Morgan Lewis is committed to serving the public good. Our innovative, award-winning pro bono practice spans all of our offices around the globe. Each year, we provide more than 1,800 pro bono clients with the highest possible level of service. Our primary focus is on helping economically disadvantaged individuals and families in the communities where we live and work. We also provide legal services to nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations whose mission is to serve vulnerable individuals and communities. Our lawyers use their time and skills to ensure access to justice for people who otherwise could not afford it.
Morgan Lewis has long treated pro bono hours as billable, and we recognize and reward lawyers who have achieved success in pro bono representations. We expect every eligible lawyer to annually contribute at least 20 hours to pro bono representations. In fiscal year 2020, 100% of our 2,100 eligible lawyers met that goal. In total, our lawyers contributed 137,432 hours to pro bono representations in fiscal year 2020.
We encourage all of our lawyers to become involved with public service at the earliest stages of their careers. Each year during our summer associate program’s kickoff event, our summer associates participate in a hands-on legal clinic. In 2019, they helped 35 clients apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals. Our summer associates regularly work on ongoing pro bono representations, and we encourage first-year associates to take on a pro bono case when they start. We also partner with many of our clients on limited-scope clinics and full representations.
In His Own Words: Demond Weston
Our public benefits work covers five core areas: veterans’ benefits, access to housing, access to healthcare, Social Security disability, and access to education. Our work in these areas spans all of our US offices and includes counseling low-income clients on critical poverty law issues. Successful resolution of a public benefits matter might mean that a senior can stay in her home or a disabled person receives appropriate Social Security benefits.
We are particularly proud of our public benefits work on behalf of veterans. Not only do lawyers across the firm regularly handle individual benefits matters before the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but Morgan Lewis also plays a substantial role in driving how the VA benefits landscape is shaped across the United States. Most recently, a team of lawyers in Washington brought a class action on behalf of more than 5,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed in service with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Upon discharge, these vets were assigned a disability rating lower than what was required by statute, which resulted in many class members failing to qualify for free VA medical care. By developing arguments and facts in this matter with the same dedication and drive they would expend in a matter for a paying client, the Morgan Lewis lawyers were able to settle the case favorably, resulting in a substantial upgrade in the plaintiffs’ military disability ratings.
In 2014, we led a team of legal services organizations, private lawyers, and law professors who settled a suit to resolve claims on behalf of thousands of people deprived of proper benefits under Los Angeles County’s General Relief program. General Relief, which is administered by the county and mandated by state law, provides critical cash aid to help individuals secure resources for basic survival. Most General Relief recipients are homeless and rely on this aid for necessities such as food and medicine. The suit, Guillory, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, resolved claims involving approximately 106,000 individuals who were improperly denied General Relief benefits in violation of state law and constitutional guarantees of due process. Our first-rate strategic thinking and problem-solving skills resulted in a landmark settlement agreement following 15 months of intensive negotiations with Los Angeles County.
In recognition of our tremendous work in this matter, Public Counsel, our co-counsel on this matter and the United States’ largest legal services organization, selected our lawyers to receive its prestigious 2014 Volunteer Appreciation President’s Award.
We serve individuals fleeing persecution overseas, undocumented and unaccompanied minors who came to the United States when they were young, immigrant women whose immigration status is dependent on an abusive spouse, and victims of human trafficking and other crimes. To help these clients obtain legal immigration status, and enjoy the opportunities the United States offers, is one of our greatest professional privileges.
Serving immigrant children is a hallmark of our pro bono practice. We have helped many young children who were abused, abandoned, or neglected by their parents or guardians obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in the United States. Most recently, a Houston-based team obtained SIJS for a five-year-old girl we have been representing since her infancy. Our client, Baby S, was born in Mexico, a product of rape. After her biological father went to prison for the rape of her biological mother, she was sold to smugglers who tried to take her into the United States. US authorities captured the smugglers and released our client into the custody of Catholic Charities, which asked us to represent the infant girl. A team of Morgan Lewis lawyers worked for almost four years to terminate the parental rights of Baby S’s biological parents and to obtain permanent residency for her. After years of intense litigation, we were able to convince the US Department of Homeland Security to dismiss the deportation proceedings filed against Baby S. In the meantime, Catholic Charities placed Baby S with a loving and caring foster family. Our work paved the way for Baby S’s wonderful foster family to formally adopt her.
Our work on civil liberties matters is diverse and substantial. It includes appellate-level First Amendment work, a significant prisoners’ rights practice, a growing international human rights practice, marriage equality impact litigation, and a nationally recognized death penalty practice.
