A World of Good: Dechert’s Pro Bono Program
Dechert has a long-standing tradition of providing pro bono legal services to individuals and organizations who cannot otherwise afford legal counsel. We approach pro bono engagements with the same energy, enthusiasm and resources as we do work for commercial clients, and our associates receive billable-hour credit for their pro bono work.
All lawyers are required to perform at least 25 hours of pro bono work per year. We strive to find projects that make a difference in our communities and match the interests and skillsets of our lawyers.
Willie Veasy (center), who was wrongfully convicted for 27 years, walks out a free man with Dechert's James Figorski (left).
Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Pro Bono Areas We Cover
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties | Criminal Justice and the Innocence Project | Death Penalty
Domestic Violence | Education | Housing and Homelessness | Human Trafficking | Immigration
Nonprofits, Social Enterprises and Small Business | Prisoners of Conscience | Prisoners' Rights
Veterans | Voting Rights
Over the years, Dechert attorneys have been involved in a broad array of civil rights and civil liberties matters, assisting with both direct representations as well as amicus or intervention briefs. Issues we have worked on include:
- Disability rights
- Freedom of expression
- LGBTQ+ rights
- Prisoners' rights
- Racial justice
- Religious liberty
- Reproductive rights
- Voting rights
- Women's rights
Dechert works on a wide range of criminal justice matters including:
Criminal Trials and Appeals: Every year, we assist dozens of indigent defendants in criminal cases at both the trial and appellate level. For example, in our New York office, the firm participates in the Criminal Justice Act Panel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and regularly takes cases to trial from those appointments. The firm also handles a steady stream of criminal appeals, working with both the Legal Aid Society and the Office of the Appellate Defender.
- Clemency: Our attorneys represent prisoners in both federal and state prison in submitting petitions to have their sentences commuted.
- Innocence Project: We also work extensively with the Innocence Project – a nonprofit legal organization that is committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice – both at the national level and with some of its state level chapters.
Over the years, Dechert attorneys have handled a number of death penalty cases. Dechert handled one of the first cases to apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which categorically barred the execution of individuals with mental impairments. Our client, Simon Pirela, had been on death row for over 20 years when the court vacated his death sentence after a 10-day evidentiary hearing where the team presented extensive evidence regarding his brain damage and associated issues.
Additionally, working with The Advocates for Human Rights and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Dechert lawyers have filed several reports with the UN Human Rights Committee with respect to the state of the death penalty in various countries.
With multiple community partners we represent individual victims of domestic violence who are seeking temporary and permanent restraining orders against their abusers. Additionally, with The Advocates for Human Rights, we have worked to reform the domestic violence laws in several countries. We have accompanied The Advocates on missions – where we undertook detailed reviews of the current state of the law, interviewed relevant stakeholders in-country and then made proposals for law reform. Our lawyers have also engaged in several comparative law research projects on domestic violence issues – providing information to advocacy groups about best practices around the world.
In several jurisdictions, Dechert lawyers represent individual children and their families with an array of educational issues. The majority of our work has been in the area of special education, assisting children with special needs trying to obtain appropriate special education placements. Dechert lawyers are often the critical players in negotiating Individual Education Plans for their clients – and challenging them in due process hearings when agreements cannot be met.
A long-standing component of Dechert’s pro bono program has been our representation of tenants in their fight to stave off eviction or improve their living conditions. Examples of the work that we do include:
- In Philadelphia, we have a Landlord Tenant Pro Bono Practice Group, which routinely takes referrals from our community partners, including Community Legal Services and Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program, to represent tenants in Municipal Court eviction hearings. Additionally, Dechert was instrumental in working with the Court of Common Pleas to expand the program to include a volunteer-staffed mandatory mediation program for landlord-tenant appeals.
- In New York, in conjunction with Legal Services NYC, our attorneys focus on representing tenants in housing repair cases.
- In Washington, D.C., attorneys participate in the Housing Right to Counsel Project, representing people who are living in subsidized housing and facing eviction.
In addition to the direct representation to tenants, Dechert attorneys also advocate for persons experiencing homelessness by partnering with organizations like the National Law Center for Homelessness & Poverty and the Homeless Advocacy Project.
Over the years, Dechert has developed a strong practice of representing victims of human trafficking. We have helped victims obtain immigration relief as well as helped them seek compensation from their traffickers. Our work on these cases typically involves securing immigration relief in the form of T-Visas for the victims as well as seeking unpaid wages and damages from the traffickers.
Our work in the United States has had a particular focus on assisting domestic servants who were trafficked by diplomats into the country. Dechert handled one of the seminal cases in this arena, representing Vishranthamma Swarna, who was brought to the United States from India to work as a live-in domestic in the household of a high ranking diplomat. During the next few years she was beaten, raped and threatened. She escaped and sued the diplomat, who argued diplomatic immunity protected diplomats even after their posting in the United States. The court disagreed, ruling that “residual immunity” — a form of protection from some U.S. laws that continues after diplomats leave their posts — did not apply to how diplomats treated their household workers.
