Pro Bono

Aasif Mandvi accepting his Justice in Action Award last night at the AALDEF 40th anniversary celebration.

Last night, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the 40th anniversary celebration of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). Forty years is a remarkable milestone, so everyone was in a celebratory spirit. Here’s my account of the evening, which also honored several leaders within the Asian-American community….

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At last night’s LeGaL dinner: Alex Levy (a 3L at NYU), Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and David Lat. (Photo by Jeff Trachtman.)

Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending the LeGaL Foundation Annual Dinner, which took place at Capitale here in New York. The mood was festive — which wasn’t surprising, given the successes of both LeGaL and the broader LGBT rights movement over the past year.

Here’s my account of the evening, a celebration of the Foundation’s 30th anniversary and an opportunity to honor some pioneers of the gay rights movement….

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Pro bono for clients, but not for students.

* Sedgwick is the latest Biglaw firm to jump on the back-office bandwagon. The firm will be moving all of its administrative operations — from HR to IT — to Kansas City, Missouri. Don’t be sad, it’s probably better than West Virginia. [Am Law Daily]

* Lawyers may be pecking at Biglaw’s rotting carcass, but at least there are lessons to be learned for Big Med, the next profession supposedly on the brink of implosion. It’s time to stop obsessing over revenue and rankings. [The Atlantic]

* Ten states rushed to help Utah defend its ban on gay marriage using “pretty embarrassing” arguments, but Nevada just washed its hands of its own appeal, saying its ban was “no longer defensible.” [Bloomberg]

* Here’s something that’ll make you love or hate Chris Christie even more: he once made Bristol-Myers Squibb donate $5 million to Seton Hall Law to avoid securities fraud charges. Yep. [Washington Post]

* Faruqi & Faruqi doesn’t want its attorneys’ compensation information to be disclosed to Alexandra Marchuk in her sexual harassment case against the firm. A kinder, gentler firm, huh? [Law 360 (sub. req.)]

* Soon you’ll be able to take the bar before you graduate in New York, but only if you do pro bono work during spring semester of your 3L year — and you’ll likely have to pay to complete it. [New York Times]

* If you just took the LSAT, you’re cutting it pretty close, buddy. Guesstimate your score so you can avoid sending out applications that will make admissions officers laugh. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

The law firm of Goodwin Procter is in the news these days. Some of the firm’s top trial lawyers are defending Mathew Martoma — formerly of SAC Capital and Harvard Law School, where he famously falsified a transcript — in one of the biggest and most exciting insider-trading cases in history.

(Fun fact: one of the members of Martoma’s trial team, Roberto Braceras, is the son-in-law of Judge José A. Cabranes. So if the Martoma case ever winds up before the Second Circuit, Judge Cabranes may have to recuse.)

Martoma earned millions while at SAC Capital, and some of that money will be making its way into the coffers of Goodwin Procter. And some of that money will then get paid out as associate bonuses, which the firm recently announced….

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Sometimes, there is a baby in the room. A real one, usually in the arms of a nervous mother. Because it is Brooklyn, still as diverse a place as there is in the world, the baby might be black, brown, white or yellow. It does not matter. What matters is that there is a freaking baby in the room. I am blessed with four children, all ten and younger, and am the oldest of five, so I am not one of those people for whom children are curiosities best viewed at distance. Even so, there is something surreal about having a baby in the room while I am manning an office at the Brooklyn Family Court for a few hours once a month, trying to help a beleaguered parent make sense of the chaos inherent in their involvement in an adversarial proceeding involving their child. But I, like my fellow volunteers from in-house legal departments, Biglaw firms, and solo practices around New York City, soldier on. And come back, month after month, in the hopes of helping one more person deal with their (literally) intimate and emotional legal issues. In my case, I have been coming back since late 2006. I plan on continuing for as long as I have the strength and the program remains in place.

I am not looking for recognition. If this column motivates someone to dedicate themselves to a pro bono project that they can believe in, that would be great. To be honest, I did not even think about doing pro bono for many years, for all the typical reasons. I was still too junior, too busy, too unable to commit myself to a project that could potentially conflict with my billable matters. While I respected my fellow Biglaw associates who involved themselves in the usual Biglaw pro bono fare — e.g., asylum issues, wrongful convictions, and the like — I was never moved to action. But that changed in 2006, when Greenberg Traurig, in conjunction with some large corporations and other Biglaw firms, announced that it was partnering with the New York City Family Court to start a volunteer-attorney driven program to assist self-represented litigants trying to navigate the hectic, crowded, and extremely fast-paced Family Court system. A system that is challenging for even the most hardened attorneys, but where 95% of the litigants choose, mostly because of financial reasons, to go without a lawyer until one is provided for them. Put simply, help was (and continues to be) needed….

