Since December 2015, McDonald’s Corporation has partnered with Jenner & Block, Goldberg Kohn, and the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) to represent asylum seekers escaping persecution and violence in their home countries.
Throughout the past five and a half years, volunteers from the legal department of McDonald’s have partnered with law firm volunteers from either Jenner & Block or Goldberg Kohn on approximately 20 cases referred by NIJC, working collaboratively to represent immigrants applying for asylum. Their work includes preparation of affidavits and expert affidavits, representation of victims at immigration interviews, and representation of individuals in immigration court.
McDonald’s lawyers and staff play a substantial role alongside their Jenner & Block or Goldberg Kohn teammates at each stage of the application process. By working together, the in-house and law firm lawyers and staff share resources and divide responsibilities, which can include many hours of detail-oriented work, such as interviewing the client, drafting the client’s affidavit, reviewing medical and police reports, gathering personal statements from the client’s relatives, meeting with expert witnesses, and preparing for immigration court hearings. NIJC provides essential guidance and assistance to the pro bono volunteers throughout the process.
The partnership has obtained asylum for numerous individuals who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries, and seeking to create a new life for themselves and their families in the U.S. For example, they successfully obtained asylum status for a Muslim woman from Myanmar who had faced significant religious persecution in her home country. Muslims in Myanmar have endured significant persecution at the hands of the majority Buddhist population (including genocide against a particular subset of the Muslim community in Myanmar, the Rohingya). The client suffered numerous atrocities before coming to the U.S. by herself.
As another example, the partnership obtained asylum for a young Venezuelan husband and father who requested to resign his role in the Venezuelan military, because he did not want to obey military directives to harm and violate human rights of citizens. His requests to resign were denied and military leaders threatened him with imprisonment or death if he did not follow orders. He fled to the U.S. and successfully sought asylum with representation from the partnership. The client will apply for asylum relief for his wife and daughter, whom he had to leave behind in Venezuela, so they can reunite in the US.
Another client that the partnership assisted was a high school history and geography teacher from the Republic of Congo, who was part of the leadership of a teacher’s union in the country. Known for its long history of grievances between the teachers and Congolese government, the client and several union teachers went on strike in 2013 in an effort to create change. After several interrogations, beatings and threats to his life from the Congolese government, the client fled to the U.S. NIJC then referred his asylum case to the partnership, and they were able to assist him in being granted asylum in the U.S.
The partnership has been able to assist these clients and many others because of significant volunteer engagement, training, and recognition. Approximately 20 percent of attorneys and legal staff in McDonald’s law department have participated in this partnership. To increase volunteer engagement and develop their expertise in asylum law, McDonald’s has hosted CLE trainings by NIJC experts at McDonald’s corporate headquarters. McDonald’s has also welcomed attorneys from firms and other corporations who wish to be trained on handling asylum cases at its asylum clinics. McDonald’s recognizes its employee volunteers and pro bono partners at a pro bono luncheon where clients, including those who successfully obtained asylum, are invited to speak about their stories. As a result, more employees become interested in representing asylum seekers in this partnership.
The partnership has continued its work during the pandemic. Volunteers from McDonald’s, Jenner & Block, and Goldberg Kohn have taken on a number of new cases, continue to work on applications remotely, and conduct interviews virtually. The partnership has also held virtual trainings for volunteers. In addition, McDonald’s sustains the partnership by raising funds for NIJC.
McDonald’s, a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory, has many other pro bono projects that they are involved in alongside this partnership project. For example, McDonald’s pro bono volunteers work with the Pro Bono Center for Disability and Elder Law to provide free legal services to low-income Cook County elderly and disabled residents, and work with Equip for Equality to advance the human and civil rights of children and adults with disabilities in Illinois, to name just a few. McDonald’s legal department encourages its attorneys and support staff to participate in pro bono legal work in a variety of ways, including regular discussion of pro bono at legal department meetings, prominent featuring of pro bono on the department’s website, and recognition of individuals who contribute to the department’s pro bono efforts at department meetings and special events.
Jenner & Block, a Charter Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, has a long history of partnering with corporate clients on pro bono matters, ranging from asylum to other immigration relief to post-conviction resentencing relief for juvenile offenders. Over the past 30 years, the firm has provided more than 1.7 million hours of pro bono service, and its steadfastness to help those most in need remains. Jenner & Block has made a five-year commitment (for 2021-2025) to provide $250 million in free legal services to those in need of access to justice, and has partnered with dozens of legal services organizations to provide pro bono legal services.
Goldberg Kohn has a robust pro bono program that is committed to supporting and assisting individuals and organizations in the Chicago area. Pro bono volunteers represent many vulnerable populations including incarcerated individuals and children and immigrants seeking asylum and other benefits. Goldberg Kohn regularly represents individuals and organizations on a pro bono basis in high-profile litigation, including most recently in environmental and immigration matters.
NIJC is dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. NIJC implements a unique approach, drawing on its legal services to advance justice and advocate for these populations through policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Thanks to the support of approximately 2,000 pro bono attorneys, NIJC has made critical advances in the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. NIJC provides legal services to more than 9,000 individuals each year and maintains a success rate of 90 percent in obtaining asylum for those fleeing persecution in their home countries. NIJC and its pro bono partners have been on the vanguard of federal impact litigation and advocacy, setting positive precedents for those seeking human rights protections within our borders.
PBI congratulates McDonald’s, Goldberg Kohn, Jenner & Block, and NIJC on their impactful and longstanding pro bono partnership.
About the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award
Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a project of Pro Bono Institute, created the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award to recognize innovative pro bono collaborations of in-house legal departments with law firms and public interest organizations. Pro bono partnerships that include at least one in-house legal department with one or more law firms and/or public interest organizations are eligible. The CPBO Advisory Board selects the award recipients.
The award honors legal departments and the organizations with which they partner in the provision of legal services to those in need. The award recipients are departments, law firms, and public interest organizations that have demonstrated an impact in their community through their partnership project, shown substantial involvement in the project by in-house lawyers, made tangible steps toward sustaining the relationship among the partners, developed innovative substantive or structural approaches in support of the partnership’s effort, and addressed a critical legal need or assisted a particularly vulnerable community or target population.
Over the years, the impact and innovation of the projects supported by the award recipients have been tremendously important both in the projects’ ability to address the legal needs of the communities being served and in the role the partnerships have played in supporting and furthering pro bono work, especially within the in-house community. Through these partnerships, legal departments, law firms, and public interest organizations have devised programs that contribute to the legal profession’s efforts to close the justice gap and that create strong legacies of effective pro bono service.