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For Three Firms, Detainee Work Wasn't Pro Bono

Arguably, the collective efforts of more than 50 of the nation's top law firms to provide pro bono representation to Guantanamo detainees and vindicate their rights has been one of Biglaw's finest hours. Capitalizing on a deep pool of talent, resources and commitment, the firms successfully challenged the issue of the legality of the military tribunals all the way up to the Supreme Court, garnering deserved accolades, while fending off efforts by former Assistant Defense Department Secretary Cully Stimson to intimidate the firms into dropping the detainees' cases. 

But apparently, at least three of the firms involved in the Guantanamo pro bono efforts may actually have received payment, in at least one case to the tune of $1 million, reports the Washington Times.  A story in today's issue reports that Shearman & Sterling received more than $1 million from the Kuwait-based International Counsel Bureau (ICB) to fund its efforts on behalf of Guantanamo detainees, while Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman collected $250,000 for its work on recent Supreme Court cases.  Arnold and Porter also earned around $75,000 in legal fees as well as $250,000 for lobbying efforts to obtain due process protections for Kuwaiti detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo.

While Shearman acknowledges having received fees for some of its detainee work, it also said that work performed since 2005 has been pro bono.  In addition, a spokesperson for Shearman said that the firm donated $1.5 million of the proceeds from Guantanamo detainee cases to the not-for-profit Regional Plan Association in New York, which "seeks to shape transportation systems, protect open spaces and promote better community design for a 31-county area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut."

I realize the the acts of three firms that received money for work held out as pro bono shouldn't taint the heroic efforts of the other 50 firms which did indeed work at no cost and at least, in my mind, they don't.  Still, this story points out that firms must be completely transparent when it comes to pro bono work and disclose when they receive fees and when they don't.  Otherwise, they risk casting a shadow on the laudable work they performed as well as the good intentions behind it.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 25, 2008 at 07:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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