Pro Bono & the Community
Pro Bono Brochure
Sheppard Mullin Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Winners
Each person chooses his or her own pro bono path. What cause do you want to support? What new skills do you want to gain? What injustice do you want to prevent? At Sheppard Mullin, we encourage and support our attorneys in committing their skills to help pro bono clients to improve our nation and the communities in which we live and work. Sheppard Mullin attorneys have compiled an admirable record in provision of community service and delivery of legal services to those in need.
Our summer associates also have opportunities to help in pro bono projects with our attorneys. These opportunities have included advocating on behalf of the homeless, preparing legal documents for adoptions, and conducting research for the Anti-Defamation League.
Sheppard Mullin's Washington, D.C. and New York offices were the recipients of the prestigious Frankel Award from Human Rights First for extraordinary pro bono commitment on behalf of political asylum applicants in the United States. Human Rights First is one of the leading human rights organizations in the United States. Sheppard Mullin was recognized at the Human Rights First Annual Gala Dinner in New York City on October 26, 2011.
Examples of Pro Bono Work
Sheppard Mullin attorneys contribute to the community in many different ways. Here is a sampling of the pro bono work our attorneys have done:
Los Angeles/Century City/Orange County
- Los Angeles partner Jerry Neuman was honored in July 2011 by The National Alliance to End Homelessness at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. for his efforts to battle homelessness. Jerry and his organization, Home for Good, were honored as the person and organization from the private sector who have done more than anyone in the nation to address homelessness. This is the first time someone from Los Angeles has received this recognition.
- Los Angeles attorney Ted Cohen was honored as one of Public Counsel's Advocates of the Year in 2008 for his work with the Debtors' Assistance Project. In conjunction with the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Public Counsel’s Debtor Assistance Project provides legal assistance to low-income debtors confronting various legal bankruptcy issues and concerns, including the preparation of Chapter 7 petitions, representation of debtors in adversary proceedings, and reaffirmation hearing counseling.
- Century City partner Jim Burgess successfully represented a veteran in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The appeal sought to overturn a decision by the Board of Veterans Appeals, which upheld a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs denying service-connected benefits to our client. After reading the strong appellate brief written on behalf of our client, the Veterans Affairs attorney withdrew the government's opposition and stipulated to remand the case for determination of benefits.
- Los Angeles associate Angie Clifford and San Diego associate Mark Rackers successfully represented an indigent immigrant in his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from a Final Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Board had denied our client's motion to reopen his petition for cancellation of a removal order. Based on the convincing brief written on behalf of our client, the Assistant Attorney General agreed that the matter should be remanded. On November 11, 2008, the Ninth Circuit ordered the matter remanded and the removal order stayed pending a decision by the Board.
- Orange County partner Deborah Rosenthal, Orange County associate Jessica Johnson, and Los Angeles associate Jim Pugh acted as special CEQA counsel for the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, a public college-preparatory charter school serving a low income population in the City of Los Angeles. They assisted the Academy in obtaining approvals from the Los Angeles Unified School District to re-use two existing non-conforming buildings for an elementary, middle and high school.
- Sheppard Mullin attorneys in Los Angeles have the opportunity to work with Public Counsel's Adoption Project. Attorneys advocate for adoption benefits for families, complete and file legal papers and, most importantly, attend Adoption Day and represent the adopting parents in court on a life-changing day!
San Diego/Del Mar
- Our Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego offices have been recognized as the "pro bono firm of the year" in their respective areas. The San Diego office has been awarded the Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year award from the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program five times in the last fifteen years!
- Del Mar Associate Matt Holder and the firm received an Outstanding Service Award from the Legal Aid Society of San Diego for the firm's work on a successful pro bono case. In his first state court appeal ever, Matt successfully argued that the default judgment entered against our indigent client should be reversed. The Fourth District Court of Appeal panel unanimously agreed.
