WWL Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year 2018: Gibson Dunn & Crutcher

The 2018 Who’s Who Legal Pro Bono Award is presented to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in recognition of the superb work that the firm has undertaken, particularly for the help it has given to disenfranchised and refugee communities within the United States and those seeking citizenship from abroad.

The firm’s international scope, with a joined-up operation spanning the US, Europe and Asia; a committed team with real leadership; and its lawyers’ belief in making a difference to the lives of those who cannot afford legal representation and in upholding the rule of law, all played an important part in the decision to crown Gibson Dunn our Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year.

Who’s Who Legal had the privilege of speaking with the firm’s Pro Bono Director, Katie Marquart. She talked passionately about the pro bono practice, the work it does and what it has achieved for communities in the US and across the world.

Gibson Dunn’s pro bono ethos was summed up by Marquart as “our belief that as lawyers it is our duty to engage in pro bono work as part of our mission to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law; and, most importantly, to provide access to the justice system.” This belief, and “a commitment to community service deeply rooted in the firm’s culture”, are the ideals that underpin the firm’s pro bono work.

Pro bono work is nothing new to the firm, although the scope has grown and the integration into its working practices has been formalised. Indeed, Gibson Dunn has a long history of reaching out to help communities in the US that need legal representation. Former partner Frank Wheat was responsible for helping to establish the Alliance for Children’s Rights. The Frank Wheat Award is awarded to those lawyers in the firm who have shown real leadership in their pro bono work and have worked tirelessly to defend the rights of others – an award that Marquart herself won in 2010.  According to managing partner Kenneth Doran, in 2017 more than 1,200 of the the firm’s attorneys worked on at least one pro bono matter, helping the firm reach over 170,000 hours of pro bono work. Over 56 per cent of all partners in the firm globally are active in pro bono work, rising to over 70 per cent for associates and trainees.

The pro bono director, meanwhile, is the lynchpin of the firm’s pro bono practice. “The role was newly created, which keeps it dynamic,” Marquart told us. She serves as a resource for any attorney looking to sign a pro bono case and is someone to whom they can air any concerns. It is her job to seek out and identify opportunities to grow and develop the pro bono offering which, judging by its recent successes, has gone well.

“One of our biggest successes was our work on the Clemency Project,” she explained. This initiative, set up under the Obama administration to encourage federal inmates on non-violent, low-level charges to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced, required a significant amount of legal aid to be provided to the prisoners free of charge. Gibson Dunn’s team of lawyers stepped in to provide aid to the prisoners in filling out forms and petitioning for clemency. “It was a really huge effort that was coordinated internationally,” Marquart told us. The firm’s lawyers worked with the prisoners and submitted applications on their behalf, many of whom did secure clemency.

Gibson Dunn also has an impressive record in aiding immigrant communities and refugees coming to the US. When President Trump issued an executive order restricting travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries, the firm worked with the Refugee Assistance Project and put together a team of lawyers to defend the rights of immigrants. The lawyers were deployed to key airports across the US to provide legal advice and representation for those people arriving from countries included in the ban and to uphold the rule of law. “In the end over 100 of our lawyers participated,” Marquart said. “To see the entire firm come together over one issue was great.” The firm has also worked on individual asylum petitions and appeals in front of the board of immigration across the US.

While 2017 was very much a year in which immigration issues came to the fore, it is yet to be seen what 2018 will bring – but Gibson Dunn seems ready to react to an array of eventualities “What makes our pro bono programme unique is how dynamic and responsive it is,” Marquart told us. “We can respond to ongoing needs in local communities or globally.” One of the firm’s aims is to grow its pro bono work on the international stage; its domestic work inside the US still constitutes the lion’s share of its activities.

Despite this, the firm is already the trusted partner of several legal aid organisations and continues to help on projects around the world. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is a non-profit organisation founded by actor Angelina Jolie together with Microsoft; it works with children who have arrived in the US unaccompanied and who need attorneys to help them through the deportation process. Nirupa Narayan, KIND’s director of pro bono partnerships, told WWL, “Gibson Dunn has been a phenomenal partner to KIND, helping in over 140 cases in multiple cities over many years.” Narayan highlighted how many of Gibson Dunn’s attorneys have stepped up to help, particularly on special immigrant juvenile status cases.

Lawyers Without Borders is another organisation Gibson Dunn works closely with. Executive director Christina Storm described Gibson Dunn as “our go-to law firm to help us create our mock case files” for advocacy training on rule of law in other jurisdictions. This particularly involves organising mock prosecutions in African nations, and training lawyers to deal with such scenarios.

Wendy Fu, pro bono coordinator at the International Refugee Assistance Project in New York, told us, “Gibson Dunn is one of our most prolific partners when it comes to pro bono work. They have been really great, have taken a lot of cases and when the executive order [travel ban] was passed they took a lead in sending attorneys to airports […] to make sure people’s rights were respected.” Fu was effusive in her praise of Marquart and the firm’s lawyers: “Katie is really fantastic; she and I work together when we are placing a new case. The attorneys there have all been really great and have worked really hard on their cases.”

***

“America is great because of people like you. Thanks for everything,” were the words in a text message received by the firm after successfully freeing a family of five Afghan immigrants from detention and helping them to safely reach a new home in Washington state. But Gibson Dunn’s pro bono work is not limited to the US – it has built a truly global offering and it is clear that its fee earners and firm management care deeply about the issues on which they devote their time and resources. The firm makes clear that full credit is given for pro bono work – all time spent counts as billable hours – demonstrating the importance placed on the work. Gibson Dunn stood out to our assessment panel for its strong and committed team and its numerous successful projects over the past year. Furthermore, the firm-wide structure in place suggests that its lawyers will continue to be involved in many important and pressing issues in the years to come.

 

You can also read our analysis of this year's survey results and our summary of some of the top firms.

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