The American Lawyer Highlights Mark MacDougall’s Pro Bono Work

The American Lawyer featured Akin Gump litigation partner Mark MacDougall in its article “A Pro Bono Champ” for his death penalty defense work in South Carolina.

The article notes that MacDougall initially went to South Carolina in 2001 after volunteering to help attorney Bill Nettles, now the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, in representing Bobby Lee Holmes, an inmate facing the death penalty on rape and murder charges. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, MacDougall and Nettles were able not only to obtain a unanimous reversal of their client’s initial conviction and death sentence, but eventually see Holmes plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.  Nettles said of MacDougall, “Trial lawyers talk about who they'd want in a foxhole with them. I’d want Mark. He’s a good, thorough, tenacious lawyer. It's just a fact.”  

MacDougall, accompanied by a small team of associates, has returned to South Carolina to work on capital cases nearly every year since then.

This year, the article notes, the American Bar Association's (ABA) Death Penalty Representation Project will award MacDougall its “Guiding Hand of Counsel” award. ABA director Robin Maher said, “At a time when pressures on law firm lawyers have created an environment where firms seem to be looking for cases with, well, tighter parameters, Mark's commitment to doing capital trial work is very rare.”

When the publication asked him why he focuses on death penalty work, MacDougall responded, “I have no lofty reasons. You are in a courtroom in a mostly hostile community—sitting next to a defendant accused of a horrible crime. The government wants to kill your client. … The client and his family are poor and terrified. You are all that they've got, and everything is on the line. For a trial lawyer that's what it's all about.”

For his work in death penalty defense, MacDougall was inducted into the Akin Gump Pro Bono Hall of Fame in July 2014.  To read more about that recognition and the annual awards, please click here.