We have also assisted numerous trafficking victims outside of the diplomatic context. We have secured a T-Visa for a teenage girl from Zambia who had been labor trafficked into the U.S. by her own relatives, who forced her to lie about her age to U.S. embassy officials. We have also worked in the sex trafficking sphere, including the recent successful vacatur of over 90 prostitution convictions for a woman who was sex trafficked in New York.
Dechert has a long history of representing immigrants with respect to both individual representations as well as assisting in matters seeking systemic change.
In our United States offices, working with our many community partners, Dechert lawyers work to secure lawful immigration status for those seeking asylum, having left their home countries to escape religious, political and other forms of persecution. We also represent children who may be fleeing violent or unstable home lives, who are often alone in the United States, helping them pursuing Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and other remedies.
In our Paris office, working with Alliance Des Avocats Pour Les Droits De L'Homme, we also assist unaccompanied minors with their immigration status. As part of a consortium of four law firms, Dechert's London office has been supporting the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, helping them file exceptional case funding applications to help immigrants obtain legal aid.
In all our offices, Dechert is committed to providing pro bono legal advice to local nonprofits, small businesses and social enterprises. Working with our many community partners, the firm has handled in excess of 2,000 matters of varied complexity and scope that allow these entities to serve their communities. Our work includes providing advice on issues including formation, tax exempt status, corporate governance, leases, employment, intellectual property, mergers and dissolution.
Dechert has a long-standing relationship with Freedom Now, a Washington, D.C.–based organization set up to seek the release of prisoners of conscience around the world. Unlike other human rights groups, Freedom Now mobilizes lawyers to take on political prisoners directly as pro bono clients and conduct legal, political and public relations advocacy campaigns to gain their release.
Not only does the firm work with Freedom Now to help identify potential matters to take on – but, at any one time, Dechert lawyers are actively pursuing up to a dozen Freedom Now cases. A Dechert team recently represented Mohammed Shaikh Ould Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian blogger who faced a death sentence on charges of apostasy. Mkhaitir published a blog post that provided a social critique and commentary on the nexus between religion, racism and discrimination. He was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to death by firing squad. Among other things, Dechert and Freedom Now filed a petition on Mkhaitir’s behalf with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The Working Group found Mkhaitir’s detention to be arbitrary and called for Mauritania to immediately release him. In its decision, the Working Group found that the Government of Mauritania had committed numerous violations of international law in arresting and detaining Mkhaitir. In July 2019, Mkhaitir was released from prison.
Prisoners’ rights are a notable cornerstone of Dechert’s pro bono program, encompassing representation of individual prisoners as well as class actions tackling more systemic prison condition issues.
Since 1998, the firm has taken over 120 prisoner cases involving attorneys from Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and the Silicon Valley offices. Dechert’s individual cases often involve issues of excessive force, failure to protect and deliberate indifference to medical needs.
Dechert’s class actions have included a successful challenge to the conditions at the Passaic County Jail, where the prisoners had been subjected to abhorrent living conditions, including mass overcrowding, oppressive heat inside the 50-year-old facility, and excessive use of force by corrections staff. Most recently, Dechert teams filed a series of individual and class actions aimed at forcing correctional institutions to comply with public health recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and/or to release those at an increased risk of serious complications from COVID infection. In Connecticut, a team successfully negotiated a settlement on behalf of all persons incarcerated in Connecticut jails or prisons. The settlement increased incarcerated persons’ access to hygiene, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing, and established a five-person monitoring panel that recommends additional public-health measures to the Connecticut Department of Corrections.
For many years, Dechert attorneys have worked to support and advocate on behalf of veterans who have been unjustly denied the full benefits and recognition they have earned by serving their country. Working with groups like the National Veterans Legal Services Program and The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, Dechert lawyers handle a steady stream of veterans benefits cases, including those involving discharge upgrades, combat-related special compensation and military sexual trauma.
Voting Rights Litigation
Working with community partners including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union – Voting Rights Project, Dechert has handled numerous cases to protect the right to vote including:
- Dechert teams have had several successes ensuring that states comply with the National Voter Registration Act, often known as the “motor voter” law because it requires state motor vehicle departments to provide voter registration applications when individuals apply for or renew their drivers’ licenses. Our success in Ohio, in a case we brought alongside the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, allowed 400,000+ low-income Ohio citizens to register to vote in just the first two years after the litigation.
- Dechert teams have challenged restrictive voter identification and documentary proof laws in several states, including in Kansas, where, alongside the ACLU and the ACLU of Kansas, we successfully challenged a documentary proof-of-citizenship law that introduced additional burdens to voter registration.
