Pro Bono Community Profiles: The O’Melveny & Myers LLP/Participant Media Pro Bono Partnership

This week we had an opportunity to speak with David Lash, Managing Partner for Pro Bono and Public Interest Services at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, about the exciting pro bono partnership model the firm has with their client Participant Media.

It is not too often that you see a legal business relationship affect social justice. O’Melveny & Myers LLP (O’Melveny) and Participant Media (Participant) share a unique relationship beyond that of attorney/client. On the commercial side the firm does a very large amount of work for Participant in regard to their transactional needs. Participant is a production company that produces unique films that are socially conscious or have a political theme and carries out a social action campaign in connection with the release of each film.

Several years ago, Participant suggested that they were interested in having O’Melveny’s pro bono program become involved with the social action side of Participant. From that began a partnership for pro bono and social change that has not only been a great success for increasing the amount and quality of pro bono representation, but also strengthened the relationship between the firm and its client.

Since this partnership began O’Melveny has had the opportunity to help Participant fashion the form of their social action campaigns in connection to the release of their films. But more than that, O’Melveny works on a pro bono basis with the non profits with which Participant partners in carrying out these social action campaigns.

The most successful example revolves around the film The Visitor. The Visitor is a critically acclaimed film about two young people who unwittingly get caught up in the immigration detention system and what happens to them and the people in their lives. What the film highlighted was that being placed in a detention facility was the critical tipping point in determining whether the main character would be deported. After seeing the film, O’Melveny decided to talk with the non profit immigration organizations Participant was teaming with to determine how best to combat the problem.

O’Melveny discovered that individuals detained in the manner highlighted in the film are placed in an extremely precarious situation where the likelihood of a positive outcome is diminished. Statistics have shows that the likelihood of eventual success in avoiding deportation is strongly connected to whether one is being detained during the deportation hearing process. O’Melveny determined that in order to be the most effective and have the greatest impact on the lives of those they sought to help, the pro bono aspect of the social action campaign needed to focus on getting people out of detention.

 The firm put together extensive training materials on the process by which detainees can be released from detention via bond proceedings and went through great effort to ensure the materials were useful and meaningful, even having them vetted by expert immigration lawyers from across the country. O’Melveny then began to plan trainings around the county with the goal of having several hundred attorneys trained on bond proceedings. The thought was that if they could, on this limited basis, help free detainees from detention while they awaited an outcome in their deportation proceedings they could have a significant impact.

O’Melveny put together training modules in each of the cities in which they had an office and partnered with a local legal services organization that specialized in working with immigrants and immigration issues. These organizations helped O’Melveny tailor the training materials to address the specificities of their jurisdictions, the procedures in their local court houses and the dos and don’ts of each venue. The legal service organizations helped with the actual training and agreed to be the vehicle by which cases would be screened and distributed to the volunteers in their community.

O’Melveny then contacted local immigration bars and local American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) chapters to obtain commitments not only to advertise the training and encourage their members to attend but also to ask members of the organization to provide guidance and support to the volunteers. The firm also went to local immigration courts and spoke with the judges in charge of pro bono opportunities in those jurisdictions. As a result, several of those judges agreed to attend the training and conduct mock hearings as part of the training for volunteers.

Also, as part of the effort, O’Melveny went to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). EOIR helped pave the way for gaining approval for volunteers in several jurisdictions to represent clients on a limited scope basis solely at their bond hearings. This made the pro bono opportunities through this program much more appealing to many volunteers and a larger number of detainees were represented at bond proceedings. 

Please return tomorrow to read about the importance of properly planning for a firm/client pro bono relationship.

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