Our death penalty practice is a cultural cornerstone of our firm. Since 1988, Morgan Lewis has dedicated nearly 60,000 hours to work on behalf of individuals on death row, many of whom have actual innocence claims. Our work on behalf of John Thompson, a former Louisiana death row inmate, remains our firm’s signature achievement in this area. As a result of 15 years of vigorous state and federal proceedings and intense investigation by the firm, Mr. Thompson was exonerated and released. In addition to our lifesaving efforts on behalf of Mr. Thompson, our work has also resulted in the commutation of one client’s death sentence to a life sentence, a new sentencing hearing for a third client, and a grant of a new trial for a fourth client.
In 2005, at the request of Sister Helen Prejean, a cross-office Morgan Lewis team became involved in the representation of Ms. Henderson, a Texas death row inmate. Ms. Henderson was convicted of murder in the death of an infant in her care. When Morgan Lewis became involved in the case, the conventional habeas proceedings had been virtually exhausted. We launched a new and detailed investigation of the facts and legal issues, focusing on the scientific evidence. Just two days before Ms. Henderson’s scheduled execution, we obtained a stay and ultimately a new trial for our client. In 2013, the District Attorney’s Office announced that it would not seek the death penalty at our client’s retrial.
In recognition of our death penalty practice’s historic achievements, the firm received the 2013 American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project’s Exceptional Service Award.
We also represent clients on other civil liberties issues. In Pennsylvania, we filed a case of first impression on behalf of a same sex couple challenging the commonwealth’s failure to recognize our clients’ out-of-state marriage. Our lawyers have also filed multiple amicus briefs in various US courts of appeals on behalf of hundreds of employers contending that states that fail to recognize same-sex marriage put an undue burden on employers and make it difficult to attract and retain talent.
Our firm has a vibrant and varied pro bono practice on behalf of families and children. Our work in this arena helps bring together families and gives voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
Our lawyers serve as court-appointed advocates for children who have been abused or neglected. By representing the best interests of these children, we play a small but significant role in helping them find a supportive and nurturing environment. In addition, we handle domestic-violence and protection-from-abuse work in many of our offices. These matters offer unique courtroom experience for many of our young litigators, making the work both personally and professionally rewarding.
We also provide advice and counsel on adoptions and guardianships, both for minors and incapacitated adults and counsel families on their right to an appropriate education for their disabled child.
Among our many accomplishments in this arena, a team from our Washington, DC office recently achieved an excellent result in a complex custody case. We represented the mother of a 13-year-old boy in a bifurcated child support proceeding and child custody trial. Our client raised her child essentially on her own, but after she pressed for back child support, the child’s father sued for joint custody in D.C. Superior Court, where a presumption of joint physical and legal custody applies. After a two-day trial, the judge entered a 41-page opinion awarding our client primary physical custody and final decision-making authority on legal custody issues. The court found our client to be an intelligent, competent, and loving mother who had provided a stable and secure home to which the “bright and articulate” and “insight[ful]” child was “particularly well adjusted,” and found the father’s custody requests to be insincere and “partially motivated by financial reasons.” Through two child support hearings, we also obtained an accounting of amounts in arrears and an increase in payments.
Our global work on behalf of not-for-profit and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) draws upon the firm’s broad strengths. We counsel tax-exempt organizations doing critical work such as providing direct services to the poor and disabled, fostering scientific research and innovation, and promoting the arts and education.
Like our for-profit clients, these entities require legal assistance in order to maintain their day-to-day operations and grow their businesses. We provide these clients a full range of business law services including corporate governance work, intellectual property counseling, transactional assistance and labor and employment advice.
These organizations represent our largest pro bono client base outside the United States. In our Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia (EMEAA) offices, we provide NGOs with business counsel and the tools to properly navigate various national regulatory regimes. For example, our Moscow lawyers regularly hold roundtables for and provide direct advice to NGOs in Russia that promote access to education, provide support services for the elderly and disabled, encourage charitable giving, and address domestic health crises. We counsel and handle litigation for these NGOs on numerous employment issues including hiring and firing, labor contracts, leaves of absence disputes, and the use of volunteers. Our Moscow lawyers’ charitable commitment draws multiple accolades, including most recently, the 2013 Pro Bono Award from Legal Success magazine and PILnet.
Our work for US not-for-profit organizations is equally robust. In 2014, a team of lawyers in our New York office helped a charitable organization that raises money for wounded veterans to obtain the local permits required to conduct fundraising for veterans’ causes. Despite raising nearly $200,000 for wounded warriors and other veterans, our client was denied permits to continue its operations. After preparing a Freedom of Information Act request for several governmental agencies seeking any and all information used to make the decisions denying the permits, we prepared a detailed accounting of the client’s fundraising history and a chronology of its efforts on behalf of veterans. After multiple meetings with our lawyers, the main agency involved granted our client’s fundraising permits.
In recognition of our efforts in this area, Morgan Lewis received the 2014 Cornerstone Award from Lawyers Alliance of New York.