The Marvin Frankel Annual Awards
Each year, Human Rights First honors the memory of Judge Marvin E. Frankel, a founding father of Human Rights First and former Chairman of our Board of Directors with an award in his name. Judge Frankel died in 2002. During his lifetime he dedicated time and energy to making a difference in the human rights movement.
Judge Frankel understood the critical difference that pro bono representation can make. He promoted this kind of public service at his law firm, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and through his human rights work. Under his leadership, Human Rights First developed a nationally-recognized pro bono representation program which has become the largest of its kind in the country. Attorneys in the New York and Washington, DC metro areas, as well as Houston and Los Angeles, have provided free legal representation to thousands of refugees from over 100 countries.
Each year attorneys donate thousands of hours to help refugees seeking asylum. In 2015, volunteer attorneys provided $46.5 million of legal services––more than 90,000 hours––through our program. Together we represented over a thousand clients, and in the process trained and inspired a new generation of human rights advocates.
WilmerHale (Washington, D.C.)
In the past six years, WilmerHale has accepted nearly 30 asylum cases from Human Rights First – 18 of them in Washington, D.C. – and we have been incredibly impressed with the quality of their representation. The attorneys at Wilmer are true advocates for their clients and always ahead of the game with draft affidavits, briefs, and filings. They consistently reach out to HRF to discuss case strategy and are always looking for ways to advance their clients’ cases. Wilmer Hale has taken on numerous cases with challenging legal issues. For example, Wilmer Hale took on the case of a young man from Rwanda who was kidnapped and forced to transport rebel soldiers in the Congo by the Rwandan military. When his case was dragged out, Wilmer did extra briefing in the case to overcome allegations that the client was a terrorist that ultimately resulted in a grant. They are now helping the client bring his wife and family to the US. The client has referred to his Wilmer attorney as his “brother.” WilmerHale has also shown immense patience and care for their pro bono asylum-seeker clients. Their attorneys often go above and beyond the work in the legal case.
Vinson & Elkins LLP (Houston)
Vinson & Elkins has taken on nearly ten cases from Human Rights First’s Houston office since it opened. The firm has been eager to take on more challenging cases. When we emailed their pro bono coordinator because we were having trouble placing a case she accepted it and placed it with a team right away. One of the attorneys on the team recently assigned to the case, came to the master calendar hearing even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to enter an appearance yet. He was very kind to the client, and was eager to get to know her and get a feel for the court. They have done amazing work with challenging claims before the Immigration Court. Moreover, their pro bono coordinator is a great supporter of our work and their pro bono attorneys are a pleasure to work with.
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP (Los Angeles)
Since the launch of Human Rights First’s Los Angeles office in September 2015, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP has been an invaluable resource in guaranteeing our success. Human Rights First is housed in Sheppard Mullin’s downtown Los Angeles office, in space generously donated by the firm. Additionally, the firm has been an invaluable pro bono partner with Human Rights First’s Los Angeles office, representing nearly one-fifth of our cases and hosting asylum trainings for its lawyers. We are tremendously grateful for the firm’s generosity and excellent representation on behalf of asylum-seekers in Los Angeles.
Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP (New York)
Since the firm started working with Human Rights First more than twenty-five years ago, it has taken and won many pro bono asylum cases. In 2016, the firm deepened its commitment to refugees and strengthened the partnership with Human Rights First in various ways. Through our work with the firm over the years, and particularly in 2016, we have been impressed by the commitment to justice at all levels—from support staff, to associates, to partners—and by the passion for helping vulnerable refugees to find safety in the United States. Willkie’s dedication to pro bono service, and their unwavering support for their refugee clients, truly illustrates the spirit of this award. Willkie took six additional cases for pro bono representation in a single month. They also instituted a series of discussions and in-house training sessions for associates to learn more about asylum law and to develop techniques for working with survivors of trauma. Human Rights First was invited to participate in those trainings and to explore ways that we could build upon those events to help greater numbers of asylum seekers. We determined that we could maximize our collective impact by partnering with Willkie on a group of cases with similar facts and legal issues, which would allow for efficiencies in case preparation (sharing of country conditions materials, for example) while deepening the in-house expertise on that type of asylum case. The greatest need at that time was for pro bono legal representation of women and their children who survived domestic violence in Honduras. Stacey Paradise (the firm’s Director of Attorney Training & Pro Bono) and Richard Mancino (Partner in the firm’s Litigation Department and liaison to Human Rights First) accepted this challenge. The firm took five such cases at the same time and they immediately placed them all with teams of associates. Despite the challenges inherent in those cases—including that most involve not only a claim for asylum, but also various claims for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for the children, which necessitate appearances in the immigration court as well as various family courts—the firm has done excellent work and has provided life-saving support for each of those vulnerable families. While those teams rose to the challenge on the cases of the Honduran families, the firm also continued to volunteer on other asylum matters, including the unrelated case of a doctor from The Gambia who fled political persecution.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC
Akin Gump has marshaled incredible resources to secure the release from detention of many traumatized women and children, all of whom have fled persecution and violence in their home countries. Encouraged by its success at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas—one of three detention centers contracted by the federal government to hold immigrant families in the United States—the firm is doing even more. In addition to providing high-quality representation for individuals, the firm advocated successfully for improved access to counsel for detained immigrants, the key difference in gaining release from detention. The firm’s commitment to both short-term solutions and long-term change is exemplary and gives hope to those who need it most.