- Dechert teams have also successfully challenged attempts to improperly remove voters from the voting rolls, including in New York where, in a case in which we partnered with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a landmark decision holding that New York State’s refusal to include inactive voters on poll ledgers used in polling places on Election Day violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
During each election season, hundreds of Dechert lawyers and paralegals staff a national voter hotline for Election Protection, the nation’s largest non-partisan voter protection coalition which helps ensure eligible voters are able to participate in our democracy while collecting data for meaningful reform so that our elections are free, fair and accessible.
Over the years, Dechert and individual Dechert lawyers have been recognized on numerous occasions for pro bono contributions. Some of our most recent recognitions include:
Pro Bono Publico Award 2020 - American Bar Association
Neil Steiner was recognized for extraordinary and sustained commitment to pro bono service. For nearly 15 years, Neil has led pro bono teams at Dechert in challenging discriminatory voting restrictions adopted by a large number of states.
Pro Bono Award - LexisNexis Legal Awards 2020
Dechert was named winner of the “Pro Bono Award” at the LexisNexis Legal Awards 2020 for the work of an international pro bono team in helping win the release of Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian blogger condemned to death for apostasy.
Pro Bono Hot List 2020 - The National Law Journal
The NLJ profile featured the work of senior staff attorney James Figorski, who dedicated years of work to win freedom for two pro bono clients imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.
Pro Bono Recognition Roster - Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) – Chicago
National Public Service Award 2020 - ABA Business Law Section
National Public Service Award 2019 - American Bar Association’s Business Law Section
Eric Brunstad was honored in recognition of his extraordinary commitment to pro bono service. Brunstad has represented many parties in bankruptcy and bankruptcy-related cases that, without his assistance, would likely never have seen their “day in court”.
European Innovative Lawyers Awards 2019
Financial Times - European Innovative Lawyers Awards 2019
Commended in the “Access to Justice” category. A team of Moscow-based lawyers, including associates Yuri Makhonin, Maryana Batalova and Pavel Dunaev, was commended for fighting on a pro bono basis to win systemic reform on mental health issues in Russia.
Pro Bono Awards 2019 - LawWorks
- “Best International Pro Bono Award”, winner – for the work of an international pro bono team led by London partner Paul Kavanagh and Paris-based national partner Marie Fillon in helping win the release of Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian blogger condemned to death for apostasy.
- “Best New Pro Bono Activity”, joint winner – for a multi-firm project in which Dechert worked with Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and three other law firms to secure funding to cover the legal costs of particularly vulnerable clients who faced deportation.
Citizens Bank Achievement Award 2019 - Philadelphia Bar Association
Ethan Fogel was awarded the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Citizens Bank Achievement Award 2019. Ethan, who chairs the Pro Bono Committee in Dechert’s Philadelphia office, set up a process providing representation to tenants facing eviction and advocated successfully to establish a right to counsel in Philadelphia for all low-income tenants.
Hall of Fame - Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
This prestigious award honors Dechert’s commitment to providing exceptional pro bono services to low-income individuals alongside CLS for several decades. Only two other law firms have received this honor since CLS’ inception over 50 years ago.
2019 Advocacy Firm of the Year - Human Trafficking Legal Center
This award honors a law firm that has shown extraordinary commitment to legal advocacy and research to support the rights of trafficking survivors. Dechert has done heroic anti-trafficking pro bono work, both litigation and research. In 2018, the firm worked closely with HT Legal to create a toolkit on using CEDAW’s Optional Protocol to combat human trafficking of women and girls. The firm has also successfully litigated multiple domestic servitude cases against diplomats.
Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers Awards 2018 - Financial Times
Highly Commended - Led by Siew Kam Boon, Dechert helped Angels of Impact, a Singaporean social enterprise group, establish a fund that uses blockchain technology to make sustainable and ethical investments.
North America Innovative Lawyers Awards 2018 - Financial Times
- New York-based litigator Neil Steiner: selected as one of the ten most innovative lawyers in North America for challenging restrictive voting laws under the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act.
- ‘Standout:' in the ‘Rule of Law and Access to Justice’ category, Steiner led a Dechert team that defeated a proof-of-citizenship law in Kansas that fell heaviest on the poor and marginalized.
Jeremy G. Epstein Award 2018 - New York City Bar Justice Center
Samantha Koplik was awarded a Jeremy G. Epstein Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service in honor of pro bono representations of immigrant survivors of domestic violence conducted under the auspices of the Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project.
Pro Bono Publico Award - Legal Aid Society of New York
Dechert was selected as one of the recipients of the Society's 2018 Pro Bono Publico Awards for the provision of exceptional legal services to low-income New Yorkers. In addition to recognizing Dechert as a law firm, Legal Aid also honored the following individuals for their pro bono contributions: Negin Hadaghian, Sarah Lyons, Samantha Rosa, Rebecca Waldman, Christopher Mauro, Ryan Moore, Thomas Lee II, Amanda Rios, Kevin Brost, Kathryn Barrett, Ryan Strong.
