Media Release


PBI Honors United Airlines

in partnership with
Cabrini Green Legal Aid and Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) has selected the United Airlines’ Legal Department in partnership with Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) and Seyfarth Shaw LLP, to receive the 2018 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award – Smaller Law for their project to help low-income individuals recover vehicles and assets seized by the police.

CPBO is the global partnership project of Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). PBI will present the award at its 2018 Annual Dinner on October 4 in New York.

PBI President and CEO Eve Runyon lauded the project and expressed her appreciation of the partners. “This effort has had a holistic impact on the community, from directly providing pro bono representation, to helping reform civil asset forfeiture laws, to crafting statewide standardized forms to improve ease-of-use. I applaud their dedicated and inspired work.”

Under current state civil asset forfeiture laws and the Chicago municipal code, police are authorized to seize property that they suspect has been used in connection with criminal activity. Until a recent change in the law, which became effective on July 1, 2018, people navigating Illinois’s civil asset forfeiture process had to prove their innocence in order to receive their vehicles back. Additionally, at trial, the property owner was responsible for proving that the property was exempt from forfeiture. Following the passage of the civil asset forfeiture reform bill, the government now has the responsibility of proving the property is subject to seizure.

Even with some of the recent updates and changes to the asset forfeiture process in Illinois, numerous articles have been written about the discriminatory impact of this procedure on people of color and the systemic abuses of power that can take place when law enforcement officials take property from people without due process. The practice has been widely criticized as unfair by policy advocates across the political spectrum. Despite all this, the practice remains prevalent in Chicago and many other jurisdictions throughout the country, with thousands of civil forfeitures taking place every year, resulting in proceedings that are nearly impossible to navigate without an attorney.

In 2016, United’s Legal Department, CGLA, and Seyfarth Shaw developed a pro bono partnership that has provided direct representation to more than 100 indigent clients navigating the City of Chicago’s complex asset forfeiture proceedings. These proceedings required individuals to prove their innocence twice in separate proceedings in order to reclaim property seized during an arrest. In addition to directly representing clients, the partnership has created vital resource materials and standardized forms for self-represented claimants in forfeiture cases; developed a set of pro bono training manuals to assist future claimants; and engaged in advocacy to reform civil asset forfeiture laws in Illinois.

“We are very proud of our collaboration with CGLA and Seyfarth Shaw and the important work that we are doing in Chicago on the state’s civil asset forfeiture process. Having the opportunity to help individuals unfairly affected by this process is a meaningful way of giving back to our community. We would like to thank PBI and CPBO for this recognition,” said Brett J. Hart, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer, and General Counsel of United Airlines.

United’s Legal Department first launched its pro bono efforts in July 2012. The goal of the program was simple and enormous: to help the underserved solve a wide variety of legal problems. Volunteers of the program are encouraged to do pro bono because of their personal passions and desire to make an impact.

A large percentage of the United’s Legal Department participated in trainings for the civil asset forfeiture project and more than 25 percent of United’s attorneys have directly represented clients at civil asset forfeiture trials. The partnership has developed referral and case acceptance models to help pro bono attorneys at United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw take cases and represent individuals at trial.

“CGLA would not have been able to fill this void in legal services in Chicago without the sponsorship and partnership of United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw,” said Esther Franco-Payne, CGLA’s Executive Director. “As a result of this partnership, we will now be able to continue this work by offering this as a pro bono opportunity to other corporations, expanding the program’s reach to provide access to justice to those in need. We are grateful and honored for this recognition.”

“Helping innocent owners get their vehicles out of forfeiture has been incredibly rewarding for our volunteer attorneys,” said Allegra R. Nethery, Pro Bono & Philanthropy Partner at Seyfarth Shaw. “Equally rewarding and valuable has been the opportunity to partner with the United legal team and CGLA. We all felt very strongly about addressing this unmet legal need in the community, and are very proud of what we have accomplished. We thank Equal Justice Works for facilitating this partnership and we deeply appreciate the recognition from PBI.”

About the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award
The award honors legal departments and the organizations with which they partner in providing legal services to those in need. The awardees 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 group.

About Corporate Pro Bono
Founded in 2000, Corporate Pro Bono is a global partnership project of (PBI) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). CPBO’s mission is to explore and identify new approaches to and resources for the provision of legal services to the poor, disadvantaged, and other individuals or groups unable to secure legal assistance to address critical problems. CPBO does so by supporting, enhancing, and transforming the pro bono efforts of in-house legal departments in the U.S. and around the world. Since its inception, CPBO has worked with hundreds of legal departments and ACC chapters.

About Pro Bono Institute
Founded in 1996, Pro Bono Institute (PBI) is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. With an unparalleled depth of knowledge, resources and expertise, PBI is the respected resource for all things pro bono. Through our work with law firms, in-house corporate legal departments, and public interest organizations, PBI is the global thought leader in exploring, identifying, evaluating, catalyzing, and taking to scale new approaches to and resources for the provision of legal services to the poor, disadvantaged, and other individuals or groups unable to secure legal assistance to address critical problems.

About United Airlines
United Airlines and United Express operate approximately 4,600 flights a day to 357 airports across five continents. In 2017, United and United Express operated more than 1.6 million flights carrying more than 148 million customers. United is proud to have the world’s most comprehensive route network, including U.S. mainland hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark/New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. United operates 757 mainline aircraft and the airline’s United Express carriers operate 551 regional aircraft. The airline is a founding member of Star Alliance, which provides service to 193 countries via 28 member airlines. For more information, visit , follow  on Twitter, or . The common stock of United’s parent, United Continental Holdings, Inc., is traded on the NYSE under the symbol “UAL.”

About Cabrini Green Legal Aid
Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) focuses its work on fighting for justice on behalf of individuals, families, and communities negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. CGLA’s vision is for each client to leave CGLA stronger than when they came. CGLA provides free, quality legal and social services to those who have had a negative experience with the justice system as a result of an arrest or incarceration.. CGLA works in four areas of the law: housing, family, criminal records, and criminal defense. CGLA’s integrative approach combines legal aid with social work to extend its impact beyond the legal crisis. CGLA believes that justice is more than a verdict. It’s an opportunity to build bridges and strengthen lives. CGLA strives to provide services that are focused, holistic, transformative, collaborative, and outcomes-driven. For more information, visit .

About Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Seyfarth Shaw has more than 850 attorneys in 15 offices providing a broad range of legal services in the areas of labor and employment, employee benefits, litigation, corporate and real estate. Seyfarth’s clients include over 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and reflect virtually every industry and segment of the economy. A recognized leader in delivering value and innovation for legal services, Seyfarth has earned numerous accolades from a variety of highly respected industry associations, consulting firms and media. Seyfarth Shaw is a PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory.