Lawyers from the biggest U.S. firms
are stepping up to help the tens of thousands of unaccompanied
immigrant children fleeing violence of Central America.
Their work has ranged from assisting individual children in
navigating the immigration system to lobbying state and federal
governments. Some of the attorneys come from firms with little
or no immigration expertise, and their efforts have transcended
geographical and political divides.
“Our immigration docket has grown exponentially over the
last few years within the firm because of demand from our
lawyers,” Hillary Holmes, the head of the pro bono committee in
the Houston office of Baker Botts LLP. New cases “just get
snatched up,” she said.
“They tend to be handled by people with trial experience,
but I’ve handled four and I’m a capital markets lawyer,” she
One case the firm waded into involved a 4-year-old from
Honduras with an abusive father. The boy came to the U.S.
“mostly on foot with a smuggler who left him under a tree,”
said Keri Brown, an associate handling the case. The U.S. Border
Patrol found him, and because the boy had his mother’s phone
number, was able to reunite them.
The approximately 30 cases Kirkland & Ellis LLP has are
also far removed from typical corporate matters.
“One young woman was kidnapped under terrible
circumstances, another child escaped whose father was
murdered,” according to partner Jeanne Cohn-Connor. “These
children are not just escaping poverty — they’re leaving pretty
The time commitment isn’t huge. From the first meeting with
a child to the culmination of the case, an attorney may spend
250 to 350 hours over a few years, Cohn-Connor said. That can
include the training necessary to handle these matters.
Many of the lawyers received instruction and referrals from
Kids in Need of Defense, or KIND. The organization, founded by
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and actress Angelina Jolie to help
“unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children in the United
States,” works to pair children who have been vetted for strong
cases with volunteer attorneys.
According to its national attorney coordinator for pro bono
recruitment, Alice Fitzgerald, KIND has 24 legal staff members
and works with more than 200 law firms, corporations and law
“At this point, we have trained more than 7,000
attorneys,” she said.
Other organizations, including the Safe Passage Project,
headed by Lenni Benson of New York Law School, are also
providing training and clients to law firms.
Still, the firms don’t have the resources to provide
representation for all of the thousands of children now in the
U.S. and waiting to get through the immigration system.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 46,932
children came to the U.S. without parents or guardians from Oct.
1 to May 31. Of that group, 84 percent are teenagers, although
children 12 or younger are the fastest-growing group of
unaccompanied minors apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, the
study found. Most come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Unlike unaccompanied minors from Mexico, who face immediate
deportation, the Central American children can seek asylum or
what’s known as Special Immigrant Juvenile, or SIJ, Status.
While lawyers often seek either type of relief, SIJ status
requires involvement of state family courts as well as the
federal immigration system. The stakes can be high, as children
fight deportation, or removal, to their home countries.
“These cases are technical, and removal cases in
particular are scary for everyone,” Michael Ross, a partner at
Jenner & Block LLP, whose firm has handled several cases.
Attorneys such as Steven Schulman, the pro bono partner at
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, and David Lash, pro bono
counsel at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, said that while helping
individuals is important, a wider solution is needed.
“The ability of the pro bono community to expand its
efforts is wholly dependent on the ability of the legal aid
organizations to increase their capacity to screen cases,
interview children and provide expert mentoring and supervision
to the pro bono lawyers who are handling the cases,” Lash said
in a phone interview.
Those legal aid groups “are at capacity,” he said.
That’s the thinking behind a lawsuit filed last month by
the American Civil Liberties Union to compel the U.S. government
to provide representation for the children. Theo Angelis, a
partner in the Seattle office of K&L Gates LLP and co-counsel on
the case, said pro bono resources are “just a tiny fraction of
“The idea that kids as young as 10 could face a judge or
prosecutor and stand up in court and explain why they should be
able to stay in the country is absurd,” he said.
The Syracuse University Transactional Records Access
Clearinghouse recently reviewed more than 100,000 case records
of immigrant children facing deportation and found that of those
cases, 48 percent had no attorney with them in court.
Additionally, according to Akin Gump’s Schulman, the
immigration courts are “horribly backlogged,” with cases
scheduled years in advance.
There’s no process, he said. “There’s just delay.”
Locke Lord, Perkins Coie Are Among Firms Adding Laterals
Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP hired Joseph
Brajevich as a partner in its government and regulatory group.
Before joining Glaser Weil, Brajevich was an assistant city
attorney in Los Angeles, where for seven years he served as
assistant general counsel for the Los Angeles Department of
Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility.
Nancy Yamaguchi is joining Withers Bergman LLP as a
partner. Yamaguchi, who comes from Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel,
specializes in cross-border mergers and acquisitions. She’s
based in San Francisco. Withers Bergman also hired Stacy Choong
for its wealth planning practice as a partner in Singapore.
Locke Lord LLP is expanding its SEC enforcement defense,
white collar and internal investigations practice group with the
addition trial lawyer Terence Healy as partner in Washington.
Healy is a former senior assistant chief litigation counsel in
the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division.
Perkins Coie LLP hired Arman Pahlavan as a partner in its
emerging companies and venture-capital and private-equity
practice groups, based in Palo Alto, California. Before joining,
Arman was a partner at Squire Patton Boggs LLP, where he was co-chairman of the private-equity and technology practice in Palo
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Immigrant Children Get Pro Bono Assist: Business of Law
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