Welcome back for Part 2 of our Pro Bono Spotlight interview with attorneys Tim Purdon and Brendan Johnson of Robins Kaplan LLP, where they discuss some of their recent pro bono victories. We will also hear from Chandra Kilgriff, of Robins Kaplan LLP on some of the great pro bono work that has been done by their firm.
What goes into these types of pro bono cases?
Tim: When we get involved in these cases, we can bring with us the resources of a large, national law firm. For example, the Rosebud tribe is not a wealthy tribe. It’s based in one of the poorest counties in the entire country. They had a dispute with the federal government, and we were able to bring resources to bear against the government to help even out the odds.
The complaint in the Rosebud case is the result of a lot of work by not only the lead attorneys, but a number of associates as well. The complaint is a complex complaint and I’m very proud of the briefing we provided on that case, it’s at the same level of the legal work that we provide to all of our clients. When we get a case like this, we try to win and treat it the same as every other case we have.
What does pro bono work mean to you?
Brendan: I have found the pro bono work to be the most professionally rewarding work that we do. It’s a great development tool for the firm’s associates. We can see the fruit of our labor firsthand and the difference it makes for our clients. When we have clients that we feel have been excluded from the justice system because they can’t afford law firms, being able to come and make a real difference in their lives—which can restore some of the faith that they have in our system— that has made all of the pro bono work that we have done professionally rewarding.
Tim: People love to make lawyer jokes, but one of the things about joining a larger national firm and seeing the commitment of the large firm to pro bono work was really inspiring. My background is more with smaller law firms and the pro bono culture may be different there. The amount of good that large law firm lawyers do in terms of pro bono efforts is not insignificant. That is a great thing to see the culture of pro bono in these larger firms. I think that speaks well of the bar as a profession.
What is the general pro bono culture like at Robins Kaplan?
Chandra Kilgriff, Diversity, Inclusion, and Pro Bono Manager: In 2016, Robins Kaplan attorneys averaged 97.5 pro bono hours per attorney for the year, and more than 80% of lawyers handled at least 20 hours of pro bono work. This reflects the strong commitment to pro bono throughout our firm, from top to bottom. The firm has an expectation that all attorneys will do 50 hours of pro bono work per year, and we count all pro bono hours towards the billable hour requirement without a cap. Robins Kaplan has partnerships with a few dozen legal services programs to get pro bono cases, and we don’t limit our attorneys on the types of cases they can take.
We do a little bit of everything as far as pro bono cases. We specialize in tough, high-stakes trials where someone really needs a lawyer to fight for them. Robins Kaplan is consistently ranked very highly for its pro bono work. Last year the firm ranked #4 on The American Lawyer rankings for pro bono work, which is based on the average hours and number of attorneys that do pro bono.
One of the reasons attorneys are drawn to the firm is because of our strong pro bono culture. When new associates come in, they are able to help on cases right away. Not only does pro bono work help clients and create access to justice, it is also an opportunity to get more experience and create more relationships within the firm. We have an innovative program where new associates are paired with partners in the firm to take on order of protection cases for survivors of domestic violence. The newer associates were able to get into court after 1-2 months of passing the bar, help clients that really needed it, and receive mentoring from a partner to help them with their trial skills.
Pro bono is a really important part of who we are as a firm, and the results of our program reflect that.
Thank you Tim and Brendan for all your great pro bono work and for taking time to share some insight on the great difference that attorneys can make by doing pro bono!