2022 Pro Bono Award Recipient: Ballard Spahr LLP
Ballard Spahr LLP has been an innovator in pro bono representation in Philadelphia and beyond. The firm’s Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, launched in the summer of 2020, is the epitome of the firm’s institutional commitment to pro bono representation and the cause of ensuring equal access to justice for all.
Through the initiative, attorneys work closely with public interest organizations to pursue pro bono matters that advance race equity, including by addressing economic, education, and voting rights matters. Current partners include the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Appleseed Network, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, among others.
Since its inception, the initiative has accepted 16 representations, and Ballard Spahr litigators have contributed more than 6,000 pro bono hours to those matters, including many of the firm’s top litigators. Among these are prominent Philadelphia-based lawyers such as Leslie E. John, former President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and current Trustee and co-chair of the Foundation’s Anti-Racism Taskforce.
“We are honored to be recognized by the Bar Foundation and proud of the dozens of Ballard Spahr attorneys who devote time to important cases and matters as part of this initiative, “said Ms. John. “It is especially gratifying to work with partner organizations and individuals to identify important racial injustice and inequity issues across the country and address them through litigation and advocacy.”
Despite being barely two years old, the initiative has had a number of early victories. In 2021, for instance, a team of Ballard Spahr attorneys, on behalf of Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO), successfully advocated for a more equitable redrawing of Colorado’s state legislative districts to better reflect communities of interest, particularly Colorado’s historic and growing Latino community. Ballard attorneys have also been working with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and other partners on two cases; one focuses on ensuring a fair and equitable admissions process for a magnet school in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the other challenging the practice of prison-based gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, which contributed to the General Assembly’s decision to largely end the practice.
In conjunction with the Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, Ballard Spahr’s Media and Entertainment Law Practice Group launched the Diverse Voice pro bono media law initiative. Through this initiative, Ballard is representing 16 media outlets that serve communities of color in areas across the country, including Resolve Philly, a journalism collective that challenges the industry to be more equitable, collaborative, and based in community voices and solutions. This effort extends beyond Ballard’s media lawyers to involve attorneys across the firm’s practices and offices—who have provided an additional 820 pro bono hours.
Ballard has also partnered with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity and other community organizations to help clients pursue criminal record expungements and pardons. The firm has co-hosted seven legal clinics, attended by the firm’s attorneys and paralegals, and by staff from in-house legal departments. Attendees receive training on guiding clients through the pardon process or completing an expungement petition. Following the legal clinics, participants meet in teams of two to work directly with a client. These individual client representations account for more than 800 additional pro bono hours from Ballard Spahr attorneys.
“The creation of such an initiative and commitment of significant resources to work toward the objective of achieving racial justice and equity is especially meaningful in these exceptionally trying times because many of the hard-won advances of prior years are under attack…I believe the Racial Justice and Equity Initiative which the firm has established epitomizes the kind of institutional response that entities such as law firms can (and should) take to advance the cause of ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ ”
– The Honorable Theodore McKee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit