Giving Voice to the Voiceless
Since 2008, over 7 percent of our total attorney billable time was contributed to pro bono.
We at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. believe that everyone deserves equal access to our justice system, regardless of race, religious beliefs, nationality, or economic situation. Though we trust in our legal system, we also recognize that it is sometimes inaccessible to certain individuals, organizations and families. We work every day to provide that access.
Click here to read our pro bono brochure.
Here are some examples of the work we do.
- Our attorneys represented a Guardian ad Litem in a termination of parental rights case that was affirmed on appeal. The child had suffered life-threatening burns when her mother left the child alone in a bathtub.
- We represented a client in a First Amendment case against the Village of Greenwood Lake. The Village enacted a ban against all public art in order to suppress a mural project sponsored by our client. After our client went ahead with the project, the Village tried to enforce its ban. We helped our client obtain a temporary restraining order enjoining the enforcement of the regulation. The Village then agreed to withdraw the art ban ordinance and other restrictions on free speech and also agreed that it would not violate the First Amendment in any manner in the future.
- Rainbow Services seeks to end the cycle of family violence as part of a network of domestic violence agencies that aim to keep families safe. This year, we helped our client, a victim of significant domestic violence, obtain a permanent five-year restraining order against her husband. The husband claimed that our client beat herself in order to have him falsely arrested. We were able to convince the hearing judge to dismiss the husband’s application for a restraining order and grant our client’s application. The evidence we presented at the hearing will also be used to help law enforcement prosecute the husband for assault.
- We obtained an Eighth Circuit review of a Board of Immigration Appeal (BIA) decision declaring our 16-year-old client permanently inadmissible for making a false claim of U.S. citizenship. The Eighth Circuit instructed the BIA to reconsider their rules and standards for unaccompanied children, like our client, who recant their false claims, offering a chance to advocate for the just treatment of all unaccompanied immigrant children.
- We represented a woman after her life partner became severely brain damaged following a cardiac arrest. Our client sought our assistance when her partner’s family tried to cut her out of her partner’s life and out of the life of the daughter they had raised together for the past five years. Our attorneys represented the client in a guardianship trial as well as in related family court and harassment matters. Through our efforts, our client can visit her partner and a neutral guardian was put into place to oversee our client’s partner’s needs.
- After three years of representation, we obtained asylum for our client, a native of Cameroon. Our client is now in the process of applying to bring his wife and three children — whom he has not seen since September 2007 — to the United States. Our client was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and detained in Cameroon for his political beliefs. After fleeing Cameroon for Belgium, he came to the United States where he began his pursuit for asylum. The court found that our client was credible and had met his burden to show that asylum was warranted. The government has indicated that it will not appeal.
Our Pro Bono Committee
Our firm’s Pro Bono Committee, headed by Anne Lockner, helps our attorneys find opportunities for pro bono work. The committee monitors the nature and extent of our pro bono services offered to the community, recognizes the many individuals who volunteer for pro bono work, and provides formal supervision and training for our firm lawyers.
Youth Law Initiative
The Youth Law Initiative is our firm-wide pro bono project devoted to safeguarding the legal rights of children and teens. Children can be victims of abuse, homelessness, neglect, or simply be facing a system they do not understand. They are often unrepresented when facing dramatic changes in their lives. Through the Youth Law Initiative, our attorneys work to ensure the legal protection of children and teens while striving to protect their rights and dignity. Each office focuses on the needs of youth in their community.
Working with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, attorneys in the Atlanta office represented four pregnant teenagers in the judicial bypass process during 2011. Georgia, like most other states, requires parental notification or consent if a pregnant minor decides to terminate her pregnancy. Pursuant to Supreme Court precedent, Georgia law provides that this requirement may be waived through a judicial finding that the minor is mature enough to make the decision or if it would not be in the minor’s best interest to tell her parent. These cases included that of an immigrant teenager living with relatives who became pregnant as the result of rape. She was afraid that if her parents were notified of the rape and pregnancy, they would insist that she leave the United States and return to her home country. She planned to go to college in the United States and did not want her education and dreams derailed. Our attorneys counseled her on the judicial bypass process and the client testified in juvenile court, where her petition was granted.
In 2011, our Boston attorneys obtained further results in immigration proceedings for minors. For example, after seven years of representation, we finally obtained asylum for a minor client that allowed him to remain in the country with his mother, father, sister, and two brothers. Through age-related quirks of the immigration laws, our client was not eligible for legal permanent residence in the U.S. even though his parents and siblings were. Asylum, a difficult remedy, was the only remaining legal relief available to prevent his deportation, alone, to his native El Salvador where his family’s opposition to gangs meant he faced serious danger. The team’s challenge was to convince the immigration court judge that the family was a “particular social group” known in the Salvadoran community and that there was a nexus between the persecution our client’s family had suffered and its status as a group known to oppose gangs. With testimony from several witnesses and documentary evidence, we met that burden. The government waived its right of appeal after hearing the summary of the immigration court judge’s decision.
The Los Angeles office continued to provide pro bono legal services though a number of nonprofit organizations with a particular focus on assisting those young adults transitioning from foster care to independent living. Through these efforts, the office assisted in obtaining temporary and permanent guardianships, resolving credit, identity theft, and monetary fraud issues, and seeking special education and public benefits. In other pro bono matters, attorneys and staff represented victims of sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence and assisted those seeking asylum from harsh and unjust social and political situations. In addition, attorneys in the Los Angeles office provided legal and educational clinics on basic contract, credit, and employment rights.
In 2011, the Minneapolis office helped bring to closure a four-year effort to find a permanent home for three Native American siblings, now ages seven, six, and four. Victims of neglect and abuse by their biological parents, the children all have extraordinary physical and emotional needs. Our attorneys represented the children’s Guardian ad Litem in multiple proceedings, including a successful appearance before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Our attorneys were able to negotiate a voluntary termination of the biological parent’s rights on the eve of trial, and then worked closely with service providers to locate willing and suitable adoptive parents after the children’s foster family withdrew as a potential adoption placement. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires that placement preference be given to Native American families, but after more than a year of searching, no suitable Native American families could be found. When a non-Native American family with very close ties to various native communities was located to adopt the children, our attorneys moved the court to allow a deviation from the placement preferences under ICWA, a placement which the children’s Tribe opposed. Two days into the hearing, after the testimony of the proposed adoptive mother, our attorneys were able to negotiate a settlement with the Tribe, who then agreed to the placement. The adoption will be finalized this summer, followed by a traditional tribal adoption ceremony. After a challenging four years inside and outside of the courtroom, the outcome of this case enables the children to have a loving, permanent family who can meet their physical, emotional, and cultural needs.