Lawyer Q&As

Sidley’s enduring commitment to pro bono has impacted countless lives across the globe. From advocating on behalf of prisoners to assisting nonprofits, Sidley’s pro bono efforts are as varied as the communities the firm serves.

EUROPE / London

A conversation on the ways that Sidley’s London office is continuing to scale up pro bono projects to help our clients.

We sat down with Chloe O’Brien, London Pro Bono Counsel, and Matt Shankland, co-leader of the Commercial Litigation and Disputes practice group and Chairman of the London Office Pro Bono Committee. Chloe and Matt weighed in on the London office’s growing Pro Bono practice and how they are continuing to scale up projects to help Sidley’s clients.

Chloe O'Brien
Matt Shankland

Chloe, since joining Sidley in early 2021, what work are you most proud of in your role as London Pro Bono Counsel?
COB: I joined Sidley at a time when our lawyers and the global pro bono community had contributed unprecedented levels of pro bono work in response to the pandemic. I had the opportunity to consolidate and build upon this incredible work. 

In 2021, we doubled our access to justice projects, launching new partnerships with legal service providers to serve litigants in person in the family court, support women in prison, and provide advice to underrepresented entrepreneurs. We also expanded our welfare benefits project to in-house counsel and worked with immigration practitioners to assist in responding to the crisis in Afghanistan.  

Matt, what aspect of the London office’s Pro Bono practice were you most proud of in 2021?  
MS: We launched a major partnership with Not Beyond Redemption, a charity specializing in providing legal advice for women in prison. We trained nearly 50 of our lawyers in various aspects of family law and advocacy and now hold regular clinics in several prisons in England. Going forward, we hope to support Not Beyond Redemption to expand its work to all 13 women’s prisons across the UK.
On the heels of a very active year for pro bono work in 2020, what pro bono trends did you see in 2021?  
COB: I felt there was a noticeable increase in interconnectivity and collaboration, both internally across practice groups within Sidley and in the wider community. Working closely together, particularly in response to crises, enabled us to come up with creative solutions and better support NGOs and legal services providers to increase their capacity to deliver front-line services. For example, we set up several remote projects that were able to reach people across the UK. 

MS: We saw an increase in attempts to connect with developing global issues, in particular the refugee crisis arising from Afghanistan. 2020 saw our highest firmwide pro bono hours to date, and in London, we were able to increase participation even further in 2021. We now have a very high percentage of our fee earners involved in pro bono and an average of 49 hours per lawyer. Looking forward, we are expecting this growth to continue into 2022 and beyond.  

What would you say to encourage those who are not yet involved in pro bono?
MS: Pro bono advice allows charities and nonprofits to ensure that their funds go into achieving their primary aims, rather than expensive legal advice. To anyone who hasn’t yet done a case, I would say that you will be surprised at what you can achieve by applying your skills in a different context and how it will enable you to contribute to community causes that are important to you.  

COB: The work is extremely rewarding and the clients are incredibly grateful. It really is a privilege to be able to use the skills we have as lawyers to help people.

How do Sidley’s pro bono efforts in London stand apart from other firms?
COB: We have a fellowship program where final seat trainees can apply to spend three months at a charity or nonprofit before joining the firm as newly qualified associates. Having a full-time additional resource is so valuable to the client and allows our lawyers to fully embed pro bono service into their practice and develop their skills in a really meaningful way.

Looking ahead, what initiatives is the London office focusing on?
MS: Off the back of two years of incredible growth for our Pro Bono practice, we want to focus on scaling up our access to justice projects. Our projects connect with so many issues and touch points, both locally and globally. We provide critical legal services across key areas of need, including immigration and asylum, family law, welfare benefits, and corporate advice to underrepresented groups. Expanding these projects, including to in-house counsel at client organizations, will help to close the access to justice gap.  

COB: We are interested in the intersection of sustainability, health, and technology. For example, we are developing projects and skills in conservation and rewilding, which is a relatively new area of law aimed at restoring and protecting natural areas. We are also focusing on supporting start-ups and entrepreneurs in the emerging Digital Health sector. 

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U.S. / Washington, D.C.

Read about how we are encouraging lawyers to pursue pro bono opportunities that strengthen our communities.                               

We had a conversation with Lise Adams, D.C. Pro Bono Counsel, about her pro bono career and how she helps encourage our lawyers to pursue opportunities that strengthen our communities.

Lise Adams

What led you to make the move to private practice as Sidley’s D.C. Pro Bono Counsel?
I feel extremely fortunate to have worked in the legal services community in Washington, D.C. for 18 years, with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, the Children’s Law Center, and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. I have developed a deep understanding of the legal needs of individuals living on low incomes in Washington, D.C.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked to inspire pro bono lawyers and match them with cases that meet their skill sets, as well as the community’s needs. Before coming here, I had worked closely with Sidley, so I knew exactly the fantastic environment I would be entering. I was familiar with the great pro bono work that Sidley does and its commitment to helping our D.C. neighbors. Not just the front-page cases we read about in the newspaper, but also those that empower individuals living in poverty to obtain access to justice, which is really important to me. The firm has such a stellar reputation for pro bono service, and being Pro Bono Counsel at Sidley allows me to continue to help the individuals and communities that I have devoted my career to serving. 

Are there particular pro bono initiatives that you are most excited about?
Sidley makes an annual commitment at the highest level — accepting at least 12 cases — from the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center to represent D.C. residents who are living in poverty. We handle eviction defense and record-sealing matters, housing conditions cases, family law, consumer, and Social Security disability appeals cases. These cases are equally suitable for litigators and transactional lawyers, and no prior substantive law experience is required. All you need is a commitment to zealously represent your client. These cases offer an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful impact on individuals’ lives by ensuring that they can stay in their home, receive vital public benefits, or keep their children in a safe and stable family. Our lawyers gain stand-up courtroom experience, discovery and motions practice, and/or briefing opportunities, as well as the privilege of working one-on-one with clients. 

How has the pandemic changed the way that Sidley reaches clients and vice versa?
Sidley has certainly risen to the occasion to address current pro bono needs. One area is compassionate release work, which started in 2020 and has been coordinated primarily out of our D.C. office.

For lawyers who may not have time to handle pro bono cases for full representation, we offer several time-limited, discrete opportunities. For example, our lawyers can volunteer for the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s remote Advice & Referral Clinic or through the Landlord Tenant Resource Center and provide legal information to pro se tenants or small landlords under the mentorship of a housing lawyer — all from the comfort of their desk. You can sign up in advance for a shift, so you know exactly how much time you’re going to devote to it. We also have access to on-demand trainings for each of these pro bono opportunities so that lawyers can learn at their convenience and be prepared to successfully handle the pro bono assignment. There are aspects of the shift to a remote environment that have made our pro bono clients’ lives easier. Remote work reduces our clients’ transportation and childcare costs, and limits their time away from jobs that may not provide paid leave. Ultimately, that is what should guide us: what makes it easiest for our pro bono clients to engage with counsel and what has enabled us to be both more efficient and effective.  

Have recent current events inspired new ways for us to pursue justice through Sidley’s Pro Bono practice?
The firm has adopted a renewed focus on racial justice. Sidley is a founding member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, and we work to address racial injustice and social justice concerns. Our pro bono work reflects this commitment.  Sidley has also conducted significant pro bono work in the area of asylum and immigration law. There is no time like the present to get started on these cases to have a meaningful impact on a person’s life. Right now, there are so many clients who are waiting for a lawyer to help them file their asylum applications. One of the great things about pro bono work is that you can work on a case that is squarely in your comfort zone, or you can do something you’ve never done before and build new skills, and there is equal value to both. For example, transactional lawyers bring valuable expertise in helping nonprofit organizations, whether it’s client counseling on bylaws or drafting policies and procedures. I am so impressed with the breadth and depth of the pro bono work handled by the D.C. office. From capital litigation to immigration and asylum work, from veterans advocacy to protecting the constitutional rights of prisoners, and from religious liberties to Sidley’s Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program, there really is something for everyone at Sidley.  

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ASIA PACIFIC / Singapore

A discussion on the varying needs of our pro bono clients and the ways that our lawyers are giving back.

We recently spoke with Tai-Heng Cheng, global co-head of Sidley’s Global Arbitration, Trade, and Advocacy practice and co-managing partner of Sidley’s Singapore office, on the varying needs of our pro bono clients and the ways that our lawyers in Asia Pacific are giving back.

Tai-Heng Cheng

What makes a successful pro bono practice?
I would say there are multiple elements. First and foremost, we want to achieve good results for our pro bono clients, as we do for all of our clients in every practice. We want to make sure that our Pro Bono practice is well rounded globally so that we are able to serve as many segments of society that need our help as possible. In doing so, we can do well by our clients while also doing good. Beyond that, I would count success in pro bono as giving our associates and younger partners opportunities to practice and develop their skills. 

What would you say to encourage those who are not already involved with Sidley’s pro bono program?
I have one thing to say to that: get involved! Pro bono is a wonderful way to add an extra layer of meaning to your practice and to work on acquiring skills that you may not already have at your level of seniority.

Can you describe a 2021 pro bono matter that was particularly meaningful to you — or that had a social impact that was significant?
Looking back at 2021, one of the pro bono projects that was especially meaningful to me personally was our representation of Linda Tirado. Linda is a photojournalist who was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis when she was shot and blinded by the police. We have brought a lawsuit on behalf of Linda, and the judge has ruled that our civil rights claim can proceed to trial. This means that the outcome of this case has the potential to not only rectify the abuse and injustice that Linda Tirado has faced, but to make an impact in setting an example and driving real change. Journalists who are protecting our First Amendment rights by covering civil protests should not be attacked by the police. We hope that our case will help to establish a precedent that people should not be subjected to such behavior when they are simply doing their job. 

What are some of the most pressing issues facing our pro bono clients right now? 
When I think about the pressing needs of our pro bono clients globally, it’s clear to me that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. I have been fortunate to travel even during the pandemic to cities around the world to meet with our clients. Through those travels, I have seen that different countries and regions have different pro bono needs. In America, for example, we continue to reckon with our history of social injustice and to figure out as a nation how to move forward. In Asia, disadvantaged communities often have difficulty accessing high-quality legal representation. They have very basic but important legal needs that remain out of their reach financially, but that large firms are well positioned to assist with. In Africa, with exploitation of the mines and the land, as well as issues of corruption in certain countries, the communities there also have very essential legal needs. The advantage of Sidley being a global firm with offices around the world is that each of our offices can tailor their pro bono offerings to the specific needs of the communities in which they operate.

Looking ahead, what initiatives is Sidley’s APAC region Pro Bono practice focusing on?
Sidley’s commitment to pro bono is global. It is part of the core values that permeate our firm across our offices and throughout the world. Consistent with that, we are looking forward to expanding our Pro Bono practice in Asia Pacific. Our offices will seek out local communities that have unmet legal needs, and we will look to serve them in the best way we can, which is using our legal knowledge and experience to their benefit. 

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