Sullivan & Cromwell considers pro bono work an important commitment of every lawyer, as well as a tool by which lawyers can supplement and bolster their skills. In 2012, S&C devoted almost 73,000 hours to public service, engaging in a broad range of pro bono activities. S&C lawyers achieved results for diverse groups of individuals in need of legal representation and for legal, charitable, and government organizations. S&C’s work included both individual pro bono initiatives and ongoing, long-term “signature projects.” The breadth of pro bono matters handled and the results achieved are representative of our lawyers’ depth of expertise across a range of practice areas, including Estates & Personal, General Practice (Corporate), Litigation and Tax.
Individual Pro Bono Initiatives
S&C lawyers successfully assisted, on a pro bono basis, numerous refugees from around the world in their efforts to obtain asylum from all nature of persecution, including political, religious, and gender-based persecution. The Firm’s lawyers have obtained asylum for immigrants from Togo, Congo, Honduras, Uzbekistan, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Nepal, and many other countries. In one matter, the Firm obtained asylum for a Guatemalan girl who had fled to the United States to escape years of physical torture and abuse by a gang member who abducted her from her family at age twelve.
S&C lawyers joined with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to challenge an Arkansas statute, Act 1, which prohibited cohabiting couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents. In April 2010, an Arkansas court granted summary judgment in favor of S&C pro bono clients in the matter, but the State and Family Council appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. On April 7, 2011, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision and struck down Act 1 as an unconstitutional violation of fundamental privacy rights under the Arkansas Constitution.
S&C lawyers serve pro bono on the Criminal Justice Act Panels in the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. As such, they represent indigent defendants in federal criminal cases pre-trial, at trial, and on appeal. The Firm’s lawyers also represent pro bono clients around the country (1) in various habeas corpus matters, (2) in post-conviction death row proceedings, and (3) in federal narcotics prosecutions. In addition, S&C associates serve as Special Assistant District Attorneys in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office Appeals Bureau. Working under the supervision of a full-time Assistant District Attorney in the Appeals Bureau, the associates who serve as Special Assistant District Attorneys represent the Office in criminal appeals filed in the New York State Supreme Court, Second Appellate Division.
S&C lawyers (1) advise survivors of domestic violence in conjunction with organizations such as inMotion, Inc., Sanctuary for Families, and Refugee Assistance Center, (2) help abused immigrant women and children gain legal residency under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and (3) provide representation in family court and in uncontested divorce proceedings. Through the Sanctuary for Families Bronx Family Justice Center Project, lawyers screen and represent survivors of domestic violence.
Homelessness and Housing
Through the Civil Court of the City of New York’s Volunteer Lawyer for a Day Program, teams of attorneys provide limited scope representation to tenants in non-payment proceedings in housing court.
Lawyers in the Firm’s London office work with Advocates for International Development (A4ID) on several matters, including (1) assisting People in Aid in registering as a charitable entity in the United States, (2) helping Village Water Limited, a UK-based charity that works in Zambia, in contract negotiations, and (3) advising Interact Worldwide, an international sexual and reproductive health and rights NGO, on its arrangements with local partner organizations. Lawyers in the London office have also partnered with Lawyers in Schools, part of the Citizenship Foundation, which is a London-based civic and educational program that places lawyers and legal professionals in school classrooms to work with and to mentor young people and develop their awareness and understanding of the law. General Practice partner William Plapinger also serves as a Commissioner on the United States–United Kingdom Educational Commission, which oversees the administration of academic awards under the Fulbright Program.
Ongoing Pro Bono and Community Projects
- The Bet Tzedek Holocaust Reparations Project, which assists Holocaust survivors in preparing applications for a reparation payment from Germany.
- Sanctuary for Families’ U Visa Project, which assists immigrants, many of whom are survivors of domestic violence and have cooperated with the district attorney’s office in a prosecution, with their eligibility for U Visas and work permits. S&C lawyers and legal assistants interview the applicants, gather all relevant documents, and complete and submit the applications.
- NYC Law Department Deposition Public Service Program, which allows S&C associates to take depositions on behalf of the NYC Law Department’s Brooklyn Tort Division.
- The City Bar Justice Center Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP), which provides free legal assistance to low-income micro-entrepreneurs in New York City who are interested in starting or are already engaged in a small business with fewer than five employees. NELP provides legal help on a variety of basic commercial legal issues, including formation of corporations and partnerships; review and negotiation of real estate leases; trademark and copyright protection questions; and sales and service contract questions.
- The VOLS Unemployment Insurance Advocacy Project, which provides pro bono legal services to individuals who have lost their jobs and subsequently have been denied unemployment insurance benefits.
- The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund’s name change clinic, which services low-income members of the transgender community in New York who are seeking to change their legal name to conform to their gender identity.
- Microsoft KIND, a pro bono project dedicated to representing children who have no families in the United States in need of representation in immigration matters.
- The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem Misdemeanor Project (NDS), which enables law firm associates to appear as of counsel to NDS on misdemeanor cases in Manhattan Criminal Court. The associate handles the matter from initial arraignment through final disposition, including trial.
- The Sanctuary for Families Bronx Family Justice Center, through which lawyers screen and represent survivors of domestic violence.
2013 marks the twenty-fourth year that S&C lawyers have hosted a bi-weekly legal clinic at New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Center for Special Studies and its Gay Men’s Health Crisis satellite location, in which the Firm’s lawyers provide valuable estate planning services to impoverished AIDS and HIV-positive patients. Since 1989, lawyers at the Firm have dedicated more than 13,000 hours to this project.
The Firm’s Support
Sullivan & Cromwell’s public service activities are coordinated by Jessica Klein
, Special Counsel for Pro Bono, along with the Firm’s nine-partner Pro Bono Committee. S&C created the position of Special Counsel for Pro Bono to enhance the Firm’s deep commitment to pro bono work and broaden the opportunities and types of pro bono matters available. In addition, the Firm has designated a day-to-day coordinator of pro bono activities.
The coordinators seek out challenging and rewarding public service opportunities. The Firm creates numerous opportunities for all lawyers, summer associates and legal assistants to participate in public service activities.
The Firm works closely with community organizations and accepts pro bono matter referrals. Individuals at the Firm are encouraged to and do bring public service opportunities to the attention of the coordinators. They are also encouraged to advise the coordinators of their particular interests in public service opportunities so that those with common interests can jointly respond to outside requests for assistance.
In recognition of the varying interests of its lawyers, the Firm recognizes as “public service” work participation in such diverse activities as pro bono litigation and legal advice, transactional representations, civil rights programs, bar association and related professional work, and other governmental, legal, educational, charitable, cultural and religious endeavors.
The Michael A. Cooper Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service is an annual award made to the lawyer who has provided exemplary pro bono service in keeping with the Firm’s tradition. In determining the recipient of the award, the Pro Bono Committee considers all facets of the pro bono work performed — the number of pro bono matters handled, the complexity of the matters, the number of clients served, the results of the representation, the impact of the representation on the community and the consistency of the representation with the Firm’s pro bono tradition. The Firm donates $5,000 in the name of the recipient to a charity of the recipient’s choice.
Initiation of a Pro Bono Project
Public service matters are generally undertaken in one of two ways: as a result of a referral from a community organization or at the initiative of the Firm or individual lawyers. In whichever way a matter is initiated, a proposed new matter goes through the Firm’s standard new matter opening procedures. These procedures include conflict clearance as well as approval by the Managing Partners Committee.
S&C also contributes to the strength and vitality of the communities it serves through a broad range of community initiatives and charitable activities