Pro Bono Institute® (PBI®) is proud to present the 2022 John H. Pickering Award, in conjunction with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (WilmerHale) and the Pickering family, to Debevoise & Plimpton in recognition of the firm’s outstanding institutional commitment to pro bono and the inspiring pro bono performance of its attorneys and staff.
Debevoise, a member of PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project® and a charter signatory to the Pro Bono Institute Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, has been a long-time leader in pro bono.
The firm’s commitment to providing outstanding client service extends beyond its commercial work, to its neighborhoods, communities, and beyond. Pro bono work has been central to Debevoise’s culture since its founding in 1931. For decades, the firm has focused on narrowing the justice gap by helping underserved and vulnerable communities tackle social problems and solve complex legal issues. The firm’s pro bono practice has three main goals: to provide legal representation to people who could not otherwise afford it, to strengthen the communities in which we live and work, and to protect civil liberties and public rights in the U.S. and around the world.
Debevoise lawyers in all practice groups provide legal representation for clients in hundreds of pro bono matters each year. Debevoise’s pro bono work ranges from significant civil rights and economic equity issues in the United States and around the world to individual representations. The firm’s lawyers represent not-for-profit organizations and low-income small businesses in a full spectrum of legal issues and represent individuals in a range of matters including immigration applications, family law, housing court, and the criminal justice system.
In 2021, the firm’s lawyers in the U.S. provided over 70,000 hours of free legal services to individuals, nonprofit organizations and low-income entrepreneurs.
The firm’s recent significant pro bono achievements include:
- Reducing excessive prison sentences that were required by harsh federal sentencing guidelines which Congress has since corrected. This effort, known as The Holloway Project and led by former federal prosecutor and former U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, has already resulted in reduced sentences for 40 clients and erased over 1,400 years of their prison sentences.
- Winning a preliminary injunction against the University of Florida on behalf of a group of professors in a critical First Amendment battle over the independence of public research universities.
- Winning a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court (along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and CLEAR Project), allowing a group of Muslim men improperly put or kept on the No Fly List to sue government officials for monetary damages under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- Obtaining life-changing compensation for a class of Black and Hispanic sheet metal workers who sued their union for racial discrimination.
- Representing The Weeksville Heritage Center, an educational and cultural center in Brooklyn that preserves the history of one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America, in its admission to the New York City Cultural Institutions Group.
- Negotiating a settlement in a landmark lawsuit by a transgender government employee in Oregon who was unlawfully denied medically necessary care as co-counsel with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
- Winning a court order voiding policy directives that curtailed the rights of asylum seekers and led to improper removal orders of asylum seekers, as co-counsel with RAICES, Democracy Forward, and CLINIC.
- Assisting the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance in submitting a comment clarifying the treatment of investment funds under the Community Reinvestment Act, which ultimately helped change the rule to encourage more community development investment.
About the John H. Pickering Award
PBI’s award is given in honor of the late John H. Pickering, a distinguished appellate attorney and leader in the legal profession who was equally well known for his extraordinary commitment to pro bono and the public interest. PBI presents the award in conjunction with his law firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (WilmerHale), and the Pickering family to honor a law firm for its outstanding commitment to pro bono legal services. Read more about the award and view a list of previous recipients.