We contribute more than 50,000 hours annually to pro bono service, ensuring that clients have a voice and a legal advocate regardless of their ability to pay. We partner with agencies throughout the country to provide free legal services to meet the most pressing needs of our communities. We advocate for fundamental human rights in cases involving the death penalty, voting rights, asylum and immigration, and child advocacy; help veterans and first-responders with estate planning through Wills for Heroes; staff legal clinics for unhoused people; assist artists in protecting their intellectual property; advise entrepreneurs on building successful businesses; and represent low-income individuals and families in a full spectrum of matters.
Ballard Spahr consistently ranks among the top 100 law firms in the Am Law Pro Bono Report. We have received numerous awards and honors in recognition of outstanding commitment to pro bono work, including the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award in 2018.
Making a Civic Obligation Less Taxing
What We Do
We operate our pro bono program as a "big tent" to accommodate the diverse interests of our lawyers and the needs of the communities in which they live and work. Over the years, we have developed areas of significant focus.
About half of Ballard Spahr's pro bono work is done on behalf of nonprofit organizations, serving the poor and advocating for civil rights and other public causes, which turn to us for the full spectrum of legal needs.
Asylum and Immigration
We have successfully represented asylum petitioners from Africa, Asia, and Central America, and recently have undertaken several cases on behalf of unaccompanied minor children seeking special immigrant juvenile status. We represented seven "Lost Boys of the Sudan" in their efforts to obtain permanent residence after fleeing their war-torn homeland. We regularly represent immigrant victims of abuse under the Violence Against Women Act. Lawyers from several offices have participated in the ABA's Immigration Detention Center Standards Project, which involves visits to detention centers to evaluate whether detainees are being afforded their legal rights.
Our lawyers work to secure stable, loving homes for abused and neglected children in collaboration with local agencies such as Philadelphia's Support Center for Child Advocates; Washington, D.C.'s Children's Law Center; CASA; and the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center. More than 50 lawyers and paralegals across the firm work on behalf of children.
We regularly represent low-income individuals in their efforts to secure or maintain affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity is a longstanding pro bono client; we regularly assist Habitat with an array of legal needs, including legislative reform, land use, contracts, grants, corporate governance, and planned giving. We have represented numerous civic and nonprofit agencies in their efforts to develop affordable housing, including assisting the Housing Authority of New Orleans to draft recovery legislation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and assisting with the conversion of a Philadelphia convent into a halfway home for women fleeing prostitution.
Lawyers for the Arts
Many of our lawyers represent artists, musicians, and arts groups through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts programs, providing representation in the areas of intellectual property, contract negotiation, and real estate and tax work. They assist new artists in negotiating recording contracts and helped set up a foundation to rescue an iconic mural on South Street in Philadelphia.
We have taken two statewide redistricting cases, worked with the National Commission on Voting Rights to draft testimony and a report to Congress on racism in voting, developed voting rights manuals for several states, and participate regularly in voter advocacy efforts on hotlines and at the polls. In the last presidential election, more than 140 Ballard lawyers donated more than 3,500 hours to election protection and voter education efforts.
We have long responded when the courts have asked us to provide pro bono representation in death penalty matters. Our lawyers successfully obtained a new sentencing hearing and plea agreement for a capital client in 2002 and, since 2004, have been representing a Philadelphia man in his bid to overturn a conviction based on scientifically discredited arson testimony.
Although our attorneys and legal staff engage in many civic and charitable activities, such activities are not considered pro bono service unless they involve the actual delivery of legal services to people of limited means or nonprofit organizations that serve them. This precise definition keeps us focused on the unique ethical obligation of attorneys to provide access to justice to those for whom it is not readily available.
Ballard Spahr has been recognized as a "Pro Bono Powerhouse" in The American Lawyer's annual ranking of pro bono work by major law firms. Our pro bono effort is consistently ranked in the top tier of firms, and we have received numerous awards.
We distribute information about pro bono training opportunities throughout the firm, and frequently host training sessions on-site. New attorneys fill out a survey about their pro bono interests so that we can alert them to opportunities that match their preferences. Cases are regularly circulated with requests for volunteers and a newsletter provides information about pro bono opportunities and activities. Attorneys are welcome to develop their own pro bono projects, subject to a review that ensures that the clients are financially eligible and that rules out conflicts of interest.
The pro bono staff refers volunteers to mentors and resources within and outside the firm. We maintain close relations with public interest agencies so that we can tap their expertise when necessary. All pro bono matters have a supervising partner, and we encourage attorneys and paralegals to team up so that they can share the experience and the workload. We also have developed pro bono practice groups in areas with substantial interest and participation, such as child advocacy and immigration.
Rankings and Recognition
A Top 100 Firm
The American Lawyer Pro Bono Report, 2009-2019