The goal of Duane Morris' pro bono program is to provide free legal services to those in our communities least able to afford legal services, and usually to those who have a dire need of such services. Accordingly, the focus of our pro bono work is providing quality legal services to individuals and organizations that serve the community: (i) through provision of services to low-income individuals; (ii) by furthering economic development in low-income areas; or (iii) by pursuing other charitable endeavors.
We are proud of the thousands of pro bono hours of legal service donated by Duane Morris attorneys and of the against-all-odds accomplishments of our clients. Our representation of often-marginalized groups, such as survivors of trafficking and domestic violence, has made us a stronger and more compassionate Firm. Working with immigrant children fleeing violence in Central America has reminded us of the freedom and security we often take for granted and reinvigorated our commitment to the rule of law. Representing community-based organizations has strengthened the communities where we live and practice and expanded our networks. And for our highest calling, serving those who served us first, we are grateful for the opportunity to recognize the sacrifies of our veterans with a small token of appreciation in the form of assisting them with disability appeals, discharge upgrades and general civil legal matters.
Pro bono service has been an integral part of Firm culture and a backbone of our value system since the Firm’s founding more than 110 years ago. Today, the Firm gives all associates and special counsel 100 hours of credit annually and partners 50 hours of billable credit annually for their pro bono service. We have signed on to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge, striving to provide at least 3 percent of the Firm’s billable hours to pro bono matters. We also provide extensive pro bono service in all 20 of our U.S. offices and many of our international offices, including London, Singapore and Myanmar. We have a dedicated three-person pro bono team that is responsible for recruiting pro bono opportunities and managing more than 500 matters, which range from U.S. Supreme Court amicus briefs and federal litigation, to local landlord tenant court and citizenship applications. This year, we added a social worker to the management team to help with unique program development and community outreach.
Tahirih Justice Center
Phillip Chong (Baltimore) was honored with the organization’s 2015 Maryland volunteer attorney of the year award for his selfless service to immigrant women and girls fleeing extreme gender-based violence in the United States.
Senior Partners for Justice of the Boston Volunteer Lawyers Project
Tony Martin (Boston) was honored with the 2015 Meg Connolly MVP award for aiding a grandfather seeking visitation with his disabled granddaughter before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. Tony’s advocacy clarified the definition of an interested party in guardianship actions under the Uniform Probate Code and set precedent in states adopting the Code.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
Duane Morris was honored with a 2014 Pro Bono Service Award by the nation’s largest legal services and civil rights organization focused on serving, empowering and advocating on behalf of the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. The award recognized the Firm’s multi-office and cross-practice pro bono effort to perform a constitutional analysis of a proposed City of Monterey Park, California, ordinance that sought to require the use of the modern Latin alphabet (i.e., English) on business and commercial signs. The ordinance initially divided the city and would have had a disparate effect on certain Asian businesses in the historically immigrant community. The team’s analysis that the ordinance was unconstitutional, along with subsequent public backlash, pushed legislators to allow the bill to “die.” The organization commended the Firm for its “critical pro bono support” and for being “an example of how the nonprofit and private sectors can work together in support of equality in creative and meaningful ways.” To show its gratitude, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles held a harmony celebration to thank Duane Morris and other collaborators for their assistance. The representation was led by Cyndie Chang, Managing Partner of the Los Angeles office, Paul Killion of the San Francisco office, and Wayne Mack and Meredith Carpenter, both of the Philadelphia office.
Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
Jim Holman (Philadelphia) was named the 2014 volunteer of the year for his nearly 25 years of pro bono service to PVLA and the metropolitan arts community. Since 1991, Jim has represented artists and arts institutions in a wide variety of business and related matters.
Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation
Kenneth Franklin (Atlanta) was honored with the AVLF 2014 domestic violence Project volunteer of the Year Award. Kenneth has represented over two dozen survivors in the past two years in various civil legal matters, as well as organized trainings to prepare other volunteers to represent additional survivors.
Texas Civil Rights Project
Michael E. Clark (Houston) was recognized with a 2014 Kristi Couvillon Pro Bono Award for his commitment to pro bono service. Michael represented a young woman whose privacy rights were violated when she was outed by her teachers without her consent. His work led to a change in policies and training on LGBT nondiscrimination, privacy and bullying for more than 500 educators.
New York State Courts Access to Justice Program
Reshma Shah (New York) and Kevin Potere (New York) were awarded the program’s Pro Bono Award for their outstanding work and dedicated service in the New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program.
