2015 Pickering Award

2015 John H. Pickering Award Recipient

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Sidley Austin LLP

Pro Bono Institute (PBI), in conjunction with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and the Pickering family, is proud to present its 2015 John H. Pickering Award to Sidley Austin in recognition of its outstanding institutional commitment to pro bono legal services and the inspiring pro bono performance of its lawyers and staff.

Sidley, a Founding Member of PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project and a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®, is a leader in public service and pro bono advocacy. Its history reflects a firm whose commitment to the public interest is longstanding and deeply embedded.

Sidley’s pro bono work covers the waterfront. Its lawyers have protected First Amendment rights and religious freedom; represented criminal defendants and prisoners on death row; preserved low-income housing; supported community development; defended immigrants’ rights; ensured veterans receive benefits to which they are entitled; and helped families and children achieve safety and stability. As its geographic footprint has expanded, so has the influence of its pro bono culture. The firm has joined forces with corporate clients around the world to serve pro bono clients, recognizing that in-house lawyers share their commitment to pro bono service.

Sidley has developed a world-class pro bono program by emphasizing innovation and strategic models that address compelling legal needs. In 2004, the firm launched its first firm-wide pro bono initiative, the Capital Litigation Project. Through this long-term, resource-intensive project, Sidley currently represents 18 inmates on Alabama’s death row. In the past decade, more than 100 Sidley partners, counsel, and associates have devoted over 125,000 hours to ensuring that these clients receive the best representation possible.

Recognizing that firm-wide projects foster reservoirs of expertise and experience that allow firm lawyers to serve more clients more effectively, Sidley has expanded these efforts. In 2006, the firm created the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project, followed a year later by the creation of the Veterans Benefits Project. The newest, and first international firm-wide project, is the Africa & Asia Agricultural Enterprise Program, which offers Sidley’s services to small agricultural enterprises and NGOs in Asia and Africa. By facilitating access to financing, removing trade barriers, and providing other related legal services, the firm helps these growers and producers participate in the global economy.

It is especially appropriate that Sidley receive the Pickering Award this year. As a result of Sidley’s Capital Litigation Project, two of its Alabama clients are no longer on death row. On April 16, 2015, William Ziegler took his first steps of freedom after 15 years of wrongful imprisonment. On the basis of Brady violations and strong evidence that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel, the Sidley team won Mr. Ziegler a new trial. During preparation for a second trial, the State unexpectedly offered to let Mr. Ziegler plead guilty to a lesser offense for which the sentence would be time served. Mr. Ziegler agreed, and walked free that very day.

Just over a month later, a judge in Baldwin County, Alabama, reduced Timothy Flowers’ sentence from death to life imprisonment. Mr. Flowers’ Sidley team had been representing him for 10 years in post-conviction proceedings by the time the court recognized that Mr. Flowers, too, had received ineffective assistance of counsel. In reversing the sentence, the court faulted “[t]rial counsel’s failure to obtain and present evidence of Mr. Flowers’ abusive and neglectful childhood, his pre-natal exposure to alcohol, his childhood head trauma, and the resulting brain damage and neurological problems.”

The firm’s dedication to pro bono service, its leaders’ visible support for and participation in pro bono, and its willingness to accept challenging, ambitious, and time-consuming pro bono matters, make Sidley a most deserving recipient of PBI’s 2015 John H. Pickering Award.