Wiley Rein LLP prides itself on a strong tradition of service to the local and global community, and encourages its lawyers and paralegals to participate in pro bono activities. Not only do such activities fulfill our desire to give back to our community, they also contribute to a heightened sensitivity to client needs, increased depth of experience, sharpened legal abilities and the development of a well-rounded lawyer.
Wiley Rein and its lawyers have regularly been recognized for their pro bono contributions. For example, the firm was honored for exceptional volunteer work by the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, an organization Wiley Rein has served for more than 12 years. Our attorneys work with the clinic to provide numerous clients with legal guidance on issues such as housing, disability, benefits and public assistance. Furthermore, in 2007, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs presented Wiley Rein its Outstanding Achievement Award in the field of Public Accommodations for our pro bono representation of the NAACP and several individuals in a federal lawsuit alleging a widespread pattern and practice of race discrimination against restaurant patrons throughout the South.
A primary goal of Wiley Rein's pro bono program is to offer its attorneys and paralegals broad opportunities in matters that best allow them to make a difference. Our representations over the past decade include noteworthy cases (cases with sweeping potential ramifications or those requiring significant resources), cases handled on behalf of individuals referred through legal service providers with whom we have developed close relationships, as well as a diverse category of other matters appealing to the individual interests, strengths and ideals of our Wiley Rein pro bono participants.
Why We Do It
An associate received a letter from a formerly homeless client for whom he had won Social Security disability benefits. The letter sums up Wiley Rein's reason for maintaining its pro bono commitment. The client began by thanking the associate for the attentiveness and compassion he had received and closed his letter with:
"Not only did your winning my case help me to make up for time as far as family relationships and my home. It's also served as a template to the remainder of my life…I want to work. I hope to overcome these disabilities some day…Due to my disabilities for so many years, I panhandled, drifted, lived in abandoned buildings…the back of U-haul trucks, abandoned cars and shelters...My disabilities persist, but you have brought me a long ways, and I'm never going back."
We believe that these success stories evidence the purpose of our pro bono program: to make a difference in our community.
A sampling of some of our noteworthy cases reveals the breadth of our pro bono representations:
- On behalf of The Equal Rights Center, Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs secured a multimillion dollar settlement of a class action lawsuit brought against MetroAccess, alleging that Metro had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide adequate service to customers with disabilities. In 2008, The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs presented Wiley Rein with its Outstanding Achievement Award in the field of Disability Rights for the firm's representation on this matter. To read more about this settlement, click here.
- In resolution of pro bono litigation pursued on behalf of DC Central Detention Facility (DC Jail) inmates by Wiley Rein's Theodore A. Howard, the DC government agreed to establish and enforce a 2,164-inmate population cap at the DC Jail. Mr. Howard, in conjunction with the DC Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, sued the District of Columbia in June 2005 to force compliance with the DC Jail Improvement Act of 2003 - a law enacted in order to alleviate dangerous conditions in the jail attributed to overcrowding. In August 2007, DC Superior Court Judge Melvin R. Wright granted Mr. Howard's clients summary judgment and ordered the city to submit in writing its plan to adhere to the law and implement a population cap.
- Wiley Rein secured an important pro bono victory against the operators of a years-old realty scheme to defraud poor and homeless persons in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Attorney Daniel P. Graham, in conjunction with The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, represented one of the scam's victims in a DC Superior Court lawsuit. According to the suit, Mr. Graham's client paid the scam entity - Apartment Finders and its proprietor, Jasmine Worthy - a non-refundable application fee, as well as a security deposit and the first month's rent for the promise of low-rent housing. The client never received housing and Apartment Finders stopped responding to her inquiries. The court judgment in this case imposed the maximum civil penalty available under the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
- On November 7, 1996, the firm's longest running pro bono matter came to a successful conclusion when then Virginia Governor George Allen commuted the death sentence of Joseph Patrick Payne three hours before his scheduled execution based upon "a substantial question involving the reliability of evidence presented at...the trial." This was the culmination of a nine-year odyssey, led by Paul F. Khoury, through Virginia's state and federal habeas corpus system, with three separate petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Partnerships With Local Legal Service Providers
A key part of Wiley Rein's pro bono mission is to provide access to the justice system for individuals otherwise unable to afford it. We do this primarily by taking cases referred through local legal service providers with whom we have forged close ties.
