The Lawyers’ Committee has many opportunities for law firms and lawyers to provide pro bono assistance on civil rights matters. While most matters are litigation oriented, opportunities do exist for transactional lawyers and for those interested in public policy issues. Assistance is also needed for smaller litigation oriented matters such as amicus briefs and general legal research.
The work of the Lawyers’ Committee would be severely limited without the generous assistance of law firms. It is estimated that without pro bono assistance, the docket of the Lawyers’ Committee would be limited to approximately twenty matters compared to the usual eighty matters on any given day.
Following are the most frequently asked questions and answers regarding working with the Lawyers’ Committee on civil rights matters. If you are interested in additional information, or would like information about specific opportunities, please contact Nancy J.
Q: What types of litigation oriented matters, including both substance and type, does the Lawyers’ Committee accept?
A: The majority of Lawyers’ Committees matters address racial discrimination in five areas: education, employment discrimination, environmental justice, housing and community development, and voting rights. The Lawyers’ Committee, however, occasionally addresses race based discrimination in other areas, including public accommodation.
The vast majority of matters the Lawyers’ Committee accepts involve cutting-edge legal principles in the civil rights arena. The Lawyers’ Committee rarely accepts cases on behalf of individual cases, with the exception of those that can set important legal precedent, or as part of a special initiative, such as combating racially motivated violence or supporting a start-up fair housing organization. Generally, most of the matters are impact lawsuits as the Lawyers’ Committee seeks involvement in cases where the impact will be significant, either directly on behalf of a large number of people, or indirectly by strengthening or extending civil rights jurisprudence.
The Lawyers’ Committee, however, also files numerous amicus briefs each year in the U.S. Supreme Court, federal appellate courts, and, occasionally, in state appellate courts. In addition, the Lawyers’ Committee has ongoing research projects frequently aimed at developing a knowledge base in cutting edge issues which are anticipated to be part of litigation in the near future. Return to top.
Q: What are the benefits of handling a pro bono litigation oriented matter with the Lawyers’ Committee?
A: Working on a case or other matter with the Lawyers’ Committee offers the opportunity to partner with a premier civil rights organization on civil rights matters that are complex, cutting edge, and sometimes high profile. The litigation requires a rich variety of litigation skills, working with leading experts in statistical and social sciences, and can provide extensive training for younger associates. Most importantly, however, the Lawyers’ Committee’s cases provide unique opportunities to assist in ending racial discrimination. Return to top.
Q: In litigation oriented matters, what is the relationship between the law firm and the Lawyers’ Committee and how is it different from one with other legal organizations which place pro bono matters?
A: The Lawyers’ Committee does not operate on a staff-driven model, where matters are handled exclusively by staff attorneys, or on a referral clearinghouse public interest model, where the organization simplyhands off the matter to a firm to handle. Instead, the Lawyers’ Committee utilizes a co-counsel model, involving law firms in a collaborative partnership on important civil rights cases.
The Lawyers’ Committee employs a staff of civil rights attorneys who are leaders in each of our five projects, enabling the Lawyers’ Committee to contribute knowledge and experience in substantive law and strategy in the field. Cooperating law firms enrich the co-counsel relationship with their complex litigation skills, experience and abilities of their partners, associates, and support staff, leadership of their partners, and firm resources. This powerful combination of talents affords our clients the best representation. It also allows the Lawyers’ Committee to assist many more clients as our docket would be approximately 75% smaller without the pro bono assistance of law firms. Return to top.
Q: At what point do law firms become involved in litigation oriented matters?
A: There are a broad range of litigation oriented opportunities with the Lawyers’ Committee. Frequently, law firms become involved prior to the filing of the first brief. At times, however, law firms become involved at the appellate level or after a lawsuit has been filed. In addition, in recent years, law firms have expressed interest in participating in the investigation of matters, particularly in order to provide pro bono opportunities for younger associates and support staff. Involvement with an investigation does not commit a law firm to serve as co-counsel should the decision be made to move forward with a suit. Return to top.
Q: What are the sources of the Lawyers’ Committee’s litigation matters?
