When KIND was founded in 2009, Arnold & Porter LLP was one of the first law firms to partner with the organization. Today, Arnold & Porter attorneys have represented children referred to KIND in Washington DC, Northern Virginia, New York, and Los Angeles. This invaluable partnership is made even stronger through Ron Schechter, Partner at Arnold & Porter and a Member of the KIND Board of Directors. KIND sat down with Ron to talk about the history of Arnold & Porter, the firm’s relationship to KIND, and why pro bono means so much to both the firm and Ron.
Arnold & Porter has had a long and historic involvement with pro bono cases. Founded in 1950, the then Arnold, Fortas & Porter was the only major law firm willing to represent the victims of McCarthyism by first representing Owen Lattimore, who had been accused and was being tried as a Communist spy, despite little evidence. The firm was able to defeat all claims against Lattimore and followed by representing numerous other victims on a pro bono basis. Ron explained that the firm’s founders “stand for justice and set a standard for commitment to public service that has been a core value of our firm ever since.”
The firm just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the famous Gibeon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision. This case institutionalized an important right that all Americans recognize today—that persons accused of a serious crime be given the right to an attorney.
Arnold & Porter attorneys are encouraged to take on the most vulnerable clients. Today, nearly 75 percent of the firm’s attorneys spend at least 20 hours representing pro bono cases. Of the many areas of pro bono work in which the firm is active, immigrants’ rights has been one of its most longstanding commitments –25 years—for which the firm takes great pride.
“When KIND was being formed, I was honored to be asked to join KIND’s Board of Directors. I think the focus of the organization on a particularly vulnerable population, children who are in the immigration system without support, and providing counsel to these children is consistent with Arnold & Porter’s long history, and consistent in my view, of what we as a profession should be doing,” Ron said. He added that one of KIND’s particular strengths is mentoring and that KIND staff are clearly subject matter experts.
Ron’s grandparents fled to the United States from Romania in 1921 to escape severe persecution. Ron explained that they came as steerage in a boat with only $5 to their names and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
As an activist on civil rights and the anti-Vietnam war movement, Ron attended Georgetown Law School in 1972. Throughout Ron’s career he has represented a variety of pro bono cases, including those to ensure that HIV and AIDS victims were entitled to social security; for the past 20 years, however, his focus has been on immigration.
“I am constantly stunned by the way people in this world treat each other, the way folks are victimized and the strength and courage that it takes for people to flee persecution that they suffer,” Ron said.
Ron has represented clients from some of the most politically unstable areas of the world including the Sudan, Mali, Congo, and Rwanda. “When I talk to young lawyers about why I do this, I say these really are death penalty cases in a way, because in many of these cases if the client gets sent back to his or her home country, there is a very good chance they will be killed. They will certainly be persecuted.” Ron stresses that it is not just the pro bono of attorneys taking these cases, but the legal assistants and translators within the firm who invest their time with these vulnerable children every day.
“English is typically not the client’s first language, and very often it is the only language of the attorney,” Ron noted. “Arnold & Porter is fortunate to have employees who speak diverse languages from Spanish to those of many European and African countries.”
Arnold & Porter was also a prominent contributor to the 2009 study by the American Bar Association Commission, Reforming the Immigration System.
“Arnold & Porter has not only been a strong supporter of KIND from the beginning but has been a model firm in regards to their pro bono outlook and their consistent willingness to help vulnerable children in immigration court,” KIND President Wendy Young said. “Ron knows firsthand what it takes to represent these cases and we are lucky to have his expertise and passion.”
With firms like Arnold & Porter and advocates like Ron Schechter, KIND can go a long way to ensuring that no child faces immigration court alone.