2020 Pro Bono & Community Awardees
Pro Bono Innovator of the Year
Juan Hernandez, Irina Dykhne, Alyssa Tapper, April Hua, Josh Gordon, Cindy Le
Bet Tzedek - LA Represents, Los Angeles
This year’s Pro Bono Innovator of the Year Award goes to the Bet Tzedek - LA Represents Project team: Juan Hernandez, Irina Dykhne, Alyssa Tapper, April Hua, Josh Gordon, and Cindy Le. The overall project was supervised by Yousuf Dhamee, with partner Alan Weakland supervising individual matters.
In 2018, the team initially launched the small business program with Bet Tzedek to address a growing need for representation among small businesses. When COVID-19 hit and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti put out a call for pro bono legal assistance for COVID-19 related issues, Bet Tzedek formalized the program into what is now the LA Represents Initiative. Paul Hastings was the first law firm to sign up. The team worked alongside Bet Tzedek to build out a complete virtual support system for small businesses devastated by COVID-19 and collaborated with local government officials to secure favorable results for our clients.
To date, 35 attorneys and 6 summer associates have worked on cases assisting vulnerable tenants and low income individuals with their small businesses. Some of the top issues included commercial leases, contracts, legal frameworks to protect their business, and PPP loans.
In one case, the team represented a group of over 30 commercial, low-income tenants who received notices to quit in connection with their month-to-month tenancies in a local flea market. By collaborating with the Office of Councilmember Curren D. Price, the team was able to exert pressure on the landlord to provide tenants with a reasonable period of time to retrieve their property, find a new place to sell, and help them recover their deposits. The team was able to secure lease extensions for three commercial tenants in another case by collaborating with the Office of Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the Silver Lake Chamber of Commerce. There were several other matters that were handled in collaboration with our client Guggenheim Partners.
Yousuf and Juan also hosted a series of webinars providing free legal advice for small and minority-owned businesses, with some presentations done fully in Spanish. The webinars were done in collaboration with various organizations, including the Los Angeles Urban League, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration, Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, Office of Councilmember David Ryu, USC, and others. Cindy Le from the Corporate Social Responsibility team provided logistical, client relations, and marketing support vital to the success of the program.
In addition, the team coordinated with our Corporate Social Responsibility department to leverage the Firm’s Volunteer Time Off (VTO) policy to assist Bet Tzedek in processing nearly 100 backlogged applications requesting pro bono assistance.
Congratulations to the team on their innovative, all-encompassing approach to pro bono alongside Bet Tzedek.
Pro Bono Advocate of the Year
Sarah Besnoff, Alex Schulman, Ingrid Holthuis, Marielena Macias-Gutierrez
National Veterans Legal Services Program - Washington, D.C.
This year’s Pro Bono Advocate of the Year Award goes to Sarah Besnoff, Alex Schulman, Ingrid Holthuis, and Marielena Macias-Gutierrez. This matter was supervised by Stephen Kinnaird and Sean Unger.
Since 2008, we have represented veterans in over 100 cases with the National Veterans Legal Service Program (NVLSP) ranging from systemic reform to individual cases before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Combat-Related Special Compensation and military correction boards. This year, just before Veteran’s Day, the team secured a major pro bono victory representing a class of Vietnam navy veterans who had contracted diseases linked to the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. The navy veterans had been improperly denied veterans benefits for years by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Judge Alsup of the Northern District of California granted our motion to enforce the consent decree. The DVA will now have to readjudicate the class claims dating back to 1985. We estimate that anywhere from 2,000 to 15,000 veterans will receive an average of $28,000 each in benefits potentially resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for disabled veterans or their survivors.
Congratulations to the team on an extraordinary pro bono victory.
Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year (U.S.)
Jessica Mendelson - Palo Alto
This year’s U.S. Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year Award goes to Jessica Mendelson for her extraordinary dedication to pro bono.
