O'Melveny Recognized in Law360's Pro Bono Firms of 2010 ListDecember 13, 2010
O'Melveny was one of ten law firms recently named to Law360's Pro Bono Firms of 2010 list based on the Firm's demonstrable commitment to community service, including its successful work in the high-profile pro bono cases Yusuf v. Tija and Guadalupe Benitez v. North Coast Women's Care Medical Group, and its extensive efforts to aid Haitian earthquake victims. The publication's inaugural pro bono firms of the year series "honors firms that stood out above the rest, not only for the amount of free legal work performed by their lawyers but for their willingness to tackle tough pro bono cases with the same commitment that they bring to paid work."
In the Firm profile published in the December 7 online edition of Law360, managing counsel of the Firm's public interest and pro bono services David Lash (CC/LA) highlighted O'Melveny's firmwide dedication to taking on projects from legal services organizations and establishing community relationships to create further pro bono opportunities. As the leader of O'Melveny's Community Legal Services Committee, Lash helps set pro bono policy for the Firm and identifies potential pro bono opportunities. The article notes that O'Melveny's lawyers billed 91,000 hours—the equivalent of about US$40 million in legal services—to pro bono cases in 2009. Additionally, lawyers are encouraged to work a minimum of 50 hours on pro bono cases annually, Lash noted.
Law360 also referenced the Firm's long history of community involvement, which dates back to John O'Melveny and his involvement in founding the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in 1929. Today, the tradition of giving back continues at the Firm and serves as a helpful tool in lawyer development, as lawyers often take their first deposition, negotiate their first deal, or head into their first trial in pro bono settings. “Being involved in these cases and getting results for people who otherwise wouldn't have a hope in the world yields a feeling that we don't often get," said Lash. "It makes us very proud to be lawyers and very proud of our work."
Law360 reporter Megan Stride underscored several of the Firm's significant pro bono achievements in recent years, which include human trafficking case Yusuf v. Tjia. During the case,a team led by Los Angeles partner Paul McNamara worked in tandem with legal services organization Bet Tzedek representing domestic worker Suminarti Sayuti Yusuf. After venturing to the United States from Indonesia for work, Yusuf was made to endure 16-hour work days against without compensation and was subjected to threats and abuse at the hands of her wealthy employers, who even went as far as confiscating Yusuf's passport. A jury awarded her US$768,000, including US$500,000 in punitive damages. “Personally, I found nothing more exhilarating than the look in Ms. Yusuf's eyes when she heard the jury verdict,” McNamara told Law360.
As further demonstration of the Firm's commitment to pro bono work, Law360 also cited O'Melveny's effort to assist Haitians after the January 2010 earthquake that left the nation in ruins. The team was led by New York counsel and pro bono coordinator Jerry Shick. After traveling to the ravaged country, Shick and her team met with Haitians, particularly those who had faced gender-based violence, to determine if they could qualify for humanitarian parole to the US. Today the Firm represents 10 Haitian families, totaling 37 individuals, who are undergoing the parole application process. "It will be unbelievably rewarding for us to get families out of that hellish nightmare and into some safe zone where they can have all their basic needs met,” Shick said.
In the article's closing, Century City partner Bob Welsh weighed in on the Firm's victory in Benitez v. North Coast Women's Care Medical Group. O'Melveny represented Guadalupe Benitez, whose physicians denied her fertility treatment due to her sexual orientation. Although Benitez had only one medical provider, she was denied coverage based on her physicians' religious beliefs condemning homosexuality. Welsh led a 10-person O'Melveny team in a lengthy court battle which would help define issues between anti-discrimination and freedom of religion in California. O'Melveny's team worked side-by-side with members of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund arguing Welsh's belief that “where [there is] a valid neutral law, individuals do not have a right under the free exercise of religion clause to engage in discriminatory conduct.” Though the hard-fought case bounced between the California Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court and became a cause celebre for religious conservatives, the team prevailed, garnering Benitez a confidential settlement from her medical provider in 2009 that secures her children's financial future.
The strong enthusiasm for pro bono work at O'Melveny can in part be attributed to the Firm's practice of encouraging its lawyers to pursue projects dealing with social issues that resonate with them personally. “Everyone has different interests and wants to get different skills and experiences, [therefore], making available the widest range of pro bono matters really increases participation,” said Shick.