Duane Morris recognizes the sacrifices that service members have made for the United States and is committed to helping them solve significant problems that arise in their lives as a result of their service. As such, we are committed to assisting veterans and their families with disability benefits appeals, discharge upgrades, homelessness prevention and many other civil legal needs. Our attorneys also regularly represent organizations dedicated to empowering military service members, veterans and veteran-owned small businesses.
Appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
More than one-third of the 3,500 appeals received by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) are filed by pro se veterans. Duane Morris works with the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program to provide representation to pro se litigants during appellate proceedings before the CAVC. it is an honor to ensure these veterans are represented before the CAVC. Many wait years to receive a final decision on their claim.
One such client was an 89-year-old World War II veteran who suffered bilateral hearing loss as a result of his Pacific Theater service in the Navy. While stationed on the U.S.S. Wasp, he was subjected to significant noise levels from anti-aircraft weapons. Following his service, he received a Letter of Commendation for outstanding performance of his duties, yet was denied a proper disability rating when he tried to increase his benefits as a result of hearing loss in both ears. Duane Morris attorneys represented him during his appeal, presenting one of only 14 oral arguments granted by the CAVC during 2014. The appeal was then referred for en banc review due to several precedential issues.
Teaming Up with the National Veterans Legal Services Program
Since 1980, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) has worked to ensure the U.S. government keeps its commitments to our nation’s 5 million veterans. The organization recruits, trains and assists volunteer lawyers who take on veterans cases. Our attorneys work with NVLSP to obtain well-deserved combat-related special compensation and other benefits for veterans caught up in the complex Veterans Administration process.
One of our clients, a retired U.S. Army Sergeant who served two tours of duty in Vietnam and Afghanistan, literally was blown out of his cot one night while serving in Afghanistan. As the result of the rocket attack, he suffered substantial head trauma. He was also struck by a truck, leaving him with additional head injuries. Ultimately, among his combat-related injuries, the veteran suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, partial hearing loss, ongoing headaches and constant ringing in his ears. Duane Morris attorneys presented a successful application for combat-related special compensation and were able to obtain retroactive and future monthly compensation for his injuries.
Upgrading Discharges for Our Most Vulnerable Veterans
In New York, the Urban Justice Center’s Veterans Advocacy Project (VAP) is tackling one of the most controversial areas of veterans law: discharge upgrades. Receipt of a less than fully honorable discharge is stigmatizing and will prevent service members’ access to healthcare, mental health services, disability benefits and educational and employment opportunities. Duane Morris attorneys represent veterans in these delicate cases to upgrade their discharge statuses, obtain access to healthcare or restore benefits, as well as help them return to treatment, college and gainful employment. This area of advocacy is growing rapidly as the number of less than fully honorable discharges related to post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) increase. Research shows the number of misconduct charges reflects the number of service members injured in combat, and with the ongoing downsizing of the military, scores of service members with undiagnosed and untreated PTS are likely to be discharged less than fully honorable.
Helping Those Who Help Our Veterans
Trademark Licensing: Duane Morris attorneys in our Intellectual Property Practice Group negotiated a favorable trademark licensing deal with the United States Marine Corps on behalf of MarineParents.com, a group founded in 2003 to support Marines and their families. The group provides information and counseling to parents of new recruits, opportunities to connect and support each other during deployments, meals to wounded Marines and their families, and care packages to combat deployed Marines.
Amicus Brief Representation: The Duane Morris Appellate Practice Group drafted amicus briefs in two recent cases, one currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involves an unfavorable interpretation by the Veterans Administration regarding federal contracts set-asides for veteran-owned small businesses. In the other case, a Harvard-led consortium of law school veterans legal clinics, law school professors and veteran legal aid organizations won a determination that they were eligible for Equal Access to Justice Act legal fees in cases they litigated and won.
Our attorneys dedicate thousands of hours of pro bono service to victims of gang, domestic and political violence, as well as those who have been wrongfully convicted. We admire our clients’ ability to overcome adversity and the depth of their accomplishments.
A New Life in the United States for an Outspoken Iraqi Journalist
Duane Morris attorneys in our Immigration and Trial Practice Groups successfully secured asylum for a young Iraqi journalist who worked for the Associated Press. He was a regular blogger in Iraq and often wrote articles criticizing the Iraqi government. While in Iraq, he was beaten, received death threats and survived an attempted murder attack by government operatives wielding semi-automatic rifles and hand grenades. Miraculously, our client was not injured. With political asylum, he will be able to seek lawful permanent residence and eventually U.S. citizenship, thereby securing his safety and that of his family for generations to come. He recently obtained his bachelor’s degree, Phi Beta Kappa, and is considering graduate school.
