Pro Bono Newsletter
In This Issue
- First Global Pro Bono Awards Ceremony
- Bringing Debt Relief to Rosie’s Place
- Q&A: A Global Commitment to Pro Bono Service
- Ropes & Gray Honored at Inaugural Chambers Diversity Awards
- Pro Bono Honor Roll
Celebrating Pro Bono Service
A commitment to pro bono service is one of Ropes & Gray’s proudest hallmarks. This year, the firm’s annual pro bono celebration reflected the ongoing globalization of our pro bono program. Congratulations to all who were recognized for their efforts. Our pro bono commitment also recently earned gratifying recognition at the Chambers Diversity Awards. If you have pro bono projects you would like to propose, or want to learn more about opportunities currently available, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Roz Nasdor, director of pro bono legal services, Byrne Harrison, pro bono coordinator, Felicity Kirk, international pro bono, or Tom Sciattara, senior human resources and pro bono administrator.
Ropes & Gray’s 13th Annual Pro Bono Awards ceremony marked an important milestone. It was the firm’s first global celebration, with events held in the Hong Kong office on June 8, and in the London and U.S. offices on June 9. The celebration was broadcast to all firm offices and featured speakers in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C. and London.
The global celebration was a fitting way to mark the increasing globalization of the firm’s pro bono program.
The drive to expand pro bono efforts worldwide has already produced significant results, according to government enforcement partner Joan McPhee, policy committee liaison to the pro bono committee. Speaking from the San Francisco office during the ceremony, she noted that the firm more than tripled 2014 pro bono participation rates in London and Asia during 2015. In all, a record 1,393 timekeepers worldwide performed pro bono service in 2015, logging a total of 114,000 pro bono hours, another record for the firm.
Deborah Levi Award
Special situations partner and pro bono committee co-chair Jeff Katz presented the Deborah Levi Award, which honors the memory of a former Ropes & Gray litigation associate and pro bono champion, to the Ropes & Gray team that launched an ongoing series of weekly debt clinics at Rosie’s Place, a Boston-based women’s shelter. Private investment funds partner Ann Milner, a member of the Rosie’s Place governance committee and a driving force behind the establishment of the debt clinics, accepted the award on behalf of the team.
Team Award for Release of George Perrot
In Washington, D.C., commercial litigation partner and pro bono committee co-chair Bill Sussman presented a second team award, honoring the efforts of the Ropes & Gray team that secured the release of George Perrot, imprisoned for 30 years for a crime the team proved he did not commit. Mr. Perrot’s release followed a landmark ruling that came after the team demonstrated that the testimony of an FBI hair analyst at Mr. Perrot’s second trial in 1992 exceeded the limits of science. The court’s decision to overturn Mr. Perrot’s conviction and grant him a new trial could have nationwide impact on cases that involved erroneous hair-analyst testimony. The team was led by government enforcement partner Kirsten Mayer and included associates Nick Perros, who accepted the award on behalf of the team, and Chris Walsh.
Individual Award: Mark Hunting
In London, finance partner and pro bono committee co-chair Matt Cox recognized associate Mark Hunting for his dedication to pro bono service. Mark has been heavily involved with the Centre for Criminal Appeals, which seeks to overturn wrongful convictions in the U.K., and serves as a point person for the team that is working with Liberty Asia to explore the use of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to combat human trafficking.
Speaking from London, managing partner David Chapin brought the ceremonies to a close by noting how gratified he was by the extent to which the firm’s pro bono program has expanded globally, and by reiterating the policy committee’s challenge to attorneys to commit at least 20 hours to pro bono service annually.Go to top
Rosie’s Place provides support, housing and education services to 12,000 women each year. When private investment funds partner Ann Milner, who serves on the governance committee of the Boston-based women’s shelter, asked Rosie's Place executive director Sue Marsh to identify gaps in the shelter’s services, she cited debt issues as an area in which the shelter's clients could use assistance.
To learn more, Ropes & Gray ran two focus groups at Rosie’s Place in April and May of 2015 and discovered that the shelter's clients had problems with debt stemming from many sources, including student loans, utility bills, credit cards and medical bills. In many cases, the shelter's clients had no ability to repay their debt, but regularly received threatening letters and phone calls from collectors. Some were so overwhelmed that they had shopping bags full of unopened bills; others were dogged by unresolved debt issues that made it difficult to address critical housing, employment and benefit needs.
