Pro Bono Back on the Big Screen

Recently, the power of pro bono was featured in the documentary The List at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Directed by Beth Murphy, The List tells the classic pro bono story of client, volunteer attorney, and the nonprofit organization that brings them together.  However, beyond that, nothing about this story and the people in it is ordinary.

The film follows three Iraqi nationals who have been endangered as a result of their work with and in support of the U.S. effort in Iraq and are trying to find safety.  It introduces Kirk Johnson and The List Project, the nonprofit he founded to assist these three individuals, along with hundreds like them.  Finally, it highlights the pro bono attorneys who advocated from half a world away on their behalf and guided them through the process to make it to safety in the U.S.

As the film shows, a large but undetermined number of Iraqi nationals went to work for the U.S. in Iraq after the invasion, in positions as varied as interpreters, drivers, and engineers.  As a result, they and their families were and are targeted as traitors and infidels by insurgents and those fighting against the U.S.  Many were killed or harmed, while others went into hiding.

Johnson, who had worked at USAID in Iraq, started a list of those he knew in danger and then started receiving calls and emails from hundreds more who need helped.  He formed The List Project, began broad efforts to help those who helped the U.S., and partnered with law firms to assist the thousands on his list.  Volunteer attorneys and paralegals helped  those in danger apply to be a refugee or for a Special Immigrant Visa to the U.S.  The three original partner firms that played a critical part in this effort were Holland & Knight LLP*, Mayer Brown LLP*, and Proskauer Rose LLP*.  More recently, after receiving training from the original firms, Crowell & Moring LLP*, Dechert LLP*, Kaye Scholer LLP*, Steptoe & Johnson LLP*, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP* joined the effort.

During the last five years, more than 200 attorneys and paralegals at the partner law firms have collectively contributed thousands of pro bono hours resulting in nearly 1,500 Iraqi nationals now living safely in the U.S.  Unfortunately, as emphasized in film, many more remain in danger.  As one pro bono attorney put it, with their clients’ lives on the line, these cases are similar in many ways to death penalty cases.  Though, much unlike the typical death penalty cases, The List Project cases usually require less than 30 hours of work over the course of several months.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project