- San Diego associate Mark Rackers received a jury verdict in favor of our pro bono client, the County Public Conservator's Office, in the matter of In re Shull. Mark convinced a unanimous jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the client had a mental disorder which prevented him from providing for his basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, and that he was, thus, "gravely disabled." The finding allowed the Public Conservator's office to make medical and residential placement decisions for our client over the next year.
- Del Mar partner Elizabeth Balfour served as co-chair of the Womens Resource Fair Task Force. The Womens Resource Fair is a one-day event at which San Diego's homeless women, or women living in shelters or otherwise in transition, can consult with attorneys, doctors, representatives from social services agencies, job training organizations, and other service providers to get the information and assistance they need. In 2008, the Womens Resource Fair served 712 women and 201 children.
- Elizabeth Balfour, Del Mar associates Michael Leake and Rebecca Roberts, and San Diego associate Michael Hansen, provided legal services and volunteer time to Genesis International Orphanage Foundation ("Genesis"), a 501(c)(3) entity that serves children in Baja, Mexico, who live in orphanages or whose parents are migrant workers in that region. Los Angeles partner Matthew Richardson has advised Genesis on matters related to preserving the organization's not-for-profit tax status as its programming, staffing, and fundraising needs change.
- Partner John Ponder and associates Jeff Forrest and John Dineen from the San Diego office represented San Diego Earthworks in its efforts to obtain relief from a court injunction that prohibited the City of San Diego from processing any permit that would allow work to be performed on land containing vernal pools (shallow pools of water that are sometimes home to endangered species). San Diego Earthworks is a non-profit organization seeking to remove non-native weeds from a property in San Diego containing vernal pools. The Court approved Sheppard Mullin's motion to exempt San Diego Earthworks from the injunction.
- Associates Robyn Christo and Rachel Tarko Hudson received Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service awards from the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the San Francisco Bar Association for 2011 based on their work together handling matters for the Homeless Advocacy Project.
- In March 2011, SF Associate Nate Bruno received an award from the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco as a 2010 Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service. The award honors the top 10% of VLSP volunteers for the year. Nate received this award for representing multiple clients in connection with Housing Negotiation Project (eviction defense) and Homeless Advocacy Project (disability rights advocacy) matters. The ceremony was highlighted by remarks from the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
- As a summer associate in 2008, associate Robyn Christo, in collaboration with the Homeless Advocacy Project in San Francisco, took the case of a woman in her early fifties who has suffered from severe disabling mental illness for most of her life. Our client's difficulties were further compounded by various chronic physical impairments. When we took the case in 2008, our client had virtually no assets, and the sole source of her income was approximately $400/month she received from the City/County of San Francisco. Robyn diligently completed all the steps necessary to help our client apply to the federal government for Supplemental Security Income benefits based on her disabilities, including tracking down all medical records, completing/filing voluminous paperwork, drafting an advocacy letter, and handling communications with the client and the SSA. In 2009, our client was granted full Supplemental Security Income benefits of $907 per month, plus approximately $8K in back benefits. Thanks to our Summer Associate and others on the team, this result will help provide for our client's basic needs and prevent her from slipping into chronic homelessness.
- San Francisco attorney Joanna Frazier and San Francisco associate Elise Sara represented an indigent family of five from El Salvador in their request for asylum currently venued in Immigration Court in San Francisco. The family fled gang violence and are sought asylum based on their religious beliefs and membership in particular social groups.
- In March 2007, Phil Atkins-Pattenson, a partner in our San Francisco office and member of our Business Trials Practice Group, was one of 43 lawyers honored with a California Lawyer Magazine Attorney of the Year Award (CLAY) for achievements in 2006. His CLAY award was in recognition of his 16 years of pro bono work for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) as lead counsel in the federal case NRDC v. Rodgers, which challenged the Bureau of Reclamation's operation of Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River to divert virtually the entire flow for irrigation. In 2004, the Federal Court granted plaintiffs summary judgment on their claim that drying up 60 miles of California's second longest river, and destroying its historic salmon runs, violated both federal and state law. That ruling prompted the defendants to engage in settlement discussions (where he was one of the lead negotiators for plaintiffs) which, after 12 months, resulted in a comprehensive plan to make the San Joaquin River once again a living river and to restore Chinook salmon. The Secretary of the Interior described the settlement, approved by the Federal Court on October 23, 2006, as "historic" and one of the largest river restoration projects in the West.
