Oriented Pro Bono Matters
What types of litigation oriented matters, including both
substance and type, does the Lawyers' Committee accept?
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
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 class action
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.
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
frequently aimed at developing a knowledge base and expertise
in cutting edge issues which are anticipated to be part
of litigation in the near future.
What are the benefits of handling a pro bono litigation
oriented matter with the Lawyers' Committee?
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' Committeeís cases provide
unique opportunities to assist in ending racial discrimination.
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
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.
Lawyers' Committee employs a staff of civil rights attorneys
who are experts 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.
At what point do law firms become involved in litigation
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.
What are the sources of the Lawyers' Committee's litigation
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.
In general, what are the staffing and time requirements
of a law firm in a pro bono litigation oriented matter?
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,
Where are litigation matters of the Lawyers' Committee geographically
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.
How are the Lawyers' Committee's cases financed and towards
what expenses must the law firm contribute?
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.
Are Attorneys fees recovered in litigation?
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
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
How does the Lawyers' Committee place matters with law firms?
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.)
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.