Social Impact

Advising G8 countries on how to improve the climate for social impact finance. Helping military veterans obtain discharge upgrades so they can access benefits like health care and tuition assistance. Co-hosting community law clinics with in-house legal departments. Securing rulings that uphold constitutional safeguards for criminal defendants. Advocating for legislation to criminalize sextortion.

The impact of our pro bono program is broad.

It is also one of the most important ways we measure our professional success. In 2019, 99 percent of our U.S. lawyers exceeded The American Lawyer’s 20-hour pro bono standard. Our lawyers contributed more than 94,000 hours to pro bono representation last year. That’s the equivalent of a 52-lawyer practice group dedicated full-time to pro bono. Orrick is ranked #5 in the U.S. for pro bono contributions. We’re also helping lead the development of a pro bono culture internationally – and rank 4th among U.S.-based firms for our worldwide impact.

Our program is led by full-time pro bono counsel Rene Kathawala, as well as by Amy Grunske, who leads our pro bono practice and community responsibility program in our 13 international offices. We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with public interest organizations around the world.

Our teams are having meaningful impact locally and globally through litigation, transactional work and the shaping of public policy.

Pioneering the Field of Impact Finance

We are the first global law firm to establish an Impact Finance practice, and today we are leaders in the field. Focused on social change, impact finance aligns social, environmental and financial considerations with investment and business strategy. Our clients include financial institutions, family offices and high-net-worth individuals, municipalities and other government entities, entrepreneurs and innovative nonprofits – all who share this goal.

Our work is wide ranging. We have created innovative structures to provide microfinance institutions (“MFIs”) with funds. We work with organizations such as Ashoka and Echoing Green to support individuals and entities engaged in systems-changing work. We advise on the formation of impact investment funds and the financing of social enterprises for pioneers such as Calvert Foundation and MicroVest. We represent clients in public-private partnerships in innovative Pay-For-Success (PFS) Social Impact Bond transactions. And, as the impact finance sector develops, we increasingly engage with foundations and institutional clients, such as JPMorganChase, who seek to integrate impact finance into existing business strategies.

We also provide what Huffington Post called "unheard of" support to Indego Africa, a social enterprise that offers market access and business training to female artisans in Rwanda. Our transactional lawyers advise several other similar groups dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship in emerging markets.

In collaboration with our client UnLtd, a social entrepreneurship incubator, we produced a comprehensive report for the G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force on the current legal options and marketplace climate for social purpose businesses. The study earned an Impact Award from Trust Law, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal program.

We are also helping to pioneer the use of social impact finance in the United States. In an unprecedented transaction that is expected to be a model for other communities, we advised the City of Richmond, California, on the innovative use of social impact bonds to fund the acquisition and rehabilitation of blighted residences.

Promoting the Rule of Law Globally

For a decade we’ve partnered with the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), a Nobel Prize-nominated nonprofit that provides legal counseling to developing states locked in conflict. One of our associates is now based in Istanbul, Turkey, and serving as PILPG’s Chief of Party for Syria. We are also working with the International Bar Association to combat human trafficking, reviewing related laws and protocols in more than 90 countries. This work earned a spot on the National Law Journal’s "Pro Bono Hotlist."

Protecting Individual Victims

Some of the most gratifying work in our pro bono practice involves representing individuals with little to no legal resources. Because we encourage our lawyers to seek out projects of personal importance, our work is remarkably diverse. We represent victims of domestic violence, fight negligent landlords, help artists market their works and gain U.S. asylum for victims of persecution. We’re proud of our long-standing relationships with community legal services associations such as the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Justice & Diversity Center of San Francisco, the Legal Aid Society of New York and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program.

Pro Bono Appeals

Our Appellate & Supreme Court Practice group has a long tradition of pro bono service. The group’s leader, Josh Rosenkranz, was the Founding President and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and also founded New York City’s Office of the Appellate Defender. Many other members of the team have held public service roles as well.

Our team has argued and briefed pro bono cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including 2015 case U.S. v. June that is making it easier for victims of government misconduct to bring tort claims. We’ve won appeals in criminal cases that have preserved rights for the accused and advocated for gender equality, marriage equality and veteran rights.

In a case argued by one of our associates before the Sixth Circuit, we represented three antiwar activists (including 85-year-old nun Sister Mary Rice) who were serving multiyear prison terms for their roles in an antiwar protest at a nuclear facility in Tennessee. The Department of Justice’s prosecution raised important questions about the scope of the Sabotage Act, a century-old statute that prohibits interference with war efforts by the U.S. government. Our team persuaded the appeals court that the prosecution was deeply flawed and that our clients’ antiwar protest fell far outside the scope of the Sabotage Act. The case was covered by the New Yorker, NPR and many other media outlets. The New York Times hailed the win as a "legal first," noting that "a gifted legal team, working pro bono, had seemingly materialized out of thin air to right the government’s sabotage charge."

Due Process for Death Row Inmates

We’ve won important rulings for death row inmates who had not received fair trials, and we’ve pursued constitutional challenges that have shaped federal criminal law. Representing the Habeas Corpus Resource Center and the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona, we won a ruling that impacts death row inmates nationwide by blocking a Department of Justice rule that would have limited federal review of state death sentence convictions.

A team of our litigators is working to secure a fair trial for Kevin Cooper, a death row inmate in California who maintains his innocence and whose case was recently featured on CNN’s Death Row Stories. Recently we took Kevin’s case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an agency of the Organization of American States, which issued a final report determining that Cooper did not receive a fair trial, had ineffective assistance of counsel and was subject to racial discrimination.

Supporting Veterans

It is a special duty and honor to give back to the women and men who have served our country. In collaboration with the New York County Lawyers’ Association, we have launched an innovative program to help veterans who are ineligible for benefits like medical care and tuition assistance due to their discharge status. An underlying medical disability is often the root cause of a less-than-honorable discharge. We’ve helped several clients petition the Department of Defense for discharge upgrades, which can be a key step in getting their lives on track. Efforts are now underway to expand the program to other states.

Working with the University of Michigan Law School, we recently opened the Veterans Legal Clinic. Michigan has the sixth-largest state population of veterans yet almost no pro bono legal services targeted specifically to them.

Together with the National LGBT Bar Association, our lawyers successfully represented three transgender veterans who asked the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy to modify their military records to reflect their correct names and identities. Because military records are used to obtain benefits and preferential status when applying for jobs, incorrect records can create significant roadblocks. The Executive Director of the LGBT Bar called the outcome a "life-changing victory" for our clients, noting that "discharge paperwork follows veterans from the time they leave the service until, quite literally, when they die."

Partnering With Clients

Our clients share our commitment to pro bono work, and we look for ways to collaborate with them. We are teamed with Intel on the Orrick-Intel Pro Bono Guardianship Project, which has successfully argued guardianship petitions on behalf of dozens of low-income individuals in Sacramento. We also jointly staff a housing law clinic to provide counseling to individuals who are facing potential foreclosure or eviction. Judges have praised the partnership, and Intel and Orrick were jointly honored with the California State Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award.

Orrick and Gap Inc. together serve as counsel to two educational nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area. We also worked in tandem with Gap to co-host a clinic for more than a dozen not-for-profit clients, providing counseling on corporate, tax, employment, intellectual property, real estate and insurance law.