Clemency Project 2014: Calling All Pro Bono Lawyers

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new initiative to encourage federal inmates who have committed low-level crimes to petition for executive clemency. Since the announcement, more than 16,000 prisoners have completed electronic surveys to apply for reduced sentences, and it’s likely that tens of thousands of additional surveys are in progress.

Clemency Project 2014, a working group composed of lawyers and advocates from the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), is in the process of recruiting and organizing pro bono lawyers to assist inmates seeking clemency. These volunteers will include federal defenders, solo or small firm practitioners, and lawyers from large law firms and corporate legal departments. So far, the Project has had more than 50 large law firms and 700 other attorneys express interest in providing assistance. All participating lawyers will complete a mandatory online training, which will be available on-demand in July, on the legal requirements and how to screen for eligibility.

Although it is currently unknown how many of those who have submitted petitions will meet the strict eligibility criteria – which limit clemency to nonviolent federal inmates who have served at least 10 years in prison, have demonstrated good conduct, and who would have received significantly lower prison terms under today’s sentencing laws – there will undoubtedly be a great need for pro bono lawyers. The PBEye recently spoke to our friend Nancy Anderson, the director of legal mobilization and pro bono at The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law about their involvement in Clemency Project 2014. Given The Lawyers’ Committee’s extensive and dedicated pro bono network of large law firms, it will be leading the recruitment of large firms. According to Nancy, for each metropolitan area involved, there will be between two and five coordinating firms, which will be responsible for managing the other participating firms as they screen the surveys for eligible inmates. This structure has worked well for other large-scale pro bono efforts, such as Election Protection and the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network.

The Law Firm Pro Bono Project encourages our Member Firms, Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatories, and others to get involved in this worthwhile cause. For this program to be successful, every federal inmate who qualifies will need access to quality pro bono representation. If you work at a large law firm and are interested in contributing pro bono time to Clemency Project 2014, please contact Nancy at All other interested attorneys can email

Thank you to Nancy and Norman Reimer, executive director of NACDL, for providing updates on Clemency Project 2014. We’re grateful for your time and leadership.