A: The Lawyers’ Committee becomes involved in cases through a myriad of means. Clients often refer other individuals or organizations to the Lawyers’ Committee or return when they suffer additional instances of discrimination. Other cases are frequently referred to the Lawyers’ Committee by grassroots organizations, individual attorneys, mainstream law firms, and other civil rights groups. Finally, courts have contacted the Lawyers’ Committee about representing parties before them. Return to top.
Q: In general, what are the staffing and time requirements of a law firm in a pro bono litigation oriented matter?
A: As with all litigation, the staffing and time requirements of a law firm varies with each matter. Before accepting a matter, the Lawyers’ Committee will do its best to provide a rough estimate of the staff and time needed. As with all pro bono matters, however, supervision by a partner, or for a research project supervision by a senior associate, is required. Return to top.
Q: Where are litigation matters of the Lawyers’ Committee geographically located?
A: The Lawyers’ Committee is involved in litigation all over the United States. Many of the matters are located in the South, which is a reflection of past and continued discrimination. Matters do arise, however, in every part of the country. Depending on the needs and interests, a law firm may wish to work on a matter in another part of the country or may prefer a matter in its backyard. Return to top.
Q: How are the Lawyers’ Committee’s cases financed and towards what expenses must the law firm contribute?
A: The Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm co-counsel do not charge their clients fees or require that they advance expenses. There are often significant expenses associated with Lawyers’ Committee lawsuits, including substantial discovery, expert witness(es), and other costs. A firm undertaking a matter with the Lawyers’ Committee is normally expected to advance such litigation expenses. Costs normally associated with representation of a client, such as copying, telephone, travel, and the like, are born by the Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm, respectively. Every effort is made, however, to recover litigation costs and expenses, together with Attorneys fees, at the conclusion of a case through statutory fee-shifting provisions. To ensure that firms are reimbursed for these costs to the most extent possible, the Lawyers’ Committee provides that any unrecovered costs are reimbursed off the top of an Attorneys fees award. Return to top.
Q: Are Attorneys fees recovered in litigation?
A: Attorneys fees, as well as certain expenses, are sought only through fee-shifting civil rights statutes that provide for the recovery from defendants of prevailing plaintiff’s Attorneys fees and costs. Law firms co-counseling with the Lawyers’ Committee are expected to seek Attorneys fees where we have prevailed. The recovery of Attorneys fees is strongly encouraged because such fees are an important element of civil rights remedies, a strong deterrent to discriminatory conduct, and a vital means of financing future civil rights litigation.
After fees are recovered, they are typically apportioned between the Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm in proportion to their respective shares of the total fee request, after reimbursement of any unrecovered litigation expenses. At the same time, the Lawyers’ Committee normally asks the law firm to donate some or its entire remaining share of any Attorneys fees but it is not required. If a law firm does not want to accept fees, the Lawyers’ Committee nevertheless asks that fees be recovered and suggests that the firm donate them to the Lawyers’ Committee, use them to fund a pro bono project, or devote them to future civil rights efforts. Return to top.
Q: How does the Lawyers’ Committee place matters with law firms?
A: The Lawyers’ Committee disseminates via e-mail a list of matters for placement approximately eight to ten times a year. Generally, pro bono partners, pro bono coordinators, members of a pro bono committee, and/or others interested in civil rights receive the e-mails. It is up to a law firm to determine who is the most appropriate person(s) to receive the e-mails. (For those who do not wish to receive the e-mails but are interested in pro bono opportunities with the Lawyers’ Committee, we are happy to arrange an alternative delivery source and/or schedule.)
Each e-mail includes two or three matters which are available for pro bono placement. They are described very briefly and anonymously and outline the claim, project area, legal issue(s), procedural posture, and geographic area in which the matter arises. For those interested in additional information, a conflict list and longer matter description are available. Once a law firm completes the conflict check and decides to accept a matter, a formalized co-counseling agreement is developed and a client retainer is prepared and executed by the client, naming both the Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm. At that point, additional materials relating to the matter are forwarded to the firm. Return to top.