DC Bar Pro Bono Program Advocacy & Justice Clinic: For many years, the firm has participated in the DC Bar's Pro Bono Program Advocacy & Justice Clinic, which matches indigent clients with volunteer attorneys. We staff the clinic biannually and are committed to taking at least 10 to 14 cases a year. The clinic is an excellent opportunity for individual attorneys and paralegals to gain valuable experience and skills by taking on pro bono representation for landlord/tenant, family law and Social Security disability benefit clients.
Whitman-Walker Clinic Legal Services Program: Wiley Rein has a longstanding relationship with DC's Whitman-Walker Clinic Legal Services Program. The clinic is the primary provider of medical, legal and support services for people in the metropolitan DC area living with HIV and AIDS. Through the Legal Services Program, Wiley Rein attorneys and paralegals provide assistance to clinic clients for the range of legal problems that are faced by people living with HIV and AIDS, including entitlement to Social Security and private disability benefits, insurance issues, discrimination in employment and public accommodations, debt counseling and immigration concerns. In 2009, the Legal Services Program honored Wiley Rein with the "Going the Extra Mile Award" for outstanding legal work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. Click here for additional information.
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless: For many years, the firm has been a strong supporter of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Once a month, Wiley Rein attorneys and paralegals conduct intake sessions near DC's Capitol Hill, where they meet with potential new clients and provide as much legal assistance as possible to the homeless and near-homeless. Typical cases involve Social Security benefits, food stamps, housing concerns, veterans issues and many other legal matters. With thousands of homeless individuals in Washington, DC, Wiley Rein considers assistance to the local homeless population a priority.
DC Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs: As the successor of the DC Prisoners' Legal Services Project, Inc., the mission of the DC Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs remains to advocate for the humane treatment and dignity of all persons convicted or charged with a criminal offense under DC law who are housed in prisons, jails or community corrections programs. The project also allows us to assist their family members with prison-related issues and promote progressive criminal justice reform. The DC Prisoners' Project is the only legal organization with a mission of advocating for the interests of over 7,000 DC prisoners currently held in 99 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities across the country, in addition to more than 3,500 held in the DC Jail and the Correctional Treatment facility.
Wiley Rein partner Theodore A. Howard has served on the Board of Directors for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs since 2006 and was President and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the DC Prisoners' Legal Services Project from 1995-2006. In 2007, Mr. Howard and the Prisoners' Project won a long-fought legal battle to reduce overcrowding in the DC Jail. Click here to learn more about this victory.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Washington Metropolitan Chapter provides a variety of services to individuals living with blood-related cancers. Wiley Rein provides pro bono assistance to the society in two ways: Wiley Rein attorneys speak on topics relevant to individuals living with cancer, including leave rights, employment discrimination, disability and health insurance and the Social Security disability process. Wiley Rein attorneys also provide assistance to individuals referred to us by the society with specific problems for which they need professional help.
Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts: Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts (WALA) supports artistic expression and creative innovation by serving the legal needs of Washington, Maryland and Virginia's arts and cultural communities. WALA provides education, advocacy and volunteer legal services through workshops and seminars, legal clinics for artists and arts organizations and pro-bono referral services. Wiley Rein helps many WALA referrals with non-litigation matters in the areas of contract drafting and review, corporation formation, intellectual property analysis and general advice.
Legal Aid Society of DC: The Legal Aid Society of Washington DC provides free civil legal assistance to low-income residents of Washington, DC in the areas of family law (including custody, visitation, child support and domestic violence issues), landlord-tenant (including Superior Court evictions as well as Section 8 and DCHA administrative proceedings), public benefits (TANF, food stamps, Medicaid and Alliance, General Assistance for Children or POWER) and special education cases.
Wiley Rein's pro bono program also has sought to address emerging issues throughout the world. For example, taking advantage of our knowledge of and ties to the insurance industry, we currently serve as insurance counsel for LeapFrog Investments, Ltd., an innovative investment fund that seeks to provide numerous varieties of "microinsurance" in developing nations. Microinsurance is an offshoot of the burgeoning micro-finance movement in the developing world whose leading proponent, Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Like microloans, microinsurance seeks to protect the poor in Africa and South Asia. Initial coverages will include "shack"/low income housing insurance, health insurance and funeral insurance; additional coverages will follow. LeapFrog's mission is to tap into the estimated 1 billion person market for microinsurance and take the financing of this industry to the next level. The goal is to reach 25 million poor and low income people during a relatively short launch period. A Wiley Rein partner currently serves as General Counsel to LeapFrog.
