Pro Bono

Our pro bono philosophy is straightforward: to serve the public interest. We do not restrict the kinds of pro bono work our lawyers handle. Instead, we encourage them to pursue their individual pro bono passions. They do. We serve the legal needs of underserved populations, promote civil rights, and help public interest organizations pursue their missions.

The result is an astonishing diversity of pro bono matters. Our lawyers worked on more than 300 pro bono projects in 2016 for 175 different charitable, civic, community, or educational organizations. We spent 3.24% of our time on pro bono work, over the ABA’s 3% guidelines for large firms. Our recent work includes the following:

  • Operating a storefront legal clinic in Chicago to address the legal problems of economically disadvantaged people – including divorce and custody, landlord/tenant disputes, and disputes about government benefits. Many of our Chicago associates volunteer at the clinic. 
  • Vindicating civil rights of all kinds – including the rights of prisoners to basic medical care, the due process rights of Guantanamo detainees, the rights of police torture victims, the rights of animals to humane treatment, the rights of schoolchildren to due process, and the rights of mentally ill people.
  • Helping immigrants – including protecting the rights of immigrant children to remain in the United States and obtaining political asylum for those who face death or persecution in their home countries.
  • Assisting many public interest organizations in fulfilling their missions – including groups that provide a wide range of services for youths at risk, non-profits that develop homes for people with disabilities, organizations that protect animals from abuse, and entities that protect the rights of victims of sexual assault.
  • Serving the Public Interest

    We help a range of non-profits, from local groups to international foundations.

    Our newest significant pro bono commitment is to the Lawndale Christian Legal Center. LCLC serves youths in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Its goal: to lead youths through – and away – from the criminal justice system. It provides legal representation as well as a range of other services from mentoring to job coaching.

    We are committed to helping LCLC in any way we can. We’ve represented youths in criminal cases and appeals and LCLC in real estate transactions and grant applications. We were the sole marquee sponsor for LCLC’s annual fundraiser and both host and teach in its mock trial program.

    We also help First Star Institute, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based charity that advocates for legal and public policy changes for children in the foster care system, particularly abused and neglected children. Among other things, the organization assesses whether states have laws to track deaths and near deaths of children in foster care and whether those state laws ensure counsel for these children in the civil proceedings that determine the course of their lives. We also file friend of the court briefs in state and federal courts addressing policy issues and processes that affect the well-being of foster children. First Star Institute is also surveying colleges and others as part of a foster youth success in college program.

    One international client is Future Brilliance US, Inc., a U.S.-based charity that provides financial support for training artisans in Afghanistan, especially women, in all aspects of the jewelry industry and helps them market their jewelry in the U.S. and Europe. By learning jewelry-making and business skills, these women can support themselves and help develop a stable economy in Afghanistan. Our work involves corporate and tax exemption counseling and compliance and general business advice.

    We also represent the Disability Opportunity Fund in its real estate transactions. Most recently, we represented DOF in connection with a loan to Homesteads for Hope for the acquisition of a community farm in Rochester, NY, for adults with autism and people who are developmentally disabled.  We have also represented DOF in connection with loans for single family accessible homes in Maryland, Indiana, and Ohio.

  • Protecting Constitutional Rights

    For the last 50 years, Schiff Hardin lawyers have actively litigated civil and constitutional rights cases, both to vindicate the rights of individuals and to preserve them for all. One recent example: we represent an immigrant who was falsely accused, interrogated, and then detained for three months on suspicion of association with the 9/11 attackers. In partnership with the ACLU, we have developed evidence that his detention was based on a false affidavit and that he was physically abused during his interrogation. We have filed cases against two FBI agents, one of which went to trial in December 2014. The second case is still pending in the Northern District of Illinois.

    Schiff was also instrumental in obtaining the release of a man who had been imprisoned for 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Mr. Bolden’s exoneration let him see his 21-year-old son graduate from Goshen College just days after his release. His release came after years of litigation. Hard work led to what happened next: on April 19, 2016, the State dropped the murder charges against Mr. Bolden and declined to retry the case. 

  • Operating a Community Legal Clinic

    Since 1979, Schiff Hardin lawyers have operated a free legal clinic in East Rogers Park under the auspices of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS). Our clients are low-income residents from the community and from throughout the Chicago area. There rarely are headlines or bright lights associated with clinic work, but we can help our clients deal with legal problems that represent potential disasters for them – the loss of critical public benefits that keep a family above water, a lost lease and therefore a home, and lost custody of children.

