07/22/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/23/2021 12:04
(New York) - Akin Gump celebrated the outstanding pro bono work of its lawyers and staff today at its annual Pro Bono Awards. The virtual event was hosted by chairperson Kim Koopersmith in New York, with pro bono partner Steve Schulman kicking it off from Washington, D.C.
In addition to celebrating a number of firm pro bono achievements, the program featured a number of pro bono clients and partner organizations, who participated via video to offer their thoughts on the impact of the firm's pro bono work.
The individuals, teams and matters recognized at the firmwide ceremonies were:
Office of the Year:Hong Kong - Akin Gump's Hong Kong office has become a pro bono leader among the firm's international offices, with attorneys contributing an average of 50 pro bono hours each in 2020-a three-fold increase from the previous year. Their work varies widely, from helping survivors of labor trafficking to advising a variety of NGOs in the region on corporate governance and best practices.
Practice Group of the Year:Litigation - The firm's litigation group consistently takes on high-impact pro bono matters that not only change the lives of individual clients, but shape society at large. Last year, the litigation practice devoted 30,000 hours to 450 pro bono matters spanning the globe, including leading a compassionate release program for D.C. prisoners susceptible to COVID-19 (click here to learn more), preparing the clergy of St. John's church to testify before Congress regarding the forced removal of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020 (click here to read an article about this that appeared in The National Law Journal), teaming up with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to sue a Texas school district with a discriminatory hair policy that targeted Black students (learn more here) and advocating for death row prisoners in Malawi.
Transactional Matter of the Year Award: This award was given to a Los Angeles-based cross-practice team for their work on behalf of long-time client KIPP SoCal, part of the KIPP nonprofit charter school network, which turned to Akin Gump throughout the year for advice on a variety of matters. Comprising lawyers from the firm's corporate, real estate, and labor and employment practices, Akin Gump advised on matters that included a bond offering, a lease negotiation and a financing deal.
Litigation Matter Team of the Year: This was awarded to a cross-office team representing a 73-year-old Cameroon native who has been fighting for justice since 2016 after being trafficked into the United States by extended family members and forced to work without wages for eight years. The Akin Gump team took on the traffickers in federal court and reached a favorable settlement, which they are now working to enforce.
Associate of the Year:Jack Polisini - A former Akin Gump Pro Bono Scholar, Mr. Polisini made key contributions on an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, fighting to preserve a grant of protection to a Somali refugee who has resided in the United States for the past two decades. In addition, Mr. Polisini took the lead role in a critical transaction for KIPP, leading all aspects of a merger of two KIPP North Carolina entities and helping it to streamline its operations in the state.
Counsel of the Year: Amanda Butler-Jones - Ms. Butler-Jones has been a pro bono leader at the firm ever since she was a Pro Bono Scholar during the summer of 2012. Having developed a background in immigration law, she has helped asylum seekers and domestic violence survivors obtain status in the United States. She has also worked on multiple Supplemental Security Income appeals, helping low income D.C. residents get the benefits they deserve.
Partner of the Year: Dianne Elderkin - Ms. Elderkin has become a strong advocate for immigration clients, first working on behalf of detained asylum seekers at the Karnes Detention Center in South Texas, and then representing asylum seekers in immigration court, leading a trial team early last year that won asylum for an Iraqi academic. During the pandemic, she also successfully led a team advocating for the release of migrants in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention who were at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to medical conditions.
Diane Streat Award: Debra Chilcott - A senior business systems analyst in the firm's Information Technology department, Ms. Chilcott played a key role in launching a pro bono remote clinic in 2020 to help undocumented youth apply for status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. This award is given to a Business Services staff member of the firm who has made significant pro bono contributions.
Julia Ghahramani Immigration Advocacy Award: New this year and established to honor a member of the Akin Gump community who strongly advocated for immigrants, the award was presented to senior counsel Melissa Gibson. For the past five years, Ms. Gibson has been a steadfast advocate for a young man from El Salvador, who fled his home country after he was forcefully conscripted into the violent MS-13 gang. Due to his former gang affiliation, the client has been in government custody since arriving in the United States in 2016. Ms. Gibson has dual-tracked efforts to both seek relief for the client and to secure his release from custody. After a successful appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, on remand, the client was granted relief under the Convention Against Torture. With the government planning to appeal, Ms. Gibson continues fighting for justice.
Pro Bono & Public Service Hall of Fame Award: Chris LaFollette - Ms. LaFollette, a partner emeritus and former partner in charge of Akin Gump's Houston office who retired from the firm in 2020, was named to Akin Gump's Pro Bono & Public Service Hall of Fame for her constant advocacy for growing the Houston office's pro bono practice. In 2009, when Tahirih Justice Center expanded to Houston, she became a founding member of the Houston Advisory Chapter and, for several years, hosted the fledgling Tahirih Houston branch in the firm's office. Ms. LaFollette is a founding member of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas at Austin, dedicated to helping women succeed at all levels of their legal careers. She also devotes time to several public interest organization boards, including Houston Volunteer Lawyers Association and the World Affairs Council of Houston.
To learn more about Akin Gump's pro bono practice, please click here.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a leading international law firm with more than 900 lawyers in offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
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