Other Pro Bono Activities
Wiley Rein's pro bono program includes opportunities to become involved in transactional pro bono matters. In addition, Wiley Rein attorneys often will pursue matters related to their own personal areas of interest.
Transactional Pro Bono Work: Below are some examples of our non-litigation pro bono matters:
- Represented the American Red Cross in obtaining use of 1-800-RED-CROSS for the organization's post-hurricane Katrina work.
- Assisted Leah Lamb, then Community Development Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University, form a non-profit corporation, The Performance Initiative Inc. (TPI) and successfully apply with the IRS for recognition as a 501(c)(3) entity. The group describes itself as an innovative organization dedicated to cultivating positive social change by facilitating collaboration between issue-oriented individuals, artists and community members. TPI is based on the belief that the arts (especially theater) can engage our humanity and deepen our understanding of difficult social issues. While socially driven organizations and professionals can systematically and strategically address such issues, TPI serves as a bridge between groups and creates partnerships with ordinary citizens for significant and lasting change.
- Assisted administrators and alumni of McKinley Technology High School, a District of Columbia charter school, form a nonprofit corporation to raise funds to support the students and programs of the high school. Associates continue to work with McKinley Tech Fund on its application with the IRS for recognition as a 501(c)(3) entity.
Individual Initiatives: Wiley Rein lawyers and paralegals have a broad array of outside interests and are encouraged to pursue pro bono matters relating to areas about which they feel passionate. For example:
- Avid Wiley Rein fishermen and outdoorsmen worked with a group in Maine's Kennebec Valley to enforce an agreement with the local energy company to permit fish passage past the Fort Halifax dam and ultimately to remove the dam.
- A partner with an interest in oceanography provides varied legal assistance to the Bermuda Biological Station for Research (now the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences), a 501(c)(3) corporation conducting marine biological and oceanographic research in the mid-Atlantic.
- An associate helped The Lab School of Washington create a successful relationship with the Academy in Manayunk in Philadelphia, PA, allowing the Academy to form a new school based on the programs and methods created by The Lab School of Washington. The Lab School of Washington, founded in 1967 by Sally L. Smith, is internationally recognized for its innovative programs for children and adults with learning disabilities.
- A partner assists the International Senior Lawyers Project, a group of experienced lawyers who volunteer to work on legal projects in developing countries. He is the coordinator for a 60-hour commercial law training program designed to assist historically disadvantaged black South African lawyers to improve their commercial law skills and attract corporate clients. The program is co-sponsored by the Black Lawyers Association of South Africa. The project normally recruits eight U.S. and UK attorneys to help train about 50 Johannesburg and Durban lawyers and has expanded to Cape Town.
- An associate represented a small DC congregation in its dispute with an electrical contractor and achieved a dismissal of all claims.
In addition to these commitments, the firm has a longstanding relationship with Calvary Women’s Services. Calvary provides shelter, education and other services to homeless women in Washington DC. Wiley Rein offers pro bono legal counsel and representation, donates computers and other items to the organization and annually walks on behalf of Calvary in DC's Help the Homeless Walkathon. Wiley Rein attorneys also have served as members and presidents of Calvary's board. In 2006, Calvary honored Wiley Rein with its "Volunteer Organization of the Year" award.
Wiley Rein's pro bono program is managed by our Pro Bono Committee and receives the full support of the firm and its resources. The committee serves to ensure the development of the pro bono program and operates on an equal basis with the many other standing committees that oversee firm governance. Wiley Rein requires that every pro bono matter be performed in accordance with the firm's high professional standards. The firm provides associates with up to 50 hours of "billable" credit for pro bono work, and pro bono work is favorably considered in the annual associate evaluation process and bonus determinations.
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Wiley Rein continues to recognize the growing severity of the unmet legal needs in the local and global community and is mindful that major law firms must play a leading role in addressing those needs. The firm believes that its approach to encouraging its attorneys to participate in a broad and eclectic array of pro bono matters provides important services to many organizations and individuals while developing its lawyers' expertise.