    We began our partnership with CVLS more than 35 years ago. At that time, we became the first Chicago law firm to assume complete responsibility for a CVLS legal clinic. This “adopt a clinic” model has been imitated ever since, and has dramatically increased the amount of legal services that law firms are providing to Chicago’s economically disadvantaged people.

    Many of our Chicago associates handle cases through our clinic, and some keep doing so into partnership. Our work has made a difference. We’ve helped more than 2,000 low-income people over the years.

  • Representing Youths

    In the last two years, we’ve focused particularly on defending the rights of students and other youths.

    Lawndale Christian Legal Center asked us to partner with it to help represent and protect court-involved youth in the North Lawndale community. This represented the first time LCLC had entered into a partnership of this kind. This year alone we convinced a court to dismiss all charges against a wrongly accused youth, helped a developmentally disabled young man avoid conviction for the alleged assault of a police officer, and represented a youth against murder charges. Recently, we also worked with LCLC and other juvenile defense organizations to win the transfer of hundreds of kids whose cases had been brought in adult court (which emphasizes punishment) to juvenile court where the emphasis is on rehabilitation.

     We have also represented college students, most recently a student from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who had been sexually assaulted and stalked by another student. This pro bono case came to Schiff Hardin through the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). The Illinois Appellate Court held that college students in Illinois may report crimes of sexual assault to campus security without risking a defamation lawsuit. The decision is a sweeping victory for college students who are victims of sexual violence, and makes Illinois only the second state to recognize an absolute privilege for reports of sexual assault to campus security.

    We also represent students in the Chicago area who face potential expulsion. In these situations, we partner with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. The Committee gathers basic information, and then we speak with the parent and student; research the relevant legal issues, including whether the punishment the district seeks fits the violation; attempt to resolve the matter with district lawyers; and if that fails, conduct an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge or school board. Associate Adam Diederich recently won the Young Lawyer Pro Bono Award from the Educational Equity Project of the Lawyer’s Committee.

  • Seeking Asylum

    For 20 years, we’ve worked with the National Immigrant Justice Center on immigration cases. Our cases today consist of asylum cases, which frequently are matters of life or death because immigrants’ lives may be in peril if they are forced to return to their home country. The stakes in these cases are great, but so too is the reward when we can help clients dramatically transform their lives.

    Our firm also partners with NIJC and NiSource, a firm client, to represent people who came to the United States as children and who seek protection from removal through the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. 

    Here are three additional recent examples of our asylum work.

    First, we successfully obtained asylum for a Mexican woman who had suffered significant physical, sexual, and mental abuse caused by her father.  Her father had been prosecuted by the authorities. She had applied for asylum based on two separate laws: one for victims of domestic violence and one for immigrant victims of crime. She is now working and a college student in the United States.

    Second, we represent a client from Togo who was a member of a minority political party that believed the government should support basic human rights. As a party member, he participated in peaceful demonstrations against his government’s continued human rights violations. During one protest, our client was rounded up by supporters of the ruling party and beaten for two days. Shortly after his release, he was re-arrested and imprisoned, during which time he was denied food and water and further tortured for his political beliefs. He eventually was released from prison and found his way to the U.S. Political unrest continues in Togo, and members of his political party continue to be arrested. We are now helping our client seek political asylum in the U.S.

    Finally, we also represent a young woman from Ivory Coast who found herself on the wrong political side of a coup. She was taunted by her classmates for her political beliefs. Militia members loyal to the new leadership came to her family’s home to harass and threaten her and her family after a neighbor reported on the family’s political beliefs. Loyalists of the former ruling party continue to be harassed, and some individuals active in the losing party were “disappeared” following the coup. The family sent their young daughter to the United States to escape this political persecution. She now seeks asylum in the U.S., so that she can be free from the risks and oppression of living in a country where there is no political tolerance.   We also represent her husband, who recently joined her in the United States. Associate Molly Wiltshire won the NIJC’s Rising Star Award for her work on this and other cases.

  • Protecting Animals

    Animals have few advocates that are willing to step up to shield them from abuse and neglect or to speak out for their interests. We are among them. Our animal law practice – both pro bono and fee-based – is nationally recognized and broad. Bruce Wagman, the partner in our San Francisco office who heads it up, teams up with associates firmwide on this work. In the last few years, we’ve handled cases involving a wide range of animals. Our recent work includes the following:

    Since 2007, we have worked closely with an extraordinary sanctuary – Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest – in Washington State. We started by negotiating the release of seven chimpanzees who had lived their entire lives – roughly thirty years – in tiny, uncomfortable cages, with virtually no comfort, enrichment, or exercise. The “Cle Elum Seven” chimpanzees had been used for decades as research subjects and as breeding machines, with their babies taken away at birth. Since their rescue, the Cle Elum Seven have prospered, and the sanctuary’s facilities have grown and developed with Schiff Hardin’s help. Our lawyers have provided the same kind of assistance for America’s newest chimpanzee sanctuary, Project Chimps, which welcomed its first chimpanzee residents in September 2016.