The firm identified dealing with debt collectors as a promising pro bono opportunity—not only because of the relief it would bring clients of Rosie’s Place, but also because the work would give attorneys who prefer not to engage in litigation a chance to provide pro bono assistance.
Since June 2015, the National Consumer Law Center, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income individuals and families, provided a three-hour training session in Ropes & Gray’s Boston office. The organization walked firm attorneys through debt analysis, the process through which debt goes into collection, the rights and remedies available to people in debt, and the provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The firm recorded the session to make it accessible to any attorney who needs to view it.
The training gave the Ropes & Gray team the background it needed to begin helping the women of Rosie’s Place. Since June 2015, the firm has held debt clinics at Rosie’s Place each Thursday, effectively setting up an office at the shelter. After an initial screening conducted by a team of paralegals, a client may meet with one or two attorneys, depending on the nature of her situation. In the 15 months since the program began, the firm has seen about 210 clients—many more than once—through the clinics, which are staffed by four attorneys.
“Most of our clients are ‘judgment-proof,’ ”says Caitlin Mulligan, the associate who leads the firm’s work at Rosie’s Place, under the supervision of Ann Milner. “They have this debt and they don’t have any way to pay—their income, whether from welfare, Social Security or food stamps, is protected, so we can send a ‘judgment-proof’ letter to creditors, telling them to stop calling our clients.” She notes that in cases of utility-related debt, the team tries to negotiate a payment plan with the utility so that a client’s heat and/or electricity will be turned on.
“Debt issues are emotionally overwhelming,” adds Ms. Mulligan.“They are complicated, especially if you move around a lot, or have been in relationships where you did not pay the bills. We typically pull a client’s credit report, go through it with the client, and explain a client’s options with regard to the various debts. That experience alone lifts a tremendous weight off a client’s shoulders.”
To date, the debt defense clinic at Rosie’s Place has involved more than 40 attorneys and four paralegals from the Boston office, as well as staff members from a variety of firm departments, including the library, information services and facilities.
In addition to Ms. Milner and Ms. Mulligan, the Boston-based Ropes & Gray Rosie’s Place debt clinic team has included private client group partner Brenda Diana; tax partner Jennifer Harding; private investment funds partners Debra Lussier and Larry Jordan Rowe; private equity transactions partner Amanda Morrison; benefits partner Peter Rosenberg; special situations partner Jeff Katz; investment management partner Thomas Hiller; associates Allison Ambrose, John Ames, Minal Caron, Anastasia Caviris, Kevin Cegan, Alexandra Fenty, Kathryn Gevitz, Charlie Haydock, Anita Hertell-Brennan, Katie Hyland, Angela Jaimes, Sydney Leavens, Melissa Mostow, Ariella Mutchler, Kate Nolan, Emily Oldshue, Kathryn Seevers and Christian Westra; summer associates Nathaniel Gray and Alexandra Ivanov; paralegals Jasmin Bishop-Londy, Shannon Manley and Stacy Tollman; former paralegal Rachel Ryan; and senior research librarian Kim Sweet.Go to top
London-based finance partner Matt Cox was named a co-chair of Ropes & Gray’s pro bono committee in 2015. Felicity Kirk, also based in London, was hired last year to develop and manage the firm’s international pro bono work. Felicity reports to Rosalyn Nasdor, firmwide director of pro bono legal services.
Can you give us an overview of the firm’s expanded pro bono focus?
Matt: As part of our “one-firm” strategy, we have been proactive in expanding the fantastic pro bono program we have in the U.S. Integral to that effort is Felicity, who joined us in September 2015 to develop our international pro bono program. She is responsible for the London and Asia offices and brings over 15 years’ experience in establishing and managing pro bono programs.
In addition, the firm’s pro bono committee was expanded to include Mimi Yang in Shanghai, Kaede Toh in Japan, Hyo Young Kang in Seoul, Andy Dale in Hong Kong, and myself and Amanda Raad in London. I also joined Bill Sussman and Jeff Katz as co-chairs of the committee. The aim is to involve partners in every office, as they are best placed to understand the local pro bono environment and are on the ground to encourage lawyers to make the 20-hour pro bono commitment.
Pro bono work plays an important role in unifying the firm, with lawyers from all offices collaborating on projects such as anti-wildlife trafficking research for Lawyers Without Borders and participating in joint training sessions for projects such as our criminal appeal cases work in London.