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Nadya Suleman aka Octomom

* Robert Wilkins was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit yesterday, which is significant because it marks the first time in decades that the court hasn’t had any judicial vacancies. Congrats! [Blog of Legal Times]

* Biglaw firms should be happy to hear about what the Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group has seen in its crystal ball: law firm profits are expected to grow by about 5 percent this year. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Unlike its stinky burger fiasco, Steptoe & Johnson managed to quietly converse with “three or four” firms about a possible merger, but the firm’s chairman refuses to kiss and tell. [National Law Journal]

* Take criminal disclosures on your law school apps seriously — after all, someone needs to worry about whether you’ll be able to pass C&F, and it won’t be your school if they just want your money. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Recent law grads working at the Chicago Justice Entrepreneurs Project might not be “rolling in money,” but they’re learning how be successful lawyers, and experience like that is worth millions. [Businessweek]

* The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, “a regulator that protects its industry from rules it deems unfair,” wants a list of all alcohol, everywhere. Treasury Department party! [DealBook / New York Times]

* Nadya Suleman, she of the clown car uterus, was charged with welfare fraud for failure to report income from her strip club appearances and porn videos. She’s the Octomother of the year. [CBS Los Angeles]

Jeh Johnson

Last year was a pretty great one for partners of Paul Weiss. And we’re not talking just about profits per partner, although we expect they’ll be robust once again.

In June, Roberta Kaplan scored a big win in the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. Representing Edie Windsor, a widow who got hit with hefty taxes when her wife passed away, Kaplan got section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act struck down. Just yesterday, we declared Robbie Kaplan our 2013 Lawyer of the Year.

But she wasn’t the only PW partner who had an exciting 2013. In December, Jeh Johnson left the firm to become our nation’s fourth Secretary of Homeland Security.

On the morning of December 19, Johnson sent around a wonderful departure memo, which we’d like to share with you now….

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* The Tenth Circuit will not be blocking same-sex marriages from occurring in Utah, so the next stop will be Supreme Court intervention. Sorry, but we have a feeling that Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t going to be too helpful with that. [MSNBC]

* Winston & Strawn, if you’re overbilling on pro bono motions and you want fees, you might want to be more descriptive. Please tell this judge what “preparation for filing” even means, and why you spent more than four hours doing it. [New York Law Journal]

* This judge felt she was “being played with,” so she took a man’s kid away from him during Christmas. Now a judicial ethics commission is showing her that it’s not one to be played with. [Texas Lawyer]

* Yay, happy news! Chapman Law’s associate dean for student affairs really takes her job responsibilities to heart. She’s performed several wedding ceremonies for both students and alumni. [National Law Journal]

* The Indian diplomat who got strip-searched was arrested over a silly mistake, says her lawyer. It’s too bad that a lack of reading comprehension can result in having to bend over and spread ‘em. [Bloomberg]

The law firm of Skadden Arps might be a follower when it comes to bonuses, but it’s a leader when it comes to public interest. For example, Skadden was one of the first firms to support Philippine typhoon relief efforts. Over the years, Skadden has given generously to address a variety of humanitarian crises around the world. Its public-spirited nature is one of the reasons Skadden enjoys a perfect score for industry reputation in our Career Center.

Skadden’s most famous contribution to the world of public interest law is surely the Skadden Fellowship program, which has been described as “a legal Peace Corps.” It was established in 1988, in honor of Skadden’s 40th anniversary as a law firm, and it supports graduating law students committed to public interest work as they embark upon specific projects at sponsoring organizations.

How many fellowships were awarded this year? Which law schools do the fellows come from?

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… a damn about pro bono.

Pro bono work is often an afterthought in the minds of attorneys who have more important things to do with their time — things like “churn[ing] that bill, baby!” But for others, it’s a commitment to fulfilling the very concept their naive and idealistic law school applications were premised upon: helping the people who need it most.

We know lawyers like rankings, so we thought we’d provide you with a way to measure a firm’s prestige and beneficence, all at the same time. Out of all of the Biglaw firms in the United States, which five are filled with the most worthy do-gooders? Let’s find out…

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