Chadbourne & Parke
Chadbourne & Parke’s commitment to improving access to counsel for immigrant children has made a difference in the lives of thousands of families. The firm’s advocacy and representation highlights the significant impediments children face in our immigration system. By providing essential technical expertise, Chadbourne’s national advocacy work led to tangible results—increased trainings for immigration judges, improved understanding of what reasonably can be expected of children in court, and more child-appropriate docketing practices. Chadbourne’s direct representation of children facing deportation inspires others and upholds the highest traditions of the legal profession.
Jones Day is playing a pivotal leadership role in providing pro bono representation to detained immigrant children and families. In the aftermath of the 2014 surge across the southern border, the firm was among the first to respond to the mass detention of women and children at a temporary facility in Artesia, New Mexico. Jones Day not only sent teams of attorneys to this remote facility, but also advocated for changes to systems and infrastructure that facilitated access to counsel. They reached beyond their own lawyers, recruiting counsel nationwide and persuading law firms to prioritize the representation needs of detained families. Jones Day’s commitment to these families extends beyond the walls of detention facilities to post-release representation across the country. The firm’s leadership, coupled with its local and national advocacy, has had a multiplying effect, enabling other law firms to follow in their footsteps.
Latham & Watkins LLP (New York)
For more than two decades, Latham & Watkins LLP has partnered with Human Rights First to provide excellent legal representation to nearly 100 asylum seekers and other immigrants. In 2013, the firm’s New York office took the cases of eight immigrants from several countries, including Nepal, Guatemala, Syria, El Salvador, and Chad. The firm has taken cases at different levels of the system, including detained cases, and has not shied away from those with legal or factual complications. We would especially like to recognize the support of Jennifer Greenberg, co-chair of Latham’s Asylum Program for the New York office. We are also grateful for Latham's support for the opening of Human Rights First's new office in Houston, Texas. Latham’s attorneys have provided high quality representation for so many in need, and the firm’s dedication to refugee protection truly illustrates the spirit of this award.
McDermott Will & Emery (Washington, DC)
In the nine years leading up to this award, McDermott, Will & Emery partnered with Human Rights First on 28 cases. The firm won this award for the first time in 2009 and since then has taken 21 additional cases—a number not surpassed by any other firm. We are grateful for the firm’s dedication to the protection of refugees and recognize that dedication with the 2014 Marvin Frankel Award. The attorneys handling the cases taken by McDermott, Will & Emery have been zealous advocates for their clients. As a firm, McDermott, Will & Emery has not only contributed volunteer lawyers and hours, but also has hosted events to honor Human Rights First’s work and help introduce the organization to others. We truly appreciate the firm’s dedication to our organization and clients.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP (New York)
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP has been representing asylum seekers through our program for more than 25 years. Many of these cases posed unique challenges, requiring an extraordinary level of expertise and commitment. In 2012, lawyers at the firm contributed more than 3,300 hours of pro bono time to Human Rights First. In addition, the firm played an important role in establishing a new screening project at the New York Immigration Court aimed at increasing high-quality pro bono representation for indigent asylum seekers.
Crowell & Moring LLP (Washington, DC)
Since 1996, Crowell & Moring LLP’s Washington, D.C. office has taken on the cases of more than 40 refugees seeking asylum through our program, nine of those since 2012. The firm’s steadfast commitment to pro bono work is a model for others, not to mention the results that commitment has achieved: a grant of protection for every client whose case has been decided to date.
Steven J. Kolleeny (Individual Award, New York)
In rare cases, we recognize individuals with the Frankel Award—people who exhibit an extraordinary level of commitment to pro bono work with us over an extended period. Steven J. Kolleeny, Special Counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, embodies such a commitment. We recognize Steven not only for his personal representation of many asylum seekers through our program over more than two decades, but also for his leadership of Skadden’s asylum pro bono program, through which he has inspired and mentored other lawyers to take on this important work.
