s termination of “temporary protected status” (TPS) for Haiti, which was granted after a devastating 2010 earthquake and which has allowed nearly 60,000 Haitians to live and work lawfully in the United States. A team of 60 lawyers and staff completed discovery and trial preparation in a compressed period and then presented the case at a four-day hearing, which resulted in a 145-page ruling granting a preliminary injunction in April 2019. –Miriam Nemetz
What was the most satisfying aspect of that work?
Giving our client his freedom. Oliver, who memorized the Rutter Guide cover to cover while he was in solitary, now works as a paralegal at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and has recently testified before the California State Senate. His case exposed ongoing injustices from the Three Strikes law. –Ward Johnson
Our victory in the Haiti TPS litigation meant that 59,000 Haitians and their children were able to stay in the U.S. Many of the children are U.S. citizens who might have sustained severe harm had they been forced to remain here without their parents or return to Haiti before it was safe to do so. –Miriam Nemetz
What other pro bono matters is the firm working on?
Mayer Brown is involved in several other high-impact cases. Most recently, the firm stood up for asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border and challenged a new administration policy that effectively stripped these asylum seekers of their right to access the U.S. asylum process. In November 2019, the firm secured a preliminary injunction, which will ensure that approximately 26,000 migrants will have a chance to have their asylum claims heard.
In December 2019, we secured a preliminary nationwide injunction against a proposed [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] rule that made it harder for immigrants to qualify for fee waivers in the naturalization process. This victory is crucial for hundreds of thousands of green card holders and upholds the principle that the U.S. is welcoming of all immigrants. –Marcia Maack
Why does pro bono work matter to you as a lawyer?
It’s a chance to make courts, colleagues and the public see issues in a new way. It’s also a chance to bring in junior lawyers who—often for the first time—visit a client in prison, meet other prisoners and see a side of the justice system that they don’t ordinarily see. –Ward Johnson
Responses submitted by Marcia Maack, director of pro bono activities, and partners Ward Johnson and Miriam Nemetz.
Reprinted with permission from the May 4, 2020 edition of The National Law Journal © 2020 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.