Pandemic Response, Racial Justice Drove Akin Gump Pro Bono Efforts in 2020

(Washington, D.C.) – In a year full of challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and other events, Akin Gump remained committed to its pro bono clients and reached new milestones in 2020.

More than 1,000 members of the firm devoted time, effort and resources to more than 1,000 pro bono matters in 2020. In addition, Akin Gump saw its highest percentage ever—73 percent—of U.S. attorneys contributing at least 20 hours of pro bono, beating the previous all-time high of 63 percent.

“While so many of us faced difficulties last year that were brought on by the pandemic, it did not stop us at Akin Gump from upholding our commitment to serving clients in need, irrespective of ability to pay,” said Akin Gump pro bono partner Steve Schulman. “I could not be prouder of the efforts our lawyers and others throughout the firm made in 2020, as many were dealing with their own personal challenges.”

Some of the highlights from last year include:

Pandemic Response

  • Akin Gump helped prisoners and detained migrants vulnerable to COVID-19 seek release from detention, and led a new compassionate release program for DC prisoners with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.
  • Akin Gump advised hundreds of small businesses, non-profits and legal aid agencies on challenges related to the pandemic and the economic crisis.
  • Akin Gump helped front-line medical workers complete life planning documents, including health care directives and wills.

Racial Justice

  • Akin Gump prepared Reverend Virginia Gerbasi and Bishop Mariann Budde of St. John’s Church to testify before Congress regarding the forced removal of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. Reverend Gerbasi witnessed the violent response from federal agents, and was forced to abandon her station at the front of the church, where she was distributing water and first aid. (Click here to learn more on Akin Gump’s efforts, from an article that appeared in The National Law Journal.)
  • In partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Akin Gump challenged a Texas school district’s discriminatory hair grooming policy that prevented its clients, two Black teenagers, from wearing their hair in locs. A preliminary injunction was granted, allowing the younger client to start the school year on time without having to cut his hair. His older cousin had already graduated when the injunction was issued. (Click here to learn more.)
  • Akin Gump was one of a handful of firms that started the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), which grew to include more than 275 law firms with offices in every state and the District of Columbia. Akin Gump continues to hold leadership positions at the LFAA. (Click here to learn more.)
  • Akin Gump launched an initiative to help young immigrants apply for benefits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides “Dreamers” who came to the United States as children with the ability to work lawfully and be shielded from deportation. Since November 2020, nearly 250 Dreamers have signed up to receive pro bono assistance from our attorneys and staff.
  • Akin Gump helped individuals in Mississippi and Texas prepare petitions to expunge criminal misdemeanors from their records, helping nearly 60 people move on from the past via virtual clinics with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Dallas Expunction Expo.

Voting Rights

  • More than 150 lawyers and firm personnel participated in non-partisan election protection call centers throughout the fall, helping to guide voters as the U.S. conducted a presidential election during the pandemic. On Election Day, the firm co-hosted an Election Day call center to address questions from voters in Wisconsin and Mississippi.
  • In partnership with Georgetown’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, we researched anti-militia laws and helped localities across the United States develop strategies to deal with armed militias and prevent voter intimidation at the polls and at racial justice protests. (Click here to read more about a Law360 article on the firm’s efforts.)

Akin Gump also continued to expand its pro bono work outside the United States:

  • Following a 2019 trip to Malawi by several London-based lawyers, the firm has continued working with the non-governmental organization Reprieve to appeal the death sentences of 12 prisoners on Malawi’s death row. Litigation is currently in progress.
  • Working with Justice Without Borders, Akin Gump secured a favorable settlement for a Filipino domestic worker who was trafficked between Hong Kong and California, where she was mistreated and forced to work for very little wages. The traffickers were formidable opponents, with homes and businesses in both jurisdictions, which made the successful resolution of this matter particularly remarkable.
  • In London, The firm continued to build new partnerships, including with Kids in Need of Defense UK, for which Akin Gump helps immigrant youth regularize their immigration status in the United Kingdom. In conjunction with Horizon Legal Advice Clinic, the firm advises people with disabilities on obtaining welfare benefits.

To learn more about Akin Gump’s pro bono practice, please click here.

Founded in 1945, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a leading international law firm with more than 900 lawyers in offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

# # #