Pro Bono Institute® (PBI®) is proud to present the 2020 John H. Pickering Award, in conjunction with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (WilmerHale) and the Pickering family, to the law firm of Ropes & Gray in recognition of the firm’s outstanding institutional commitment to pro bono and the inspiring pro bono performance of its attorneys and staff.
Ropes & Gray, a founding member of PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project® and a signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, has been a longstanding leader in pro bono legal services.
Fighting for justice and equality through pro bono service is a fundamental part of Ropes & Gray’s culture, one of the many ways the firm fulfills its commitment to “practice with purpose.” From reuniting families at the border, to fighting for racial justice, to protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, Ropes & Gray strives to provide the highest level of pro bono legal advice and support to those who need it most.
Ropes & Gray demonstrates its ongoing commitment to public service by actively encouraging all of its attorneys firmwide to engage in pro bono work. In 2019, Ropes & Gray attorneys, summer associates, retired partners, paralegals, and other legal professionals dedicated 172,000 pro bono hours to pressing humanitarian crises and social challenges. Recent examples of the firm’s work follows:
Helping Reunited Immigrant Families Navigate the Legal System
Immigration issues—always a key Ropes & Gray pro bono focus—took on new urgency with the separation of families at the southern border in 2018. In response, Ropes & Gray attorneys immediately went to Texas to help reunite 30 families. But the firm’s work didn’t end there. Ropes & Gray took the unique step of offering these families full representation in their quest for asylum. This included helping with ICE check-ins and assisting with applications for immigration relief, including asylum and humanitarian parole.
Protecting Voting Rights for Communities of Color
People of color make up just under half of the population of Lowell, Massachusetts. Despite this, its local elected government had virtually no minority representation throughout the city’s history. In 2017, Ropes & Gray teamed up with Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of a diverse coalition of Latinx and Asian American voters to file a landmark voting rights case alleging that the city’s electoral system diluted the voting power of its residents of color. This led to a Consent Decree in June 2019 requiring Lowell to change its system to ensure a fairer and more equitable election process.
Advocating for LGBTQ Individuals
A Ropes & Gray partner argued the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality case before the U.S. Supreme Court, prevailing in 2015 and securing the right to marriage for same-sex couples nationwide in one of the seminal civil rights cases in a generation. The firm’s commitment to LGBTQ rights continued with the launch of the Transgender ID Project, which helps transgender individuals update their legal name and gender on federal and state documents. Ropes & Gray also recently represented the American Bar Association in filing an amicus brief in support of LGBTQ workers in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Mobilizing a Response to the Global COVID-19 Pandemic
Pro bono legal work takes on even greater urgency in times of crisis. In response to the pandemic, Ropes & Gray mobilized a global pro bono response, assisting hospitals, small businesses, state and local governments, and the many communities immediately impacted. Ropes & Gray lawyers advised the Greater New York Hospital Association on its role in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s hospital surge capacity task force, assisted the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in negotiating issues around the potential release of prisoners in the Commonwealth to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and helped countless small businesses learn about and apply for emergency loans and other sources of relief.
Fighting for Racial Justice
Ropes & Gray is proud to be a charter member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), announced in the summer of 2020. With more than 240 law firms as of mid-August, the LFAA is working to identify and deconstruct areas in the law that create a cycle of inequality and injustice.
Partnering with Lawyers Without Borders
For more than five years, Ropes & Gray has been working with international nongovernmental organization Lawyers Without Borders to help strengthen—or, in some cases, develop—important elements of the local legal infrastructure in parts of Africa. Over the years, firm attorneys from offices in Asia, Europe and the United States have traveled to Kenya and Namibia to help train local justice officials by participating in workshops that cover topics such as gender-based violence and counterterrorism, among other areas.
Ropes & Gray’s pro bono efforts are global and include many other areas of focus, such as supporting veterans, defending the wrongfully convicted, fighting against climate change, and assisting human trafficking victims, among others.
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 the John H. Pickering Award
John H. Pickering, a founding partner of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr), was a distinguished appellate lawyer and a leader of the legal profession who was well known for his extraordinary commitment to pro bono and public interest law. He served on PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee from its inception in 1989 until his death in March 2005. The Pickering Award is given annually to a law firm that embodies Pickering’s spirit of service and demonstrates the exceptional culture of pro bono service he worked to imbue in his firm.