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Pro Bono Innovators 2022 Honoree Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

Nov. 2, 2022, 11:17 AM

Your firm’s key matters included creating the Racial, Social, and Economic Justice Fellowship program and working on the robocall campaign case National Coalition on Black Civic Participation v. Wohl that led to a record FCC fine. How did your firm strategize on how to approach these matters?

The fellowships are an experiment with a more immersive and meaningful approach to pro bono impact. In response to the national conversation around racial, social, and economic justice, we approached our community partners and asked how we could help. We developed a model embedding experienced lawyers with five organizations each year who receive the full support of the firm, including routine mentorship by pro bono counsel Rene Kathawala.

We got involved in the robocall case a few months before the 2020 presidential election, partnering with The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to act swiftly to stop the defendants’ robocall campaign targeting minority voters to intimidate them from voting. Our singular goal was to decisively shut down their racist campaign of disinformation, which they intended to threaten our democracy and the rule of law.

What were the most innovative aspects of these matters in your view? And who took the lead on driving innovation with the work?

In establishing a racial justice fellowship program, it was fairly novel to dedicate this level of senior resources to pro bono—but the times called for it. Our associates return to the firm and advance in class year after developing leadership skills in the field. Other Orrick lawyers supported them with 3,500 hours of pro bono advice. We formed an advisory board led by Marc Shapiro and community partners to design it, supported by our chair Mitch Zuklie and chief talent officer Siobhan Handley.

The most innovative legal aspect of the robocall case was suing under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a Reconstruction era statute enacted to protect newly freed slaves from KKK violence. It fit our case perfectly since our defendants were just using the tools of modern society to effectuate the same result as the Ku Klux Klan – to intimidate black voters and prevent them from participating in democracy. This was a team effort, including partner Franklin Monsour, the Lawyers’ Committee, the New York Attorney General’s office, the FCC and others.

Tell us more about the impact of the matters on the local, national, and/or global level.

Our racial justice fellows launched the first in-prison clinic dedicated to reuniting incarcerated mothers with their families, created a new paradigm to help BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color)-owned businesses secure $800,000 in financing based on innovative lending criteria and advocated for policy reform in areas ranging from policing practices to affordable housing.

We brought the robocall case not only to make our clients’ whole, but, importantly, to send a clear message to anyone else who is planning to engage in this type of conduct that we and others—including civil and criminal authorities around the country—will use all the tools of our legal system to shut you down and seek the maximum punishment possible for trying to rig elections and deny people their legal right to vote.

Why do you think your team ultimately achieved successful results?

The passion of our fellows who felt the call to action to dedicate a year to this work and the support of some amazing community partners who hosted them. Of course, it mattered that the firm was prepared to put real resources behind this (our fellows earn full Orrick salaries).

Every person who worked on the Wohl case felt passionately about protecting the right to vote and was fully aware of how dangerous our country could become if we lost the ability to conduct fair elections in which every qualified voter is allowed to cast his or her vote free from fear and intimidation. We felt that sense of urgency in bringing the case, and based on Judge Victor Marrero’s decision granting our request for a TRO, I believe he shared our view.

Take us back to the time the matters were resolved. What did you do to celebrate?

We did a few things to celebrate our fellowsbut none more important than renewing the program for four years based on the success of the 2021 class. We’re particularly proud of Max Carter-Oberstone, a 2021 Fellow with NYU Law School’s Policing Project, who was appointed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed to serve on the city’s Police Commission when he returned to the firm.

And we now host an annual program as part of the Orrick Inclusion Conversation series where our fellows and host organizations educate our team and our clients on the issues and the work they are doing.

Responses provided by Marc Shapiro, lead partner for Orrick’s Racial Justice Fellowship Committee; Amy Walsh, partner and lead on the robocall matter; and Rene Kathawala, pro bono counsel.

With assistance from Kibkabe Araya

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com; MP McQueen at mmcqueen@bloombergindustry.com