When the Firm launched its racial equality pro bono efforts, Jessica stepped up as lead coordinator of associate participation, working with 25 associates in a 50-state survey for the Innocence Project regarding the admissibility of false confession expert testimony. Jessica again stepped up when the Firm launched its Initiative to Combat Modern Slavery facilitating participation from Palo Alto attorneys.
Jessica serves as the primary contact with Bay Area Legal Aid on all matters and facilitated a virtual consumer protection clinic earlier this year. Additionally, Jessica oversees all U Visa applications being handled by Palo Alto attorneys.
Last year, Jessica organized a team of seven associates and summer associates filing an appeal with the National Veterans Legal Service Program on behalf of a military veteran seeking benefits following exposure to burn pits in Iraq.
It is thanks to Jessica that the Palo Alto office achieved 100% pro bono participation in 2019 and the Firm thanks Jessica for her always exceptional work.
Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year (International)
Gesa Bukowski - London
This year’s U.S. Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year Award goes to Gesa Bukowski for her extraordinary dedication to pro bono.
Gesa has been an active member of the London Office Pro-bono committee throughout 2020. Gesa has raised awareness of the firm’s pro-bono efforts globally, encouraged participation amongst associates / partners and has been personally involved with a number of initiatives. Most notably, Gesa acted for a young person in a time of need who was picked up by police for a driving offence and was threatened with 6 points which would have meant that his licence would have been revoked. Gesa led in making representations to the police to ensure the charges levied were appropriate in the circumstances. Gesa’s efforts here had an instant positive impact.
Aside from coordinating and planning the London Committee’s pro bono meetings and tracking their pro bono work, Gesa has demonstrated exemplary innovation in the way she has approached human rights issues with her research on sanctions and financial accountability for not only violators of human rights but also on how these sanction regimes may apply to corporations. Gesa has been at the forefront of marrying the efforts being carried out in London and the US on research into the Global Magnitsky Act and continues to demonstrate her passion through her help in coordinating a training by the London Office to the global human rights organization, The Sentry.
Community Leadership Award
David Wang, Haiyan Tang, Sophie Han, Clare Mao, Joy Zhu, Emma Chen, Kim Zhang
Shanghai Office Community Service Projects, Shanghai
This year’s Community Leadership Award goes to the Shanghai office for their decade-long dedication to the local community. The project was shepherded through the years by David Wang, Haiyan Tang, Sophie Han, Clare Mao, Joy Zhu, Emma Chen, and Kim Zhang.
Since 2011, the office has adopted and supported the PH Hope School in the Jiang Xi province. Each year, the office would visit and donate gifts for the students such as heaters, hands warmer, clothes, books, teaching assistance machine, and more. In 2013, the office sponsored a five-day trip to Shanghai for a group of top students, parents, and teachers from the PH Hope School, enabling them to visit our office and connect with our lawyers and staff. Donations were also made to two foundations to finance their children's library and other projects.
Throughout the years, the office also made donations to the Shanghai Charity Donations Management Center and to local neighborhood and community centers where they have long term pro bono relationships.
In 2016, with the Syrian Refugee crisis top of mind around the world, the office supported the Chinese Initiative on International Law in organizing an exhibition of Syrian refugee children’s paintings.
From 2017-2019 the office partnered with the Jiuqian Volunteer Center to sponsor holiday outings for underprivileged children and migrant worker families. Outings included the Zotter Chocolate Theater, Shanghai Disney’s Beauty and the Beast musical, and a visit to the Haichang Ocean Park
For this year’s community service event, the Shanghai Office adopted a rural primary school located in the village of Mu’er in the city of Xichang, a poor area of China inhabited by the Yi ethnic minority. The school has 390 students but only has eight classrooms, all of which are in disrepair. In addition, the school lacks sufficient chairs and desks and has inadequate lighting. A donation was made to the school to support repairs and ongoing maintenance so that the students may have a safe and adequate learning environment.
The Firm commends the team’s steadfast dedication to community leadership throughout the years.