Early in 2015, the National Law Journal placed Reed Smith on its “Pro Bono Hot List” for the firm’s successful pro bono work in Haiti. A month before, The Financial Times, again citing our Haiti pro bono Project, named Reed Smith the “Most Innovative Law Firm in North America” in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility.
The central achievement of our Haiti pro bono effort since the 2010 earthquake is our evacuation to permanent safety in Canada and the United States of 60 vulnerable women and children who had become victims of gender-based violence in the tent camps of Port au Prince.
That earthquake was one of the greatest of modern human catastrophes. Approximately 200,000 people were killed—a death toll akin to that of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. As the world read in horror of the “epidemic” of rape against women and girls displaced and left unprotected in the ramshackle tent camps of Port au Prince, Reed Smith lawyers felt their helplessness, too, for no programs yet existed to use legal skills to address this humanitarian disaster.
Alone among law firms, Reed Smith organized and sent a team of doctors and lawyers to investigate, led by pro bono counsel Jayne Fleming. After interviewing rape victims as young as 5 years of age, our small Haiti team, using the legal immigration tool of “humanitarian parole,” developed a project to evacuate to safety these most vulnerable Haitians to other countries where they could receive medical and psychological care not available in Haiti.
Immigration law experts were skeptical, noting historic hostility toward Haitian immigrants. But by 2014, and after 30 visits, our team’s hard legal work had paid off. The project had achieved international protection for 60 of these most vulnerable Haitian clients: 23 now live in safety in the United States (seven victims and 16 of their children), and 37 more (13 victims and their 24 children) are resettled in Canada.
These clients will never have to return to the camps where they were assaulted. Most in the United States already have received grants of permanent asylum through the work of our team, while those resettled in Canada are guaranteed permanent status there. None of the humanitarian parole or asylum applications filed by the Reed Smith lawyers has been rejected. Since the earthquake, Reed Smith lawyers have dedicated some 10,000 pro bono hours (valued at more than $4 million) to Haiti matters, with special focus on representing and helping the women who have suffered sexual violence.
According to The Lawyer, a leading UK legal trade publication, “no law firm has undertaken a pro bono effort to assist Haiti comparable to that of Reed Smith.”
Other Ongoing Work in Haiti
The Firm’s pro bono work in Haiti now includes many other representations - such as our work for J/P Haitian Relief Organization. This non-profit was established by the actor Sean Penn after the earthquake.
J/P HRO has become widely praised as one of the finest in Haiti. It employs 400 people (mostly Haitian) in Port au Prince, clears acres of rubble, and resettles vulnerable indigent families in new housing. Our representation arose from mutual interests on the ground: Reed Smith needed medical care there for our clients (J/P HRO runs medical clinics), and J/P HRO needed to find help for a cancer victim whom we evacuated to the United States for surgery.
The work we do for J/P HRO is transactional and wide ranging: tax work in France; IP, contract and nonprofit law in the United States; labor issues in both the United States and Haiti; and grant reviews in Washington, D.C. Reed Smith lawyers from our offices in Los Angeles (where J/P HRO has its principal U.S. office), Chicago, Paris, Abu Dhabi, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. (site of another J/P HRO office), have all contributed in significant ways.
J/P HRO has been extremely appreciative. Sean Penn appeared at Reed Smith’s 2013 Partner Meeting to personally thank the partners and the firm.