    Schiff’s lawyers have also been on the forefront in protecting animals involved in food production – including horses, chickens, pigs, cows, and even sharks. We help our clients defend laws intended to protect these animals. Our work in this area includes litigation in state and federal trial courts, federal courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, in 2016, the Supreme Court considered briefing on a challenge to California’s laws prohibiting the sale, possession, and distribution of detached shark fins, a law directed at conservation, public safety and animal cruelty. The Court, agreeing with Schiff and the State of California, rejected the request to review the case.

    In the case of horses, we work to prevent American horses – wild as well as those discarded by owners and racetracks – from being slaughtered for food. Schiff led the litigation against horse slaughter, with successes in the Tenth Circuit and New Mexico state court shutting down the slaughterhouses. Schiff also litigates regularly to protect wild horses and prevent the federal government from mismanaging them. In the summer of 2016, we sued the federal government for attempting to begin dangerous and untested surgical sterilization “research” on wild mares; the federal agency dropped the program a few months after the lawsuit was filed.

    We also work to protect farm animals. When our lawyers learned that the managers of an egg business had abandoned 50,000 egg-laying hens, they immediately signed up to help. When the hens were discovered, many were near death and could not drink or eat because they were so weak. After our clients rescued nearly 5000 of the hens, we joined forces with an animal protection group and sued the responsible parties on a variety of novel legal claims. The result: a ban on the defendants’ direct involvement with hens, and a monetary settlement to partially defray the enormous cost of the rescue.

    Our lawyers also help law enforcement and prosecutors when they are handling animal cruelty cases. Our clients are on the front lines rescuing horses, dogs, cats, birds, and any species that is in danger or animals that are being abused and neglected.

    We also focus on protecting consumers as well as their pets. Since 2014, our lawyers in three different Schiff offices have represented clients seeking to prevent the abusive practices seen in industrial breeding facilities known as “puppymills.” We have been able to reduce the number of puppymill puppies, kittens, and rabbits sold through litigation and consultation on legislative drafting. Our work has reduced the suffering of these animals and promoted the adoption of animals who would otherwise be euthanized in local shelters.

    We also represent those local shelters. We provide ongoing counseling, litigation defense, and advocacy advice on a national basis to local shelters that are doing the vital work of protecting and rescuing America’s homeless and abandoned animals. 

    Finally, our work includes education and spreading the word about animals and their proper treatment, and the laws that help protect them. Schiff’s lawyers publish and present on a range of animal law issues more than twenty times every year, to increase the number of practitioners exposed to and willing to engage in animal law work.

  • Insights

    News Release

    Schiff Hardin Earns 2016 Partners in Caring Award from A Safe Place

    A Safe Place honored the firm at its seventh annual Unmask the Violence Gala on October 21, 2016.

    News Release

    Schiff Hardin Named to PILI’s 2016 Pro Bono Recognition Roster

    The firm was named to the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster for the fifth consecutive year.


    Protecting College Students Who Report Sexual Assault

    In a precedent-setting case, partner Paula Ketcham and associate Shawna Boothe persuaded an Illinois appellate court that college students who report sexual assaults to campus security cannot then be sued for defamation.

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Ann H. MacDonald

I’ll never forget the day we found out we had actually gotten our client off death row. It was amazing. Both because of the result and the fantastic experience I got arguing before the Georgia Supreme Court, working on this death penalty case was incredibly rewarding.
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Jean-Paul Cart

I represent an Ethiopian asylum seeker. Schiff Hardin welcomed the case when I joined as a lateral associate and has supported my efforts at every step. I have flown across California, retained experts, and hired foreign attorneys. Here, there is no distinction between paying and pro bono clients.
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Brittany H. Sokoloff

Associates in our New York office have many pro bono opportunities. As a first year associate volunteering for the Law Department, I took and defended depositions on behalf of the City of New York. This program lets associates delve into a case file, work with experienced lawyers, and think on our feet when witnesses give unexpected answers. I’ve left my comfort zone and grown as a litigator, while at the same time helping the City. This is hopefully the beginning of a long relationship between Schiff and the City of New York.