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Morgan Lewis to Take 500 Pro Bono Cases from Bingham McCutchen
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Morgan Lewis will absorb close to 500 of Bingham McCutchen's pro bono cases.

Summary: Morgan Lewis will absorb close to 500 pro bono cases from Bingham McCutchen as the firm winds down its operations.

Bingham McCutchen has begun to wind down its practice. According to American Lawyer, close to 500 pro bono cases that Bingham McCutchen attorneys were handling will be transferred to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Morgan Lewis absorbed most of the firm in an agreement announced in November.

  
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Amanda Smith, a pro bono partner at Morgan Lewis, predicts that the caseload of the combined firms’ pro bono sections could be up to 1,500. “From my perspective, the Bingham practice really complements the Morgan practice. I think that it represents a really good cultural fit.” Smith explained that Morgan Lewis had focused on traditional poverty needs like eviction prevention and assisting clients with veterans’ benefits, whereas Bingham McCutchen was known for large-impact litigation. Bingham McCutchen, for example, submitted various amicus briefs on behalf of employers to encourage courts to rule that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional. This work will continue at Morgan Lewis.

DLA Piper was named Pro Bono firm of the year.

Smith also noted that firms undergoing mergers or acquisitions often cannot take on new pro bono cases since they do not have the infrastructure to do so. However, in this case, since around 750 attorneys and staff will be transferring to Morgan Lewis from Bingham McCutchen, the combined firm will be able to handle the caseload.

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Both Morgan Lewis and Bingham McCutchen have been acknowledged for their pro bono efforts. Morgan Lewis ranked 52nd on the American Lawyer’s most recent pro bono rankings, which listed 171 law firms. Bingham McCutchen came in at number 40. To compile the list, the firms were ranked based on the average number of pro bono hours reported per attorney, and the percentage of attorneys that reported over 20 hours of pro bono work.

The merger between the two firms was finalized in November.



Somewhere between five and ten cases will not transfer from Bingham McCutchen due to positional or actual conflicts of interest. However, Smith has said that she and other members of the pro bono department have been able to set up other attorneys with the pro bono clients. Some of the cases will follow attorneys who are not with Morgan Lewis, but that number is unknown.

Leila Dal Pos is a former Bingham McCutchen partner. She will be taking her pro bono work to Day Pitney, where she is also a partner. Dal Pos assisted members of the National Guard with settling their estates before deployment. “My new partners and colleagues at Day Pitney are enthusiastic about the initiative and will also participate in the program,” she stated in an email.

The combined firm will be the fifth largest in the world.

Pro bono clients that will be transferring include New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights. Bingham McCutchen was co-counsel on behalf of this group on a case filed earlier this year, stemming from claims that the state of New York did not fulfill a commitment to increase school funding by $4 billion each year.

Bingham McCutchen will also continue its relationship with education advocacy groups such as the SMART Program in San Francisco, and Say Yes to Education in New York.

Rachel Strong, who worked as pro bono counsel at Bingham McCutchen and will transfer to Morgan Lewis, has said that the transition has been a relatively easy one. “When we were looking at it from the Bingham side, this new combination, we were a little worried because we just didn’t know. That first time that we met, it was incredible how similar our firms are.”

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Two of the three pro bono attorneys at Bingham McCutchen have been hired at Morgan Lewis on a full-time basis. One has been hired on a temporary basis.

The most difficult part of the transition, according to Smith and Strong, was reviewing the large pile of cases to determine whether they are open and whether there are conflicts of interest. Esther Lardent, the president of the Pro Bono Institute, a nonprofit that works with the legal community on various pro bono issues, said, “That’s a big exercise—sorting through the pro bono work and making sure nothing falls through the crack.”

Scot Fishman, who previously worked as pro bono counsel for Dewey & LeBoeuf before the firm closed in 2012, and now serves as pro bono counsel at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, explained that big law attorneys who work in pro bono are a tight group. “We all know each other very well, and we all work together. I’m not envious of Ms. Smith, my good friend. It’s a lot of work.”

Photo credit: 4vector.com



 

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