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Pro Bono

Hear Wendy Richards, Miller Canfield's pro bono practice leader, discuss the impact of pro bono services in this conversation with Michigan Community Resources.

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Wendy Richards
Pro Bono Counsel
+1.313.496.7532

Thomas W. Linn
Chairman Emeritus
+1.313.496.7511

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Pro Bono Matters

Miller Canfield has long been recognized within our communities for pro bono and community service efforts. We believe that the firm and its attorneys have an ethical responsibility to undertake pro bono engagements. Through an active pro bono committee, the firm seeks to create a culture where pro bono legal services are encouraged and where our professionals have ready opportunities to perform meaningful pro bono legal services.

Commitment

We encourage all of our attorneys to devote a minimum of 30 hours per year to pro bono legal services as mandated by the State Bar of Michigan or in lieu thereof to support pro bono agencies financially. The firm's pro bono policy awards billable credit for a minimum of 100 hours of pro bono service annually as an incentive. We also enable our summer associates to each have a court appearance on behalf of a pro bono client and participate in pro bono activities in other ways.

Pro bono service includes the representation of low-income persons and organizations that provide assistance to low income persons; representations involving substantial civil rights and public rights issues, and serving nonprofit organizations where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate.

Partners

The firm works in partnership with a number of organizations to facilitate pro bono opportunities for its professionals, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Aid and Defender Association, Legal Services of South Central MichiganLegal Aid of Western Michigan, Michigan Community Resources, Project Salute of the University of Detroit Law School, as well as the referral programs of the various courts in which we practice. The firm is also responsive to interests of its attorneys in crafting and approving pro bono opportunities. Each year, we honor our top pro bono attorneys with Pro Bono Champions awards, which are distributed and publicized within the firm.

Recent Efforts

Recognition

In October 2014, the firm was honored with the "2014 Law Firm of the Year Award" given by Michigan Community Resources (MCR) for its leadership and commitment to pro bono work across Michigan and most notably, for its dedication to MCR's pro bono legal referral program.

Miller Canfield was a charter signatory of the Pro Bono Institute's Pro Bono Challenge. In 2015, we were also honored by the State Bar of Michigan in its Pro Bono Circle of Excellence for exceeding the State Bar's voluntary pro bono standard at the Leadership Level, the highest recognition. Miller Canfield has been honored to be designated in the Circle of Excellence each year since the honor was created (more than 20 years).

In 2013, we were named Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year by the Legal Aid and Defender Association

  • In the highly publicized Hamama v. Adducci, the firm filed suit, in collaboration with the ACLU of Michigan, to enjoin the removal of hundreds of Iraqi nationals from the United States without due process in the immigration courts. Our clients, who are largely Catholic, Kurdish and other religious and ethnic minorities, face persecution, torture and possibly death if returned to Iraq. The court granted the injunction and stayed removal to allow our clients the chance to pursue immigration relief and ruled that the roughly 300 class members in immigration detention deserve bond hearings and should not serve prolonged detention during immigration proceedings. The court granted class certification and appointed a Miller Canfield attorney as class counsel. This case is a perfect example of effective collaboration across nonprofits, legal service organizations and large law firms. This collaboration and the law resulting in Hamama is now used as a model in other several other circuits.

  • The firm is working on two pro bono cases involving the resentencing of individuals serving mandatory life without parole sentences for homicide offenses that they committed as juveniles. In one, our client was 16 when he stabbed an older, larger, and stronger man who had attacked him without provocation and beaten our client to his knees. At trial he claimed self-defense but was unsuccessful and sentenced to serve life without parole as a juvenile. He has now served over 25 years in prison and has been an exemplary inmate. He works with abused dogs, serves as an aide in the psych unit, and teaches inmates skills needed to transition back into their communities. In March 2017, due to the hard work of our attorneys, our client was resentenced to a term of years guaranteeing that he will be eligible for parole in five years (and perhaps sooner pending the results of ongoing litigation).

  • The firm represented fans of the band Insane Clown Posse, who call themselves Juggalos. The FBI and DOJ published a report that branded the Juggalos as a hybrid criminal gang. The fans identify as a group and express themselves through recognizable manners of dress and body decoration. Several sued, asserting that the gang classification violated their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association, and due process.

    After the district court dismissed the complaint, the 6th Circuit ruled in the Juggalos’ favor, recognizing that the gang designation caused concrete harm and held they had standing to sue. Upon remand, the district court dismissed the complaint on other grounds. Although the 6th Circuit ruled that the Juggalos do not have a right to judicial review of the federal government’s action under the Administrative Procedures Act, the court made clear they can sue the local police. The case raised public awareness, resulting in extensive news reporting and a march in Washington, that the Juggalos aren’t a criminal gang.

  • The firm has taken a leading role in coordinating 14 firms nationwide to produce a 50-state poll worker guide project on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel. Poll workers are essential to the voting process. When states are unable to attract and hire qualified candidates, polling places suffer. There are long lines and misinformation. Failure to follow procedures leads to disqualification of ballots. This project focuses on encouraging qualified candidates to apply for the critical job of working at the polls on Election Day. Miller Canfield drafted the model guide for firms to follow, helped in the preparation of a webinar for drafters and others to understand the guide’s purpose and scope, and along with another AmLaw 200 firm, coordinated the work of all of the participating firms.

  • Miller Canfield attorneys lead the Small Business Legal Academy, which is now a perennial favorite of Detroit Startup Week. Our attorneys organize and recruit presenters on legal topics of interest to entrepreneurs and coordinate one-on-one meetings with individual business owners. Hundreds of business owners have benefitted from these presentations and sessions.

  • In partnership with the Osborn Business Association in Northeast Detroit, Miller Canfield attorneys provide legal counseling to new and aspiring business owners who are members of the OBA, assisting them with organizing their LLCs, free of charge.