AN O'MELVENY TRADITION
Turn of the 19th Century
Firm founder Henry W. O’Melveny was a prominent civic leader in turn-of-the-century Los Angeles who played a leadership role in a number of institutions that served the public good. [Henry O’Melveny and Spring Street, Los Angeles, site of O'Melveny Offices 1885-1904]
Following the example set by his father, Jack O’Melveny in 1929 helped found the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, today the oldest and largest provider of free legal services to the poor in California.
World War II Era
By the World War II era, although there was not yet a formal pro bono policy or program, many O’Melveny lawyers were following the historical lead of their firm predecessors and regularly participating in pro bono matters with the express encouragement of firm leadership. [Title Insurance Building, Los Angeles, site of O’Melveny Offices 1928-1968]
Early recognition of O’Melveny’s leadership in the public interest arena came when President John F. Kennedy invited Firm lawyers to a White House meeting to rally the legal profession in support of the civil rights movement. The meeting spawned a call to action to the nation’s lawyers to defend the fundamental legal principles of equality and led to the formation of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In 1970, O’Melveny became one of the first firms in the country to institutionalize its pro bono practice when it chartered the Community Legal Services Committee and adopted express pro bono policies and procedures, making it clear that pro bono work was to be considered a part of each lawyer’s regular work for the firm.
O'Melveny defended a Fifth Circuit decision that upheld an IRS ruling stripping Bob Jones University, a non-profit religious university that embraced racially discriminatory practices, of its tax exempt status. Twenty-five O’Melveny lawyers, led by senior partner William T. Coleman [opposite], worked to defend that ruling in the Supreme Court, resulting in an 8-1 decision in favor of the government’s stand against racial prejudice.
In one of the most closely watched cases of the 1990’s, the firm worked with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to successfully challenge the passage in California of Proposition 187. The proposition would have prevented undocumented alien children from attending public school and hindered their access to public health and hospital services.
In 2002, Former United States Secretary Warren Christopher, the Firm's Senior Partner and Former Chairman [opposite], laid the foundation for O’Melveny’s modern pro bono program when he pioneered the Firm's values statement, which designates “citizenship” among the three guiding principles of the firm.
In one of the most important cases decided by the US Supreme Court that impacted pro bono, an O’Melveny team led by partner Walter Dellinger [opposite] successfully defended Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account programs (IOLTA). That victory preserved IOLTA, the country’s second largest source of financial support for legal services for the poor, when it was at risk of losing more than US$200 million of funding.
O’Melveny has provided pro bono counsel in many of the most important cases before the US Supreme Court in the last decade. We argued the most closely watched Second Amendment case in history and have argued in defense of school desegregation efforts, in support of personal privacy issues, and in key issues impacting the imposition of the death penalty.
To mark the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s historic meeting with law firm leaders during the civil rights movement, Vice President Joe Biden invited pro bono leaders from O’Melveny and others firms to the White House. The meeting resulted in a national initiative to improve law firm efforts to expand access to justice, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel IMPACT Project, which is co-chaired by O’Melveny’s David Lash.