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Holding Neo-Nazis Accountable and Other Pro Bono Victories in 2021

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

The benefits of doing pro bono work are clear. Lawyers who volunteer their time and expertise by taking on cases for a cause get a lot in return, not least of which is the satisfaction that comes from helping someone who truly needs it. Pro bono work can change a life—or many lives—for the better. Sometimes this work involves taking on everyday legal issues for clients who otherwise couldn't get representation in our legal system. Other times, pro bono work involves a high-profile case. And every so often, a case taken on pro bono can improve our legal system itself.

Here are just a few notable cases from last year that highlight how transformative pro bono work can be. Read the full opinions and thousands more with a free trial of Westlaw Edge.

The Charlottesville Riot Lawsuit

Reuters' Jenna Greene recently recognized the team of attorneys who took on anti-Semitic Charlottesville rioters. One of those rioters was Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist who drove his car into a group of protesters at the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally. A jury in an earlier, separate criminal trial convicted Fields of first-degree murder. He is currently serving a life sentence.

But that's not to say justice was fully served. Representing nine individuals injured at the rally, including students and bystanders, Karen DunnRoberta Kaplan, and Alan Devine took on a pro bono civil case arguing a novel legal theory: that the defendants were liable under Virginia state law for an unlawful conspiracy to commit racially-motivated violence. In November, a jury returned a $26 million verdict against several of the white nationalists involved in the rally.

As University of Virginia History Professor James Loeffler put it in an article in The Atlantic, "it was not only white supremacy on trial in Charlottesville, but also the law itself, and its capacity to quarantine a virulent ideology from overwhelming our enfeebled, all-too-distracted democracy."

Helping Prevent Homelessness During the Pandemic

With the pandemic jeopardizing jobs for many, attorneys stepped up to help tenants faced with eviction and homelessness. The Homelessness Prevention Law Project recognized Michael Soloff and Ted Dane of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP for their pro bono work, which including briefing the organization on the CDC Eviction Moratorium as well as arguing for continuances for individuals faced with in-person hearings during the height of the pandemic.

Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project

Shepard Mullin received the ABA's 2021 Pro Bono Publico Award for their work on the ABLE Project, inspired by the death of George Floyd. The project aims to "create a culture of active bystandership, in which officers effectively intervene to prevent officer misconduct, avoid mistakes, and promote wellness." Shepard Mullin also litigated to find instances of police misconduct throughout California while also helping police and other first responders by providing personal protective equipment.

Plenty of Opportunities for Pro Bono Ahead

These cases are a tiny sample of the great work attorneys across the country are doing. With the pandemic still wreaking havoc among small businesses, tenants, immigrants, and families, lawyers will undoubtedly continue to help people from all walks of life with various legal issues through the year to come. We at FindLaw give our thanks to all attorneys who participated in pro bono work in 2021, and encourage all across the industry to engage in whatever legal volunteer opportunities may inspire you.

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