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Mass Shooting in Orlando Spurs Call for Pro Bono

June 13, 2016, 10:00 PM

After a lone gunman entered a gay nightclub in Orlando and massacred 49 people over the course of several hours this past weekend, lawyers and Big Law firms are taking a look at gun control laws and figuring out how they can get involved.

Late on Sunday evening, Paul Weiss chair Brad S. Karp drafted and sent an email to the firm’s employees about the tragedy.

“Today’s events, like so many prior horrific incidents, also call into question our nation’s gun laws,” Karp wrote in the email, which was obtained by Big Law Business from a source who requested anonymity. “Many of you have approached me in recent weeks and suggested we exercise our pro bono muscle and consider litigation promoting sensible gun control.”

The email described how the firm is in talks to partner with several organizations that work on gun control, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

As mass shootings have proliferated in recent years, more Big Law firms are offering up their services pro bono.

Jonathan Lowy, director of the legal action project at the Brady Center, said his organization has launched an alliance called Lawyers for a Safer America that aims to marshall law firms’ talent to provide pro bono assistance on legal cases that threaten gun control laws.

So far, 700 lawyers have contributed their time and efforts, including from Arnold & Porter, Covington & Burling, Hogan Lovells, Paul Weiss, Ropes & Gray and White & Case, said Lowy.

The Brady Center principally files two types of cases: It assists government attorneys who are defending gun control laws; and it represents victims primarily in cases brought against gun dealers who negligently sell firearms to people who could reasonably be called dangerous.

Bruce Manheim, a WilmerHale partner who has worked on gun violence cases throughout his career, said such lawsuits typically face opposition by the gun lobby inside and outside of court. He was part of a team that won a court decision that challenged the Department of Interior’s policy allowing concealed guns in national parks, but Congress subsequently passed a law that undid the victory.

“These can be very protracted and expensive matters and involve multiple challenges across an array of jurisdictions,” said Manheim. “There’s just no way one organization could pursue this without assistance from Big Law.”

Lowy, who spent nearly a decade in Big Law at the firms Dickstein Shapiro & Morin and McGuire Woods, said his organization relies heavily on pro bono assistance.

“One of our main efforts at Brady is to try to engage lawyers and law firms across the country to try to work on gun violence prevention,” he said.

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