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2017 Pickering Award Recipient

Pro Bono Institute (PBI), in conjunction with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and the Pickering family, is proud to present its 2017 John H. Pickering Award to Kirkland & Ellis in recognition of its outstanding institutional commitment to pro bono and the inspiring pro bono performance of its lawyers and staff.

Kirkland, a founding member of PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project and a signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, has been a long-time leader in pro bono. The firm supports and promotes access to justice through meaningful pro bono projects that span a variety of issues, including civil rights, disability rights, immigration, prisoner rights, death penalty cases and criminal appeals, guardianship, veterans’ benefits, and the representation of nonprofit organizations, among other areas. Kirkland encourages its attorneys at all levels to contribute their professional services to pro bono causes they are passionate about. In 2016, Kirkland attorneys devoted 116,315 hours to representing organizations and individuals in pro bono matters.

Among the most noteworthy pro bono projects in the past year was the firm’s win in a landmark voting rights case that ensured a restrictive North Carolina statute would not be in effect for the 2016 election. In July 2016, Kirkland won a victory before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, 95-year-old civil rights icon Rosanell Eaton, and numerous other North Carolina citizens and organizations when the court invalidated a statute that it found violated both the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by restricting voting opportunities and burdening the right to vote for African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

In May 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s petition for certiorari. The victory was the result of efforts by a large team of Kirkland lawyers who worked on the matter for three years that included hundreds of depositions, 21 days of trial, and two trips to the Fourth Circuit.

Another focus for the firm in 2016 was the Clemency Project, an initiative in which attorneys directly assisted non-violent federal inmates who sought commutations of their lengthy prison sentences. The project began in 2014 when President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder launched a sweeping clemency initiative to address the large number of inmates serving sentences disproportionate to their crimes. Legal advocacy groups solicited the assistance of the nation’s bar to help identify prisoners who met certain criteria and who, if sentenced today, would receive significantly lower sentences. From 2014 to 2016, Kirkland attorneys reviewed 129 inmates’ records and drafted clemency petitions for 53 applicants. President Obama commuted the sentences of 15 Kirkland clients, and 28 applications remain pending.

The firm’s dedication to pro bono service and its willingness to pursue challenging, innovative and ambitious matters make Kirkland a most deserving recipient of PBI’s 2017 John H. Pickering Award.


About Kirkland & Ellis
For more than 100 years, Kirkland has served clients around the world in complex litigation, corporate and tax, intellectual property, restructuring and counseling matters. Kirkland’s principal goals are to provide the highest quality legal services available anywhere; to be an instrumental part of each client’s success; and to recruit, retain and advance the brightest legal talent. The Firm seeks long-term, partnering relationships with clients, to the end of providing the best total solution to the client’s legal needs. The Firm is managed as an integrated whole. Approximately 1,900 lawyers in varying practice areas work together as multidisciplinary teams to provide the full-service capabilities for Kirkland’s clients.

About the John H. Pickering Award
John H. Pickering, a founding partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale), was a distinguished appellate lawyer and a leader of the legal profession who was well known for his extraordinary commitment to pro bono and public interest law. He served on Pro Bono Institute’s (PBI) Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee from its inception in 1989 until his death in March 2005. This award is given annually to a major law firm that embodies Mr. Pickering’s spirit of service and demonstrates the exceptional culture of pro bono service he worked to imbue in his firm.

Mr. Pickering was a key framer of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® who, at the time of its launch, convinced his dear friend, Associate Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, to send a personal letter to the leaders of each of the nation’s 500 largest law firms urging that they sign on to the Challenge. Justice Brennan, despite his failing health, then accompanied Mr. Pickering to the formal ceremony where the Challenge was announced to underscore his support for the Challenge and his affection and respect for Mr. Pickering.

In 2000, Mr. Pickering was the recipient of PBI’s annual Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award, presented at the Supreme Court of the United States. At that event, Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Mr. Pickering as “a true Prince of our Profession.” She further elaborated on his pro bono accomplishments by noting that:

[A]t every stage of his career, John has demonstrated his special skill — to use the law to make things more than a little better. The man we celebrate this evening has received scores of accolades, for he is both a devoted public servant and Washington lawyer…[.] John spoke some years ago of the Justice he served in his youth, Justice Murphy, in the Court’s 1941 and 1942 terms. The words John then used fit John himself so perfectly, I cannot do better than to borrow them: His hands — John’s hands — are filled with acts of kindness.

PBI is proud to present this award in John Pickering’s name, in conjunction with his esteemed law firm and the Pickering family, to celebrate his devotion and to recognize outstanding commitment to pro bono legal service.