Pro Bono

Wilkinson Stekloff has a deep and lasting commitment to providing pro bono representation.  Our attorneys devote significant time and attention to pro bono matters, with substantial support from the firm as a whole.

In recognition of our work in this area, Chambers & Partners recently selected the firm as Highly Commended in the Pro Bono Program of the Year Category, recognizing our firm as having one of the two best pro bono programs out of all law firms in the entire country, large and small.  This is the second year in a row that Chambers & Partners has recognized our acclaimed pro bono program.  Vault has also consistently ranked us as one of the top five midsize law firms for pro bono, noting that, “in terms of pro bono, the firm is all in, offering tremendous support for attorneys taking on such matters.”  In 2019, over 90% of eligible (DC-barred) attorneys qualified for DC’s Pro Bono Honor Roll, with three-quarters of those qualifying for “High Honors.”   And the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (LACLJ) recently recognized us as its Pro Bono Partner of the Year, noting that our representation of low-income women who are experiencing domestic violence “has been vital to these individual clients and has brought safety and security to them and their children.”

Below are some examples of the breadth of our pro bono successes.

Family Law

  • We have a long history of working with the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP) on behalf of victims of domestic abuse and their children. In recognition of that work, DCVLP honored five of our associates in 2017 as DCVLP’s Domestic Relations Branch Volunteers of the Yearfor their work on numerous cases.
  • Two Wilkinson Stekloff associates secured a favorable judgment in a pro bono custody and divorce case in D.C. Superior Court after a six-day trial involving eleven witnesses. The Court awarded our client primary residential custody and joint legal custody, with tiebreaker decision-making authority, of her five minor children. The judge also awarded her a monetary judgment of more than a quarter-million dollars, along with ongoing child support that will help her establish financial independence in her new life. An associate recently defended the decision on appeal in an oral argument before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
  • Two other Wilkinson Stekloff associates secured a favorable judgment in a pro bono legal separation and custody case, which culminated in a four-day trial in L.A. Superior Court.  At the close of trial, the court credited the testimony of each of our witnesses and found that it was in the children’s best interest for our client to retain custody and receive an equitable portion of the family’s assets. Our representation has continued post-trial, with the filing of successful motions to enforce the court’s judgment, including a successful motion for sanctions.

Trial-Level Civil Rights Work

  • We joined forces with the ACLU of Missouri and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center to represent a class of incarcerated people challenging the Missouri Department of Corrections’ and their private healthcare provider Corizon’s systematic denial of potentially life-saving medications for individuals with chronic Hepatitis C. A team of Wilkinson Stekloff associates, along with our co-counsel, conducted a week-long preliminary injunction hearing including several witness examinations.  After months of additional discovery, with associates taking multiple depositions and overseeing the production of five expert reports, the parties entered a landmark settlement in August 2020, under which Missouri will dedicate $50 million to Hepatitis C treatment.  Read more about the settlement here and here.

Trial-Level Criminal Cases

  • We have represented people charged with crimes in a number of trial-level criminal cases, including one set for trial in March 2021.
  • We successfully represented one of the more than 150 people arrested for their alleged role in Inauguration Day protests in 2017.
  • One of our associates partnered with the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Public Defender to represent a 26-year-old self-taught computer programmer who was indicted on allegations of knowingly developing and selling malware on the internet. After negotiating a favorable plea agreement and helping our client obtain a shorter sentence than the government sought, we helped navigate the client's subsequent cooperation with the government in its search for computer hackers across the globe.

Post-Conviction Representation

  • We have secured the release of two clients under DC’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (known as “IRAA”), which allows those sentenced as juveniles to petition a court for resentencing after they have served at least 15 years of their sentence. Two teams of associates worked with our clients and experts to develop compelling personal narratives and evidence of our clients’ growth and rehabilitation to present to the court through briefing, oral argument, and witness testimony.
  • Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we successfully obtained compassionate release under the First Step Act for a client who had been incarcerated for nearly 30 years, since he was only 17 years old, and suffered from multiple risk factors for the disease. The court’s opinion adopted nearly all of the Wilkinson Stekloff team’s arguments and specifically praised the team’s reentry plan as “among the most comprehensive the Court has seen.”
  • Our work is ongoing—we represent clients seeking compassionate release, resentencing under IRAA, and other forms of post-conviction relief.

Appellate Matters

  • A number of our associates have served as pro bono appellate counsel in different federal Courts of Appeals, on issues ranging from employment discrimination to criminal sentencing to habeas corpus.
  • A Wilkinson Stekloff associate was appointed by the D.C. Circuit to argue on behalf of a pro se plaintiff who challenged employment decisions on disparate treatment and impact bases but had lost on summary judgment. Adopting Wilkinson Stekloff’s arguments, the D.C. Circuit reversed the lower court opinion, remanded the case for further proceedings, and in the process clarified D.C. Circuit law on disparate treatment claims, potentially establishing a major precedent going forward in employment discrimination cases. Wilkinson Stekloff associates directly represented the plaintiff on remand.  After receiving briefing, the district court entered summary judgment for the plaintiff on his disparate impact claims.
  • A Wilkinson Stekloff associate was appointed by the Sixth Circuit to argue on behalf of a criminal defendant challenging the reasonableness of his sentence.  The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, vacating and remanding the case for re-sentencing.  The precedential opinion held that there must be a “meaningful relationship” between the sentence an individual receives, the crime of conviction, and the individual’s prior criminal history.
  • A Wilkinson Stekloff associate served as lead counsel before the Eleventh Circuit, representing a client who had been stabbed and physically attacked while in detention at a jail in Alabama.  The Eleventh Circuit ruled for our client, determining that the County Sheriff and Jail Warden violated his constitutional rights and were not entitled to qualified immunity.  Wilkinson Stekloff worked on this matter in partnership with Rights Behind Bars, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rights of incarcerated people.
  • The firm also represents Summer Zervos in her defamation case against President Trump. Zervos’s claims stem from defamatory comments Mr. Trump made after she came forward with allegations that he sexually assaulted her in 2007.  Shortly after being retained, we filed briefs in the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals, defending the trial court’s decision to allow the suit to proceed despite the defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked jurisdiction under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause and that he is immune from suit for actions taken in his private capacity before he was president.

Amicus Briefs

  • We have an active practice drafting pro bono amicus briefs on a broad array of issues in the Supreme Court and in appellate and trial courts across the county. Our clients have included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Constitution Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the National Association of Disability Representatives, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Paralyzed Veterans of America, a group of exonerees, former government officials, prominent law professors, and respected historians.