Pro Bono Spotlight: Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF) and our partner the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) have been at the forefront of providing support to immigrant and refugee families seeking accountability and reparations by filing Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) administrative complaints for harm they suffered when torn apart under the Trump administration’s family separation policies. This groundbreaking initiative is made possible with the partnership of pro bono partners around the country who have tirelessly worked on these cases to ensure that families can exercise their right to seek compensation for the unimaginable suffering inflicted on them by immigration authorities.

We found leadership in our partners at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP (“Munger”) who quickly took on representation of over 12 urgent cases. Munger has greatly contributed to the 260 FTCA administrative complaints filed to date through LCCRSF and ASAP’s collaborative. Our joint efforts have directly accounted for well over half of all claims filed against the government on behalf of immigrant families worldwide to seek redress for the harm of Trump’s separation policies.

“I love these cases, not just because of the deeply personal moments that you get a window into, and the opportunity to fight for meaningful relief for these families, but also because you feel like it is a higher impact effort to hold the government accountable for an evil and callous policy,” said Munger litigation associate Dane Shikman, whose pro bono partnership occurred after attending an LCCRSF event.

Twelve pro bono attorneys from Munger have volunteered to work on the FTCA cases, including many new lawyers who have been particularly interested in working to assist families who have been separated; half the team has been at the firm for less than two years. This has allowed new lawyers to not only to gain experience interviewing witnesses but also take ownership of an important wide-ranging project.

For Munger litigation associate Juliana Yee, working on the pro bono FTCA cases has been transformative. Juliana says of her experience:

“I have been interviewing people and had difficulty maintaining my voice and composure because I’m brought to tears by what they are telling me. It drives home how important and meaningful this is. One of our clients was describing the moment of separation from his son. They were taken outside, immigration officials placed shackles on his hands and feet, and he was thrown into a van and hauled off. His son was watching and crying.

This is a moment when I knew why I was doing this case and pro bono work. This is so important and having that become concrete to you as a human being makes you a better lawyer. It reminds you what your power is in this situation and to use your skills for good.”

A pair of attorneys, typically one junior and one senior, are assigned individual cases to handle, while the broader group of MTO lawyers meet roughly once a week to discuss issues common to each case. In addition to individual families’ cases, attorneys also conduct research that bears on all claims, such as investigating the underlying government policy rationales for family separation and understanding the complex procedures for filing. When roadblocks occur, a dedicated team of LCCRSF and ASAP staff provide both global and case-specific technical assistance and diverse FTCA resources.

“With the incredible assistance of our pro bono partners at Munger and law firms across the nation, we have been able to provide pro bono assistance to every family separated under this administration’s cruel policy who expressed interest to us in asserting their right to relief under the FTCA,” said Hayden Rodarte, a Justice Catalyst Fellow with LCCRSF’s Immigrant Justice team. “Congress enshrined this right to seek accountability from the U.S. government when federal agents cause harm. We are extremely fortunate to work in community with committed and passionate pro bono attorneys to help lift up these families’ voices and seek justice on their behalf.”

“We are proud to have such strong pro bono partnerships that allow us to continue to fight for immigrant justice and seek further pro bono partnerships as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle the rights and protections of asylum seekers,” said Elica Vafaie, LCCRSF’s Pro Bono Director. “Along with Munger, we have been incredibly pleased to work with Weil, Gibson Dunn, Hanson Bridgett, O’Melveny, Keker, Van Nest & Peters, Morgan Lewis, Perkins Coie, and many others.”

For opportunities to get engaged in LCCR pro bono, please contact Elica Vafaie at evafaie@lccrsf.org and for opportunities to take on pro bono immigration cases, please contact Bekah Stroik at bstroik@lccrsf.org.