The Newark-based Gibbons law firm has long been recognized for its commitment to pro bono work, and has gained a national reputation for its Gibbons Fellowship, which each year since 1990 has supported two fellows who are paid a first-year associate's salary while they litigate constitutional and public interest issues.
Patrick C. Dunican Jr., managing director of Gibbons, said despite the pro bono accolades the firm receives, he felt Gibbons could do more, and put Mara Zazzali-Hogan, the firm's pro bono coordinator, in charge of pro bono two years ago. "She has done an amazing job of rallying the troops and getting people to focus on giving back."
Dunican said 2012 "was our biggest year ever for pro bono activities, because of a concerted effort to engage all of our lawyers." Last year 164 of the firm's 230 attorneys did pro bono work, Dunican said.
Zazzali-Hogan said lawyers are motivated to find time for pro bono assignments they're passionate about; for example, an attorney who served in the military is working on veterans' issues.
Right now, Sandy relief efforts are a main focus for the pro bono coordinators at Gibbons and other firms.
Zazzali-Hogan said a number of the firm's attorneys are helping with Sandy: "These issues will not go away, this is going to be for the long term—it will take a while for people to get back on their feet again."
Emily B. Goldberg is the pro bono director at McCarter & English. Goldberg said the firm's attorneys wrote a 60-page handbook advising Sandy victims how to get help with a range of disaster issues, including FEMA assistance, tenant rights and unemployment, in addition to working with individuals hurt by the storm.
She and several colleagues advised one man with both an insurance damage claim and unemployment insurance: he didn't know he had to seek standard unemployment benefits before filing a disaster unemployment claim. "We spent two hours with him, and I could see the importance of patient lawyering," Goldberg said. "For those with legal problems that go to the heart of their everyday survival—shelter, employment, food, benefits—having a lawyer who can represent you can unlock a very mysterious and complex world that is hard to maneuver without an attorney."
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