Education Law Center
Amy Ufberg, Marissa Tribuiani and Michelle Nguyen of Dechert's Philadelphia Private Client Group were honored by the Education Law Center for their work administering a trust for non-English speaking immigrant students who wererefused enrolment in Harrisburg public schools. The fund was formed as a result of a recent class action lawsuit to reimburse external school expenses these students incurred.
Lawyers Alliance for New YorkRichard Horowitz was honored by Lawyers Alliance for New York with a Cornerstone Award for his outstanding pro bono commitment. He was selected as one of 12 honorees out of their network of 1900+ volunteers.
Philadelphia Bar Association’s Public Service Awards 2017
The Philadelphia Bar Association’s Large Firm Management Committee has recognized Dechert corporate associate Geneva Campbell Brown and tax associate Amanda Reed with a Public Service Award, which are presented to young lawyers who have made a difference in Philadelphia for pro bono representations or public service.
Corporate Philanthropy Award 2017 - Washington Business Journal
Dechert’s Washington, D.C. office was ranked among the leading law firms offices in the metropolitan D.C. area for its commitment to pro bono work.
Amicus Award - Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program
Geneva Brown – The Amicus Award "recognizes an exceptional volunteer that went above and beyond by providing support, resources and leadership to VIP in 2016.
Brennan Award - Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program
VIP awarded Dechert the Justice William J. Brennan Award, its highest honor. The award is given to firms accepting the greatest number of referrals and providing extraordinary services to VIP clients.
Connecticut Volunteers of the Year - The Pro Bono Partnership
Jess Bula, Krystyna Blakeslee and Sam Gardner have all been selected as the Pro Bono Partnership's CT Volunteers of the Year.
Large Firm Management Public Service Award - Philadelphia Bar Association
This award was for Amanda Reed and Geneva Campbell Brown.
Elizabeth Rohatyn Award for Community Service - Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
For Dechert’s wills project – recognizes "those individuals and organizations who have had a significant and lasting impact on improving the lives of New Yorkers in need.
Forty at Fifty - Judicial Conference of the District of Columbia Circuit
Honors law firms at which at least 40 percent of all attorneys dedicated 50 or more hours in 2016 to providing pro bono services.
Pro Bono Awards 2016 - LawWorks
Dechert was named by LawWorks as winner of the “Best Contribution by an International Firm” prize for a number of pro bono services provided to The Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust (RAFT). Most recently, Dechert established an IP package underpinning research into a new “bionic” limb.
Pro Bono Firm of the Year 2016 - Law360
Dechert was chosen as one of Law360’s Pro Bono Firms of the Year for 2016. For six years, Law360 has assessed firms based on the volume and significance of their pro bono caseload, as well as their dedication to pro bono work as evidenced by the number of hours spent on pro bono matters.
Greater DC Firm of the Year - Tahirih Justice Center
Representing survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking.
2015 Law Firm of the Year - Pro Bono Partnership
The firms consistent work with us over the years has helped to strengthen the nonprofit communities in New York,New Jersey and Connecticut by providing high quality, essential transactional legal services at no cost.
Best International Firm for Pro Bono Work - Euromoney Legal Media
Named the "Best international firm for pro bono work" in Euromoney Legal Media Group's Americas Women in Business Law Awards program for 2016, reflecting the firm's staunch commitment to gender diversity, service and innovation initiatives.
European Innovative Lawyers Award - Financial Times
Pro bono honors were for our work with RAFT (London) and IMPACT Partenaires (Paris).
McKinney-Vento Award - National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
Dechert LLP has helped make it possible for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty to protect the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness and to advance solutions across the country. Dechert has been, and continues to be, an indispensable contributor to the Law Center's work. Dechert's pro bono work on the Wisconsin voter ID case has successfully helped protect the right to vote and prevented the disenfranchisement of thousands of homeless and poor people in Wisconsin.
Pro Bono Publico Award - Legal Aid Society of New York
Dechert was honored as a firm -- plus, Daphne Ha and Tanner Kroeger honored as individuals.
Law Firm Award - Washington Council of Lawyers
North American Innovative Lawyers – Innovations in Social Responsibility (Pro Bono Cases) - Financial Times
The firm won the "Innovation in Social Responsibility: Pro Bono Cases" category for its efforts to combat diplomatic involvement in the trafficking of domestic workers. Since winning a landmark case that established federal precedent in limiting diplomatic immunity for human traffickers, trial lawyer Amy Rudd and other Dechert attorneys have continued to represent servants and domestic workers as they seek safety and justice.