How does our pro bono approach differ across our various geographies?
Felicity: The jurisdictional challenges vary enormously. In particular, we are limited in our ability to practice local law in certain offices. To overcome this, we need to identify international pro bono opportunities that span jurisdictions, such as the Lawyers Without Borders research, or partner with local law providers. Also, we must accommodate regulations governing our license to operate, together with local sensitivities. In Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo, for example, it is harder to assist individuals directly, so lawyers look to collaborate on projects generated in the U.S. and London. The Shanghai office has signed on to the China Guiding Cases Project, providing translation and commentary on cases designated as precedent by the Supreme People’s Court, and it will be advising a nongovernmental organization incubator project. Teams in Hong Kong and London are currently working on wrongful conviction cases with the Centre for Criminal Appeals, and lawyers in Shanghai are helping U.S. colleagues prepare amicus briefs. There are also plans to involve lawyers from Asia in U.S. asylum cases.
Can you describe some of our key global pro bono successes?
Matt: At the end of last year, we had 35 lawyers from London and Asia researching anti-wildlife trafficking laws as part of our partnership with Lawyers Without Borders. This paved the way for the recently launched Kenya judicial training program, through which Ropes & Gray lawyers from multiple regions will travel to Nairobi to give trial advocacy training to over 50 judges, trial lawyers and enforcement officers around the issue of wildlife trafficking. Next year, we hope to expand this effort to similar trainings in Tanzania covering human trafficking.
Also, a Hong Kong-led team undertook a detailed study of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s use in combatting human trafficking for Liberty Asia.
Other highlights include a debt-for-nature swap closed by a London team in the Republic of Seychelles for The Nature Conservancy that provides for the implementation of a marine conservation zone roughly equivalent to the size of Germany. The Tokyo office is currently handling some amendments to the documentation. We are now working with The Nature Conservancy on two further initiatives—a “green bond” issuance, and the development of a structure for the first “blue bond” issuance.
What are your global pro bono priorities over the next year?
Felicity: For me, it’s finding projects that engage busy lawyers, showing lawyers that they can make a valuable contribution in an area outside their immediate practice area, and making sure that we can offer a range of pro bono opportunities to interest all lawyers. I would like to double the percentage of our international lawyers who do 20 or more hours of pro bono work during the year.
Matt: The key for me is to promote and support our pro bono practice so that all lawyers at the firm feel that they have a genuine opportunity to get involved.Go to top
Chambers recognized Ropes & Gray’s pro bono and diversity efforts at the inaugural Chambers Diversity Awards in New York on June 16, honoring the firm with the award for “Pro Bono Program of the Year.” Ropes & Gray was cited for its standout work on high-impact matters, including its role arguing for marriage equality at the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the historic resolution of Nunez v. City of New York, a multiyear class-action litigation that sparked meaningful prison reform at Rikers Island and other New York City jails. During the keynote address at the ceremony, Shannon Price Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), spoke of the critical role that lawyers have played in leading the United States to historic change in the areas of gay rights and gender equality. He specifically praised the leadership of Ropes & Gray appellate & Supreme Court partner Doug Hallward-Driemeier and Ropes & Gray’s work with NCLR and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders on Obergefell, explaining that this collective momentum has led to significant societal change.Go to top
To date, more than 570 firm attorneys and more than 60 staff members have performed 20 or more hours of pro bono service in 2016. We laud their efforts, as well as those of the many Ropes & Gray employees whose time is not tracked but who are essential to the success of our pro bono program. View the honor roll
Pro Bono Committee
- Matthew L. Cox, Co-Chair
- Jeffrey R. Katz, Co-Chair
- William I. Sussman, Co-Chair
- Albert F. Cacozza
- Andrew J. Dale
- Gregory C. Davis
- Christopher G. Green
- Laura Hoey
- Hyo Young Kang
- Kendi E. Ozmon
- Amanda Raad
- Alexandre H. Rene
- Andrew N. Thomases
- Kaede Toh
- Stephen A. Warnke
- Mimi Yang
- Joan McPhee, Policy Committee Liaison to the Pro Bono Committee
- Rosalyn Garbose Nasdor, Director of Pro Bono Legal Services
- Byrne R. Harrison, Pro Bono Coordinator
- Felicity Kirk, International Pro Bono
- Tom Sciattara, Senior Human Resources and Pro Bono Administrator