Pro Bono

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Kirkland is committed to providing legal services without charge to those who cannot afford counsel, with the goals of improving lives, bettering communities and deepening our professional experience.

Pro bono opportunities are available to all attorneys at Kirkland — summer associates included — and offer a broad variety of projects to appeal to different interests, time commitments and experience. Our award-winning pro bono work includes immigration law, disability rights, civil rights, prisoner rights, death penalty cases and criminal appeals, discrimination cases, guardianship, health and patient rights, veterans’ benefits, and the representation and counsel of various nonprofit organizations, among other areas. 

As soon as attorneys join Kirkland, they can bring pro bono matters in to the Firm. Kirkland also generates a substantial number of pro bono matters through our partnerships with public interest organizations, and attorney pro bono coordinators in each of the Firm’s offices assist their colleagues in finding interesting, rewarding pro bono projects. 

Our attorneys receive the same billable hour credit for pro bono work as billable work. In 2013, more than half of our attorneys devoted 20 or more hours to pro bono. 

Kirkland & Ellis Pro Bono Fellowship Program 

The Kirkland & Ellis Pro Bono Fellowship Program, which the Firm’s Chicago office hosts in conjunction with the University of Chicago Law School, started in 2010. The program provides a unique opportunity for law students, during the summer following their first year of law school, to gain practical experience in a law firm setting while engaging in public interest legal work. 

The Public Interest Law Initiative 

Each year, Kirkland funds multiple summer and school-year internships for law students as part of the Firm’s commitment to the Public Interest Law Initiative® (PILI), an organization whose mission is to facilitate equal access to justice. Most notably, the Firm sponsors postgraduate PILI Fellowships, in which incoming Kirkland lawyers gain valuable experience while representing those who may not otherwise have access to quality legal representation. Kirkland’s PILI Fellows work at various legal service organizations across Chicago while studying for the bar exam, and may help clients become citizens, buy homes, adopt children, secure disability benefits or gain asylum, among many other achievements. Kirkland sponsors more PILI Fellows than any law firm in Chicago.  

New York City Public Service Fellowships 

Since 1995, the Kirkland & Ellis New York City Public Service Fellowship has sponsored the New York City-based public service work of a graduating student from Columbia Law School and the New York University School of Law. 

Kirkland Case Highlights 

Victory in Death Penalty Appeal 

Working with the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative and the New York University School of Law, Kirkland lawyers obtained a new trial for Alabama Death Row inmate Emmanuel Gissendanner. On March 31, 2010, the judge who presided over the original trial overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial for the 34-year-old Mr. Gissendanner, an African American who has been on Death Row since 2003. The new trial was ordered on the grounds of ineffectiveness of counsel as well as the state’s failure to turn over key exculpatory evidence. Mr. Gissendanner was accused of assaulting and killing a 77-year-old woman.  

Landmark Civil Rights Ruling

On October 7, 2013, following a six-week bench trial, Kirkland & Ellis LLP achieved a landmark victory in a pro bono civil rights case on behalf of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education in its lawsuit against the state of Maryland for the state's failure to completely dismantle its formerly segregated system of higher education. In a historic, 60-page decision, Federal District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland has violated the constitutional rights of students at Maryland's four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by unnecessarily duplicating their programs at nearby white institutions, a practice that began during the era of de jure segregation.

The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2006 and tried in 2012, are students and alumni from the four HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Kirkland tried the case with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights as co-counsel.

The district court found that the lack of unique, high-demand programs has a segregative effect at HBCUs and prevents the HBCUs from attracting students of all races. In addition, rather than work to build up the unique, high-demand programs that exist at HBCUs, the state of Maryland established competing programs at nearby white institutions, which caused the program enrollment at the HBCUs to plummet.

The judge ordered the parties to mediation to develop an appropriate remedial plan that would include creating unique, high-demand programs at the HBCUs, and transferring programs from the Traditionally White Institutions (TWI) to the HBCUs, including the "wide use of resources to enhance the quality of current and newly developed programs" at the HBCUs. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the court will schedule a phase II remedies trial.

Grameen America 

Kirkland provides extensive counsel on general corporate matters, as well as fund structuring and other advice relating to capital-raising and deployment to Grameen America. Grameen America is a microfinance nonprofit organization that provides loans, savings programs, credit establishment and other financial services to entrepreneurs living below the poverty line in the United States. It is an offshoot of the Grameen Bank, headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Since 2007, the organization has made more than 3,000 micro-loans to financially challenged entrepreneurs. 

Pro Bono Recognition

2013 A-List by The American Lawyer

Law360 Pro Bono Firm of 2013

2013 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Edwin A. Rothschild Civil Liberties Award

2013 The National Law Journal 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America

2013 Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Award

2013 Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence Pro Bono Partner of the Year Award

2013 Lawyers Alliance for New York Pro Bono Partner of the Year Award

2013 Better Government Association (BGA) Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Investigative Reporting

2013 Appleseed Fund Pillars of Justice Award

2013 Family Defense Center Individual Recognition Award

2013 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year (CLAY) Award

2013 National Center for Lesbian Rights Community Partner Award

2013 New York Common Cause Champions of Democracy Award

2013 Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono "Above & Beyond" Achievement Award

2013 Urban Justice Community Justice Award

2013 Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs Outstanding Achievement Award

© 2016 Kirkland & Ellis LLP