Ropes & Gray LLP (New York and Washington D.C.)
This award recognizes the pro bono contributions of Ropes & Gray LLP, which had taken, as of the date of this award, a total of 31 cases from our New York and Washington D.C. offices. These include a variety of affirmative and defensive cases, from many countries. The firm has a long history of going above and beyond to meet the needs of their clients. In the firm’s New York office, for example, Kevin Strom did an outstanding job representing his client from Honduras despite the additional challenges posed by the fact that the client was in immigration detention. The firm’s Washington, D.C. office has taken on a series of challenging cases, including that of a client from Ethiopia who was granted asylum and reunited with his family in the U.S. after the attorneys successfully argued for the case to be terminated in court and reheard at the asylum office. In addition to recognizing the firm as a whole, Human Rights First would like to highlight the work of attorney Jennifer Rikoski, who has represented many U.S. affiliated refugees and asylum seekers through Human Rights First as well as The List Project, and has served as a key ally in our Iraqi refugee advocacy work for several years. We are also grateful to Pro Bono Coordinator Byrne Harrison, who is always receptive to taking cases at different procedural levels. Human Rights First is delighted to continue our relationship with Ropes & Gray and to make them our 2012 Frankel Award recipient.
DLA Piper LLP (New York)
With the oversight of pro bono coordinators Richard Gruenberger and Joshua Sohn, as well as partner Gail Rodgers, the New York office of DLA Piper LLP has become one of the most active pro bono partners within Human Rights First’s pro bono network. In the past seven years, the firm has taken on challenging cases at varying procedural levels; several of these cases have involved administrative appeals, and one involved a client in immigration detention. We are grateful for the firm’s impressive commitment to our program which has made it possible for many asylum-seekers begin new lives and eventually reunite with their families in the United States.
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP (Washington, D.C. and New York)
Under the stewardship of partner Brian Weimar, the Washington, D.C. office of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP has been a very active partner in our pro bono representation program for the past several years, while the firm’s New York office and New York-based pro bono coordinator Daniel Brown have been working with us since 2010 to build and expand their asylum program in New York. The firm has been receptive to all case offers and has made the staffing of new asylum cases, and the training of its attorneys on matters relating to asylum, a priority within their pro bono program. We are grateful for the firm’s excellent work on behalf of all these asylum-seekers.
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, New York
This award recognizes that Sullivan and Cromwell LLP has taken on a total of 35 asylum cases to date through Human Rights First, and became more active over the past three years. The firm has won asylum for 26 asylum clients and the remainder were still pending as of the time of this award. In 2010 they won asylum for a man from the Ivory Coast who suffered persecution because of his involvement with the Ivorian opposition party, Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), and also took on about five new cases for pro bono representation. Sullivan and Cromwell LLP has demonstrated willingness to take on challenging cases, cases at various procedural levels, and detained cases, as well as taking on a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). They have also built up a good amount of in-house expertise and enthusiasm for this work within the firm; Claire Hunter, who has since left New York to return to Vancouver, BC, was a major force in this, but the firm as a whole is also very supportive of pro bono work and their organizational commitment to our program has definitely survived Claire’s departure. We are grateful for the firm’s impressive commitment to pro bono representation which has made it possible for many asylum-seekers to eventually obtain immigration status and reunite with their families in the United States.
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP, Washington, DC
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP has had a long and successful history with the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First. With the support of partner Allen Sokal, Finnegan took its first pro bono asylum case in 1997. The relationship has continually strengthened over the years and, to date, Finnegan has successfully won every asylum case we have collaborated on. In 2010 alone the firm won six asylum cases, including that of an Afro- Colombian activist fleeing threats against his life, a young man from Pakistan fleeing Taliban death threats, and a Salvadoran domestic abuse case with an urgent filing deadline. Last year, the firm also won asylum for an Ethiopian activist whose family, after a long and painful separation, have recently been reunited in the United States, all due to the their pro bono team’s diligent work. It is clear to us that attorneys at Finnegan are eager and willing to take on a wide variety of cases—many of which provided an even wider variety of challenges—and represent each client with the kind of care and enthusiasm that the Frankel Award seeks to recognize. Not only that, but the entire support staff at Finnegan, including Litigation Coordinator Nancy Edwards, takes special care to make sure that each client is served at the highest possible level. We simply couldn’t ask for more from a partnering firm. Human Rights First extends its warmest thanks and congratulations to Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP.
