We are proud of our long and storied history of pro bono work. Our commitment to pro bono excellence began with our founders in the early 1950s.
Arnold, Fortas & Porter was the only major law firm in the United States willing to represent the victims of McCarthyism. In 1950, Senator McCarthy made a false charge that an Asian affairs expert named Owen Lattimore was the "top Communist espionage agent" in the country, instantaneously making Lattimore the most reviled man in America. Within hours, future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas (soon joined by Thurman Arnold) signed on for a bitterly protracted legal battle, including the longest ever grilling of a single person by a congressional committee, as well as an indictment for perjury because Lattimore denied being a Communist "sympathizer."
The firm ultimately defeated all of these charges, and its courage in taking Lattimore's case brought numerous other victims of McCarthyism to our door. At their height, our lawyers were devoting approximately half of their working hours to such pro bono cases. Our founders' stand for justice set a standard for commitment to public service that has been a core value of our firm ever since.
The most famous chapter in our pro bono history soon followed. In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court appointed Abe Fortas to represent a poor drifter named Clarence Earl Gideon, who had been convicted of burglary after his request for a court-appointed lawyer was denied. After hearing what Justice Black later said was the greatest oral argument he ever heard, the Supreme Court issued its historic decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, creating an important right that all Americans now recognize—the right of all persons accused of serious crimes to be represented by counsel.
Over the years, Arnold & Porter LLP has worked on many other trailblazing pro bono cases:
The lessons of our history are not to be found exclusively in the headlines. We have learned that the legacy of cases like Gideon v. Wainwright is that legal rights often mean little without lawyers to vindicate them. In the long run, justice comes not only from test cases seeking to establish new legal rights; it also relies on finding lawyers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and demand justice for families facing eviction, for the victims of domestic violence, for refugees seeking political asylum that is their only defense against certain death if they are deported, and for countless other individuals who seek justice.
We continue this work every day. Because, at Arnold & Porter, our legacy is our future.