- A team of Sheppard Mullin attorneys represented pro bono client The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) concerning a funding agreement with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, a lease with the building owner, a construction contract, and various organizational and employment matters.
New York/Washington, D.C.
- Partner Dan Brown’s case on behalf of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) concluded with the Plaintiff Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT), a consortium of taxicab vehicle and garage owners, agreeing to dismiss the case with prejudice. The case concerned MBOT’s constitutional challenge to the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s new lease cap rules implemented in connection with the recent taxi fare hike. The challenged lease cap rules were implemented in order to allow taxi drivers to benefit from the fare increases because historically only the owners (members of MBOT) benefited from those increases. Life as a New York taxi driver is notoriously demanding, with lengthy hours and very low compensation. The lease cap rules will at least provide some relief to the drivers from the exorbitant fees that the owners have been charging.
- Associate Amanda Zablocki was featured in a video about the firm's asylum client produced by Human Rights First. To watch the video, click here.
- Associate Nate Bruno (formerly in the San Francisco office) received the Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service award from the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the San Francisco Bar Association for 2011 based on his work handling matters for the Homeless Advocacy Project.
- Sheppard Mullin's New York and Washington, D.C. offices were the 2011 recipients of the prestigious Frankel Award from Human Rights First for extraordinary pro bono commitment on behalf of political asylum applicants in the United States. Human Rights First is one of the leading human rights organizations in the United States. Sheppard Mullin was recognized at the Human Rights First Annual Gala Dinner in New York City on October 26, 2011.
- Gabriel Matus of the New York office donated 191 hours of indigent pro bono legal services in 2008. He represented Aid for AIDS International in a variety of ways, including a headquarters move, establishing subsidiaries in three different countries, advising on threatened litigation, and providing advice on corporate governance. He essentially acts as outside general counsel for the organization. Aid for AIDS International (AFAI) is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization committed to improving the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in developing countries and who are immigrants to the United States of America. AFAI works to empower PLWHAs, their caregivers, and the community at large by providing access to medications, health education, HIV prevention strategies and advocacy and by promoting leadership and capacity building for individuals and organizations. For his work, Gabriel and Sheppard Mullin were awarded AFAI's "My Hero Award," presented at AFAI's annual gala in the fall of 2008.
- Attorneys from the New York office volunteered with Election Protection in connection with the general election in November 2008. During their shifts, the attorneys either staffed a call center and responded to inquiries from voters across the country who called into the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, or traveled to monitor actual polling sites in the five boroughs on behalf of Election Protection.
- Sheppard Mullin attorneys in New York have had the opportunity to represent low-income artists in a variety of cases referred through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. With VLA, attorneys, after participating in a short training program, can also advise artists at VLA’s weekly legal clinic. Sheppard Mullin New York attorneys are active in Inwood House's teen pregnancy prevention and educational programs as well as Inwood House's Corporate Advisory Board.
In addition, Sheppard Mullin attorneys sit on the Boards of numerous community service organizations. These include the California First Amendment Coalition, Project Concern International, Center for Youth Development Through Law, Los Angeles Network of Human Rights Watch, the Child Care Law Center, American Inns of Court Foundation, Council for Court Excellence of the Greater DC metro area, Legal Aid Society of San Diego, City of Hayward Citizens Advisory Commission, Public Law Center of Orange County, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the pro bono committees of the Orange County and San Francisco Bar Associations, and many more such worthy organizations.