McDermott Will & Emery, Washington, DC
McDermott Will & Emery has represented asylum seekers through Human Rights First in both the Washington, D.C. and New York areas and has provided steady support for pro bono asylum representation through our Washington, D.C. office. Attorneys at the firm have done consistently high-quality work on asylum cases, many of them complicated and involving clients with additional needs. In addition to casework, McDermott lawyers have assisted Human Rights First in its advocacy work. The firm also contributes to the growth of our pro bono program by regularly hosting asylum law trainings in their Washington, D.C. office.
Kaye Scholer, New York
This award recognizes Kaye Scholer’s active role in representing refugees and their families in the New York and New Jersey area since 2003 through Human Rights First’s asylum representation program. The firm does not hesitate to take on complex asylum cases or those with imminent deadlines and has provided its clients with excellent representation. Kaye Scholer attorneys have helped secure protection for refugees who have fled persecution in countries including Burma, Burundi, Chad, China, Georgia, Guinea, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe, and have put these men, women, and children on the path to a new life in the United States.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, New York
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP has provided top quality pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers through the asylum representation program at Human Rights First for many years. Attorneys at the firm have demonstrated the ability to handle a number of complex asylum cases that have taken several years to resolve as well as cases for refugees who face particular challenges, such as immigration detention. Given Marvin Frankel’s history at the firm, Human Rights First is particularly pleased to honor the firm with this award.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP has provided excellent legal representation to asylum seekers through the pro bono representation program at Human Rights First. The firm took on a particularly challenging case of a refugee who was unfairly subjected to the sweeping “material support” bar to asylum, marshaling resources at all levels to advocate successfully on his behalf. The firm has also supported Human Rights First by providing legal advice and hosting seminars on asylum law and working with victims of torture.
Lowenstein Sandler PC, New York
Lowenstein Sandler PC has played a key role in Human Rights First’s efforts to build a pro bono representation network for asylum seekers in New Jersey and in particular for those detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center—some of the most vulnerable of our clients. The firm’s lawyers have also volunteered to take on federal appeals as well as the cases of children seeking asylum in the United States. Their top-quality work with Human Rights First reflects a deep commitment to pro bono work throughout the firm.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, New York and Washington, DC
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP has represented over 100 refugees and their families in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC through Human Rights First’s pro bono asylum legal representation program. The firm, which has been working with Human Rights First for over fifteen years, has helped secure protection for refugees who have fled persecution and torture in places like Colombia, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Iran, China, and Sierra Leone. The firm has also worked with asylum seekers detained at immigration jails in New York and New Jersey. Skadden has never hesitated to take on complex asylum cases, including cases that have required appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals and the federal circuit courts. The firm also contributes to the growth of our program by hosting our spring Asylum Law Training at their offices in New York each year. Steven Kolleeny, Special Counsel, has played a leading role in overseeing the firm’s pro bono asylum representation work in New York and New Jersey. Donald Salzman, Pro Bono Counsel at the firm, has provided critical support to attorneys handling asylum cases in Washington, DC.
Shearman & Sterling, New York
Shearman & Sterling LLP has represented over 50 refugees and their families through Human Rights First’s pro bono asylum legal representation program. Of these cases, about 30 were taken on in the last five years, reflecting a significant increase in commitment from the firm. Because of the firm’s pro bono asylum representation, refugees who have fled persecution and torture in places like Burma, Uzbekistan, Haiti, the Congo, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Sudan have won the right to live in safety in this country, instead of being deported back into the hands of their persecutors. The firm has also been a leader in the representation of detained asylum seekers – one out of every three clients they have taken on in recent years has been detained at an immigration jail. This help has been critically important, as it can sometimes be difficult to recruit attorneys to take on the cases of asylum seekers held in detention. Shearman has consistently been willing to take on complex asylum cases, as well as cases with approaching deadlines. We are extremely grateful for the outstanding coordinating and supervisory work of Saralyn Cohen, the firm’s Pro Bono Counsel and Director of Pro Bono.
Latham & Watkins, Washington, DC
Latham & Watkins LLP has taken on a total of 58 asylum cases through Human Rights First, both in New York and in Washington, DC. The firm began working with Human Rights First in 1991, and their involvement with our legal representation program has grown substantially in the past seven years. Specifically, in Washington DC, Latham has taken on 36 cases in the last eight years. They have won asylum for refugees fleeing a variety of countries, including Zimbabwe, Albania, Chad, China, Colombia, and Russia. The firm has also hosted training seminars for Human Rights First. Steven Schulman, who served as Latham & Watkins’ first Pro Bono Counsel from 2001 to 2004, has played a leading role in overseeing the firm’s pro bono asylum representation. Claudia O’Brien, a partner with the firm, has also recruited Latham attorneys to take on asylum cases, and provided critical support to these pro bono attorneys over the course of their representations.
Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP (New York)
Davis Polk has been a strong partner in the pro bono representation of asylum seekers for many years. As of the date of this award, the firm had represented 117 refugees and their families through our program. The firm works with Columbia University to run an Asylum Clinic, which is also a strong partner with Human Rights First, and through this clinic the firm gives law students valuable exposure to asylum law and hands-on experience in legal representation of asylum seekers. In addition to this steady commitment to pro bono asylum representation, Davis Polk hosts Human Rights First’s fall asylum trainings and helped to launch and maintain probono.net, an online resource for pro bono attorneys.
Howrey Simon Arnold & White (Washington, DC)
As of the date of this award, Howrey had taken more cases from Human Rights First than any other firm in Washington D.C. Of these many cases, the firm’s dedicated attorneys won asylum for refugees from Kazakhstan, Sudan, Albania and Zimbabwe, among other countries. Howrey hosted the Human Rights First asylum law training in summer 2001 and spring 2004, and was awarded the DC Bar’s 2004 Pro Bono Firm of the Year Award upon Human Rights First’s recommendation.
Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler (New York)
The firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler has written incisive Supreme Court amicus briefs in support of Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, American citizens detained as enemy combatants. The firm’s strong and persuasive defense of the judiciary’s necessary role during that challenging historical moment helped the Court to reach its decision. Patterson also provided invaluable assistance to our End Torture Now campaign, helping us make important discoveries concerning torture and abuse of detainees in United States custody.
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York
Debevoise has been a consistent leader in our pro bono efforts for many, many years. The quantity and quality of their work on asylum cases has been consistently high. The firm has also taken on other projects, and last year completed a research project t that analyzed the laws of other countries to ascertain what safeguards, if any, their laws have to prevent the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers. The firm has taken on 40 cases in the last five years, 17 of which were taken on in just the last two years.
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, Washington, DC
Fried, Frank has been a tremendous leader in the DC area, taking cases on consistent basis since 1996, which was only a few years after our DC office opened. Their work has been outstanding. Led by Special Counsel Karen Grisez, the firm has taken on extremely complicated and challenging asylum cases and their steadfast dedication and hard work has resulted in winning asylum for some of most vulnerable asylum seekers, including victims of gender based persecution. This extremely significant given that gender based claims are complicated and require significant research and creative lawyering. Karen recounted in detail the challenges and rewards of representing asylum seekers in an article that appeared this August in the Legal Times, which highlighted the firm’s partnership with us. In addition, Fried Frank generously donates office space for trainings and meetings which has been integral in building a stronger and more cooperative pro bono spirit in Washington DC.
Sidney S. Rosdeitcher, Individual Achievement
Sidney, an attorney from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, did an outstanding job of handling a particularly complex asylum case. Sidney became involved in the case when it was on appeal. The client, a young African woman who had fled to the US in search of refuge, had already been detained in the U.S. for over a year. The case, argued by a strong team of Paul, Weiss, Wharton & Garrison lawyers, had been denied by both the immigration judge and the immigration appellate board despite its merit, and was going to be presented to a federal appeals court. Sidney stepped in, supervising the case and arguing it himself. He knew the extensive and complicated record in detail, and argued persuasively to the Court. Even though the Court ruled in his favor, the ordeal was not over for the client. The government decided to ask for a rehearing on some procedural issues — threatening to leave the client detained for much longer. Sidney’s team of lawyers filed a new parole request, and got the client released based on the favorable federal court decision. At that time, she had been detained for just over three years. He then began a long and challenging series of negotiations and frustrations as the case was bounced back between the federal court and the immigration appellate board. Finally, due to Sidney’s determination and hard work, his client was granted asylum and she is now finally able to begin her life in the U.S.
Alexandra Doumas, Individual Achievement
Alexandra, an attorney with Lowenstein Sandler, has, over the last 5 years, represented 7 asylum seekers who have been detained at the Elizabeth detention facility. Her clients have included a Sudanese Christian woman who fled forced slavery and a minister from Liberia who criticized his government’s use of child soldiers. She has represented her clients at all levels, from immigration court to federal appeals court. Alexandra has also supervised and mentored 8 other attorneys at her firm, helping them to successfully represent their refugee clients, a high proportion of which are detained cases, which are particularly labor and resource intensive… In addition to serving as the pro bono coordinator for asylum cases at her own firm, Alex has assisted in the Human Rights First’s efforts to recruit attorneys at other New Jersey firms to take on pro bono asylum cases.