Am Law Features Akin Gump CentAm Pro Bono Efforts

An article in The American Lawyer’s annual pro bono issue discussed Akin Gump’s efforts to offer assistance to Central American women and children during the cross-border immigrant “surge” of summer 2014.

In the article, Am Law writes that, in August of that year, pro bono partner Steven Schulman flew down to Karnes, Texas, home of an immigrant detention center holding women and children to assess the situation, then returned, several weeks later, with associate and fluent Spanish speaker Lauren Connell, who had experience working with immigrant women facing abuse, to establish a working presence inside the center while based in the firm’s San Antonio office.

Connell interviewed detainees and collected case information that she shared with the network of Akin Gump lawyers from the firm’s Texas offices and beyond who pitched in to support the effort. (Lauren Connell and Akin Gump’s Karnes City Immigrant Family Pro Bono Project were profiled in general and legal media coverage. Learn more here, here and here.)

Connell, now working in the firm’s New York office, says of her time in Karnes that she was struck by the desperation expressed by the women, many of whom had faced death threats in their home country. She adds, “So many were pious people. They would tell me, ‘God put you in my path.’ I immediately felt pressure. It was, 'Oh my goodness, I really have to come through. God is now part of this.’”

The article notes that, as part of the firm’s continuing efforts to help the women and children of Karnes, Akin Gump had 100 lawyers and staff on nearly 100 cases in 2015. Since the firm’s involvement in August 2014, it has logged ca. 9,500 hours on the matters, making it one of Akin Gump’s most extensive pro bono efforts ever.

As border crossings by Central American women and children continue to climb year over year, Schulman describes the firm’s strategy to address this challenge: “Ultimately the laws have to be changed. But we're taking it a step at a time. At the beginning it was get them eligible for release. Then it was get them bonded out of Karnes. Now it's representing them in their asylum hearings and appeals.” As part of its ongoing commitment, Akin Gump is currently handling two appeals on behalf of asylum seekers before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.