person holding a sign that says ‘Enough’
© Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/Polaris

These two sets of case studies show law firms having an impact on questions of broad social importance, through pro bono work and new initiatives.

They were researched, compiled and ranked by RSGI. “Winner” indicates the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers North America award for 2022.

Equity and racial justice

WINNER: Sidley Austin
Originality: 9; Leadership: 10; Impact: 8; Total: 27
The property of Bruce’s Beach in California was taken from an African-American family through a racially motivated eminent domain action in 1924. The firm’s real estate partner, George Fatheree, approached the Bruce family and worked with them to have the land returned. The firm engaged a genealogist to determine legal heirs, advised on new legislation allowing the land’s transfer and changes to its use, and structured the exchange to avoid excessive tax liability. This has created a blueprint that can be replicated when returning land in other cases of racially motivated property theft.


Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer
O: 9; L: 8; I: 9; Total: 26
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado campaign group asked the firm to challenge the action of Denver police when responding to local protests in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, who was killed after arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Video footage was used in evidence. The jury found in favour of 12 clients who suffered physical and emotional injuries. The city was held liable for violating the civil rights of protesters and the clients were awarded $14mn.

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
O: 7; L: 8; I: 9; Total: 24
The State and the City of New York had not raised pay rates for assigned legal counsel in more than 18 years. A pro bono team at the firm challenged this. The court ruled that the constitutional right of children and poor adults to effective counsel was suffering and ordered the state to increase counsel pay.

Kirkland & Ellis
O: 8; L: 7; I: 8; Total: 23
The firm represented a coalition of students from Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities. It argued that Maryland provided fewer resources in comparison to other places of higher education. In May 2021, after 12 years, the coalition was awarded a $577mn settlement.


O: 7; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 21
In May, the firm published part two of a report into zoning and planning laws in Virginia and how they have perpetuated racial segregation. The study proposes possible policy solutions.

O: 6; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 20
In 2021, the firm launched the Racial Justice Fellowship scheme, As part of this initiative, five lawyers are put into full-time placements with civil rights and economic empowerment organisations for one year.

White & Case
O: 6; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 19
The firm’s Racial Justice Task Force has focused on criminal-justice reform, education, and economic empowerment.

O: 6; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 19
The firm’s Racial Justice Reform Initiative dedicates pro bono hours to supporting civil rights organisations on questions ranging from prisoner welfare to voting rights.

Responsible business

WINNER: Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough
Originality: 8; Leadership: 9; Impact: 7; Total: 24
The firm is the founder and orchestrator of the Rural Healthcare Initiative, a collaboration of professional services and law firms providing pro bono education and consultancy services for struggling rural hospitals. The RHI has consulted with rural community hospitals and their boards in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Montana. Commended: Bob Wilson


DLA Piper
O: 7; L: 8; I: 8; Total: 23
The firm is working with the International Association of Women Judges to assist with asylum and immigration paperwork for female judges fleeing Afghanistan after the US withdrawal of troops in 2021.

Cravath, Swaine & Moore
O: 6; L: 8; I: 8; Total: 22
The firm’s incarcerated survivors’ initiative is a pro bono legal clinic.
As well as setting precedents in several cases since the establishment of New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which allows for resentencing if the offender was a victim of domestic violence, the firm is taking a systemic approach to promoting “decarceration”

Reed Smith
O: 8; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 22
Part of the firm’s Global Environmental Sustainability Plan 2024 includes changing its billable hours policy. This allows employees to use 25 hours of their existing 140 hours of billable credit each year for non-billable work in sustainability-related leadership, advocacy, training, and development.


McDermott Will & Emery
O: 8; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 21
In collaboration with tech company Meta, the firm is promoting diversity among inventors in patent applications. It also helps promote idea generation techniques that eliminate bias and supports the launch of the patent Diversity Pledge.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
O: 7; L: 7 I: 7; Total: 21
After the US Supreme Court struck down Roe vs Wade, which had enshrined the constitutional right to abortion since 1973, the firm established a task force on reproductive rights. A portal provides businesses with up-to-date information state-by-state, and a hotline offers free legal advice.

Baker McKenzie
O: 6; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm collaborated with in-house legal teams to produce state-specific editions of the Homeless Youth Handbook, an online legal guide — 13 have been created so far.

O: 6; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm used its expertise in creating offshore funds to establish a $20mn feeder fund for social impact investment in seed-stage businesses in India, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Hogan Lovells
O: 7; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm requested, designed and negotiated a US-wide exemption for 11 product-specific Ukrainian steel tariffs.

O: 6; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm’s Appellate Justice Initiative helps poor litigants navigate the appellate process, including more than a dozen pro bono appeals.

O: 7; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 20
The firm partnered with campaign group Common Future to create an $800,000 loan fund for businesses owned by black and indigenous individuals, and people of colour.

Davis Wright Tremaine
O: 6; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 19
The firm’s Tech Equity Hub 12-week accelerator programme provides tools, mentoring and community support for female black and Latina company founders.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
O: 6; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 19
The firm has created a proprietary pro bono clinic platform that has expanded its reach to vulnerable communities.

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