Making pro bono a core value pays rich dividends

Nura Maznavi outlines Jenner & Block’s ‘all in’ approach to pro bono and advises how firms can increase their commitment

Saphonte Kuykendoll (centre-right) with the Jenner & Block team that helped secure his release from prison Photo courtesy of Jenner & Block

The Jenner & Block name is synonymous with pro bono advocacy, in both our UK and US offices. Our long-standing commitment to public service is a vital part of our culture and who we are as lawyers and people; we’re ‘all in’ whether we’re in London or Los Angeles.

Partners Tom Sullivan, Prentice Marshall and Jerry Solovy launched the firm’s pro bono programme in the 1950s, representing indigent criminal defendants in Chicago. They began recruiting dozens of other Jenner & Block lawyers to the same service, and that commitment to providing pro bono representation to those most in need of access to justice continues to this day and in each of our offices.

Being ‘all in’ is reflected in our commitment to provide $250m in free legal services over five years. By the end of 2023, year three, we provided more than $200m, putting us on target to surpass our commitment. 

In The Heart of the Matter, our annual pro bono report, we share the story of Saphonte Kuykendoll. Saphonte was just 17 years old when he was tried as an adult and convicted of murder and home invasion in Chicago. The trial judge ordered his sentences to run consecutively for a total of 90 years – effectively a life sentence for a crime that occurred when he was still a child. Saphonte challenged his sentences for years without success before a Jenner & Block team took up his case. Ultimately, our lawyers’ advocacy for almost a decade through multiple appeals and courts led to a judge determining that Saphonte had served both of his sentences in full and was eligible for immediate release. In May 2023, after more than 27 years in prison, Saphonte was released from prison. 

In addition to Saphonte’s story, The Heart of the Matter documents our dedication to serving individuals and organisations who would otherwise not have access to justice or legal services. Our lawyers tackled a range of critical issues, from securing asylum for Afghans fleeing the Taliban to helping British clients navigate the benefits appeals process for life-changing disability living allowance benefits. These efforts underscore not only the firm’s commitment to serving those in need but also the transformative power of pro bono work in shaping a more just and equitable society.

“Having worked on a number of important pro bono matters this year, I have seen first-hand the impact we can have on individuals who may not otherwise have had access to legal advice,” said London associate Sol Gelsomino. “This gives real meaning to the pro bono work that we do day-to-day.”

In 2023, Jenner lawyers dedicated 82,050 hours to pro bono work. That’s 164 hours on average contributed per lawyer. Additionally, The American Lawyer ranked Jenner & Block as number one for international pro bono service on its Pro Bono Scorecard for the second consecutive year.

“I feel very fortunate that there are so many exciting opportunities available to lawyers to help those less fortunate than ourselves achieve appropriate representation and better access to justice,” said London special counsel Michaela Croft. “Professionally, I am grateful that Jenner & Block’s long-held commitment to pro bono means that our services can be deployed to meet those aims, regardless of the financial status of our clients.”

Being ‘all in’ for pro bono work isn’t limited to the firm, its lawyers, and professional staff, though. In sharing our commitment to pro bono work, Jenner & Block has struck a chord with clients and community organisations. In-house lawyers from clients – ranging from international corporations with large legal teams to solo practitioners – want to engage with meaningful pro bono activities. Likewise, community groups and charities desperately need access to legal services to pursue their missions. Jenner & Block is a lynchpin of sorts through our partnership programme, connecting those with legal skills to those in need of services and multiplying the pro bono work being done in our communities. 

The need for pro bono work remains as urgent as ever. International events in recent years have only increased the need, while evergreen concerns deeply rooted in our communities endure: issues of poverty, civil rights, community development and criminal justice. As new challenges emerge and existing inequalities persist, Jenner & Block is ‘all in’ and committed to providing legal assistance to those in need and helping close the gap in access to justice.

Nura Maznavi is a pro bono counsel at Jenner & Block in Los Angeles.

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