Man Freed 40 Years After Wrongful Conviction
Duane Morris obtained the release of Clarence R. Davis after he served 40 years of a life sentence. Davis was sent to prison in 1971 after being convicted of first degree murder. Acting on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct at the original trial, Duane Morris negotiated for Davis’ release after a guilty plea to a lesser charge. Davis thus avoided a new trial and was freed the day after the court hearing. While incarcerated, Davis was an exemplary inmate, earning a bachelor’s degree and two associate’s degrees, in addition to tutoring illiterate prisoners, serving as a peer educator, and aiding in various prison groups and charitable drives to raise funds for social services entities.
Haitian Survivor of Domestic Violence Gets a Green Card
Duane Morris attorneys in Philadelphia obtained lawful permanent residency on behalf of a client who immigrated to the United States from Haiti to marry her U.S. citizen fiancé. Shortly after getting married, the client’s husband became violent and emotionally abusive toward her. During our representation, we learned that the U.S. citizen spouse had a history of abuse: he previously helped another woman immigrate to the U.S., only to abuse her, and like our client, she secured legal permanent residence through the immigration provisions of the Violence Against Women Act. As a result of the team’s efforts, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) flagged the abuser’s name in its systems so that he would be subject to stricter scrutiny before being approved to sponsor visas for any future fiancées.
Survivor of Gun Violence Gets U.S. Citizenship
After being paralyzed in a shooting at the age of 18, our client, a citizen of Jamaica and longtime lawful permanent resident, longed to achieve his goal of U.S. citizenship. However, several pro se attempts were unsuccessful due to issues in connection with his juvenile criminal record, failure to register with the Selective Service System, mistaken registration to vote and a learning disability that prevented him from passing the English and history portions of his citizenship examination. Duane Morris successfully advocated that the client be exempted from the reading and writing portions of the citizenship examination, based on the client’s learning disabilities, and worked through each of the other issues to demonstrate his eligibility for citizenship.
Duane Morris salutes the indomitable human spirit. Recognizing the need for new beginnings, clean slates and renewed hope, our attorneys provide thousands of pro bono hours to survivors of human trafficking and victims who were exploited and wrongfully convicted. We are humbled and inspired by the strength of our clients and the depth of their resiliency in spite of daunting circumstances.
Illinois Survivor Becomes National Leader
Trafficked, beaten and subject to unimaginable emotional abuse for more than 20 years, our client escaped in 1997 and dedicated her life to helping others escape similar circumstances. She founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation, a nonprofit organization serving Chicago girls impacted by the sex trade, worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to provide desperately needed services to trafficked girls and women and won numerous awards for her work. Nevertheless, our client’s prostitution convictions kept her from achieving further goals, including becoming an adoptive parent, working with at-risk youth and opening a crisis center for her organization.
Working in conjunction with the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), Duane Morris attorneys assisted the client in expunging her criminal convictions under the Illinois Justice for Victims of Sex Crimes Trafficking Act. The Act allows state courts to vacate prostitution-related convictions if the petitioner can show they were a victim of trafficking at the time of the conviction.
Expanding Legal Protections for Victims of Trafficking
Collaborating with the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), Duane Morris attorneys helped expand the types of convictions that may be vacated under Illinois’ Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act. In addition to successfully vacating prostitution convictions relating to our client’s trafficking, Duane Morris attorneys argued that the Act should be construed to permit vacatur of other convictions that were the direct result of a survivor’s trafficking. In doing so, Duane Morris attorneys helped set a precedent in Illinois, which will aid many more survivors to vacate convictions from their criminal records wherein they really were the victim, not the criminal.
Collaborating to Educate and Prevent Child Exploitation in Our Communities
It is estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 U.S. adolescents annually are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking. The average age at which children are targeted by traffickers is 12–14 years old. As a result, mentoring, education and support are key, both for youth and adults. Duane Morris’ New York office teams up with Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), which helps hundreds of domestically trafficked girls and women flee their traffickers and develop their full potential. Our attorneys represent survivors in motions to vacate prostitution-related criminal convictions, lead know-your-rights workshops, host civil legal clinics and provide legal counseling and representation to survivors concerning the myriad of civil legal issues they confront. Among other measures, the New York Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act provides specialized services for survivors recognizing their status as victims of crime and the unique traumas they face. The law also permits the vacatur of prostitution-related convictions that are the result of survivors’ trafficking, thus affording survivors lives unencumbered by criminal records.
Cross-office, cross-practice pro bono efforts, with teams in Duane Morris’ Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Boca Raton and Miami offices, also aid domestically trafficked girls and women in their communities.
2015 Pro Bono Award Winner Kenneth Franklin, Duane Morris Chairman John Soroko, and 2015 Pro Bono Leadership Award Winner Chris Soriano