On November 15, 2007, Mayer Brown held its first Annual Pro Bono Awards Program to recognize the efforts of our attorneys and staff, and to honor those lawyers, practices, and offices that made extraordinary contributions in 2006.  The event was hosted by the firm’s Chairman, Jim Holzhauer, with participation from all US offices via videoconference.  This inaugural awards program was just one of many endeavors the firm is engaging in to raise awareness of the importance of pro bono work, and to promote the efforts of all our lawyers who have given their time and their skills to help others and to ensure equal access to justice. 

Awards this year were handed out in six categories, with winners from nearly every US office.  In addition, each award winner designated a legal services organization, public interest organization, or charity of choice, to which the firm will make a financial contribution in recognition of their award.  Awards and recipients were as follows:

Office of the Year was awarded to Houston, which averaged 97 pro bono hours per lawyer, had a 60 percent overall participation rate, and a 78 percent participation rate among associates. The office’s most extensive work has been in the area of asylum and immigration, and work on behalf of death row prisoners.  A six-year effort in one of those cases resulted in the court vacating our client’s death sentence.  The office’s tremendous success was also aided by the sizeable contribution of its real estate group, which nearly doubled its pro bono hours from 2005 to 2006.

There were two winners for Practice Group of the Year. The first awardee was the New York Real Estate Practice, which averaged 83 pro bono hours per attorney and had an 83 percent increase in pro bono hours from 2005. The majority of those hours were spent working on loan transactions for the Corporation for Supportive Housing, an organization that provides funding to help communities create housing with services to prevent and end homelessness.

The second award went to the Washington Litigation Practice, which averaged 100 pro bono hours per lawyer, had an overall participation rate of 70 percent and a nearly 100 percent associate participation rate. The group’s pro bono cases ranged from saving poor tenants from eviction to arguing an immigration case before the Supreme Court.  Lawyers in the Washington litigation group also worked on asylum, public benefits, domestic violence, human trafficking, and death penalty cases.

Project of the Year was awarded to the Los Angeles Adoption Project. Since 2001, the Los Angeles office has worked with the Alliance for Children’s Rights to help finalize the adoptions of more than 200 children in foster care.  The project has involved lawyers from almost every major practice group in the office, including litigation, corporate, bankruptcy, government relations, real estate, and finance.  

For Litigation Matter of the Year, there were three winners:

State of Illinois v. Larry Lee — the Lee team devoted more than 1100 hours to the successful defense of an innocent man accused of a serious felony. The team of Chicago lawyers on the Lee case included partner Jonathan Medow, associates Doressia Hutton, Shauna Fulbright, and Keona Carter, and Marc Kadish, the firm’s Director of Pro Bono Activities and Litigation Training.

Riggs v. Fairman — the Riggs case involved the application of the California three-strikes law, which resulted in our client being sentenced to 25-years-to-life for shoplifting a bottle of vitamins. Palo Alto partner Don Falk took the case in 1999, and joining him on the team during the seven years of litigation were New York partner Lauren Rosenbaum Goldman, and Palo Alto associate Shirish Gupta.  Together they devoted almost 2000 hours to securing our client’s freedom, which he finally won after spending 10 years in prison. 

Guantanamo Detainee Litigation — the third litigation award was given in recognition of the efforts of all the firm’s lawyers who have been involved in the Guantanamo detainee litigation.  Since the fall of 2003, Mayer Brown lawyers have been actively involved in every phase and aspect of this high-profile litigation challenging the U.S. government’s detention of alleged “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo and elsewhere.  Gary Isaac accepted the award on behalf of all the involved attorneys, which includes Philip Lacovara, Partners Robert Helman, Andy Pincus, Jim Schroeder, Adrian Steel, and Jeff Strauss, associates Emilie Beavers, Jeff Berger, Catherine Bernard, Steve Kane, Lauren Frank Noll, Liz Oyer, Andrew Schaefer, Matthew Sostrin, and Andrew Tauber, and paralegal Steve Wells.  

There were two winners in the category of Transactional Matter of the Year:

Nadar Por Vida — the first award went to the team of lawyers working for Nadar Por Vida, an outreach program where kids – most of whom are Latinos living below the poverty level – learn about the importance of education, overcoming prejudice, racism, language barriers, and more, all while learning to swim.  With the help of Mayer Brown attorneys, Nadar has been able to incorporate as a not-for-profit organization, and to raise funds to increase the number of children it reaches and expand its programs.  The team of lawyers on the Nadar project includes Washington DC partner John Hahn and counsel Linda Rhodes, and Chicago partner Rich Assmus.  Together they have devoted over 150 hours to helping the organization. 

SKS Microfinance — the second award was given to Chicago partner David Carpenter and associate Paul Breloff for their work on behalf of SKS Microfinance, an India-based microfinance organization that provides small loans to poor women for a range of income-generating activities. To date, the firm has devoted more than 400 hours to SKS. When Mayer Brown first became involved with SKS, the most pressing need was to raise capital in order to serve more people. David played the central role in organizing and coordinating SKS’s first round of equity investment, which resulted in one of the most significant and heavily publicized transactions of its kind in the microfinance arena.  Since then, David and Paul have worked with SKS on a second round of equity, which closed in March 2007, and together the SKS team has devoted more than 400 hours to our client.

The final award went to the Chicago Stockton School Reading Program as Community Service Project of the Year.  For the past 13 years, the Chicago office has participated in an educational program with Stockton School, where 90 percent of the students live below the poverty line, and 20 percent come from homeless shelters.  Together with our program partner, Merrill Lynch, lawyers and staff from the Chicago office conduct reading days once a month, and sponsor an end-of-year field trip.  Until last year the reading program was managed by Michele Gossmeyer, the program center manager for the IS Department.  The program is now being managed by Tiffanie Brncich and Kristy Cole, both with our Knowledge and Web Solutions Department.

In addition to these awards, the event also recognized and honored those lawyers who, in 2006, met the firm’s Pro Bono Challenge goal of devoting 60 or more hours to pro bono work.