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Faced with rising numbers of unsolved murders of transgender women and other sexual minorities, a non-governmental organization in El Salvador called on White & Case’s Global Pro Bono Practice for help.
The call came from Asistencia Legal para la Diversidad Sexual de El Salvador (ALDES El Salvador), an organization that works to protect El Salvador’s LGBT population. Hostility among the country’s political class was preventing the legislative reforms necessary to prevent further violence and safeguard the rights of El Salvador’s LGBT citizens.
ALDES El Salvador asked White & Case for something more expansive than traditional legal assistance: the development of a comprehensive, innovative solution to a growing problem that many partner organizations and leaders in El Salvador’s LGBT community had begun to fear could not be solved.
For a Mid-Level Associate, a Unique Opportunity
Alert to the urgency of the problem, White & Case quickly enlisted a fifth-year associate in New York, Brandon Freeman, who not only held a demonstrated commitment to LGBT rights, but also spoke fluent Spanish. White & Case routinely taps associates with special skills to take substantive roles on important pro bono initiatives, a win-win policy that helps achieve the firm’s social responsibility goals while nurturing the development of the associates’ professional skills. Supported by White & Case partners, Brandon had the chance to essentially lead the project—a role that illustrates the unique opportunities pro bono opens up to younger associates.
Brandon recognized immediately that the task could not be achieved from afar—success would demand boots on the ground. He proposed an intensive two-week trip to El Salvador to meet with Asistencia Legal and similarly focused NGOs, community leaders and politicians, and obtained full backing from White & Case for his trip. Brandon came to listen: Although he had been motivated by his commitment to LGBT rights to take on the project, Brandon resisted the temptation to arrive on the scene as a prescriber of readymade solutions.
His approach allowed Brandon to forge a constructive dialogue with the various constituencies, and he began exploring possible remedies. This on-the-ground experience elevated Brandon’s understanding of the local problem from the abstract to the terrifyingly real. “One of the most formative aspects of the visit,” Brandon recalls, “was speaking with victims of the violence. These face-to-face conversations really brought home the urgency of the problem.”
Ideas in Action: Supporting a Growing Movement
Brandon devised a plan to conduct a comparative analysis of antidiscrimination and hate crime legislation enacted throughout Latin America and the United States, hoping that identifying the most effective efforts elsewhere could help produce a model for action in El Salvador. To act on Brandon’s plan, White & Case quickly assembled a pro bono team comprising lawyers in its Mexico City, Miami, New York and Silicon Valley offices to work with Brandon to conduct the analysis.
With the report in hand, Brandon returned to El Salvador to speak at a panel of NGOs and experts working on behalf of the LGBT population. His remarks were so enthusiastically received that he was soon invited back to work with an even wider audience on an additional subject.
ALDES El Salvador and its partner organizations are working now to enact the report’s recommendations. Though legislative change has been slow in coming, Brandon says he is encouraged by the knowledge that White & Case’s work has helped to energize and shape a nascent movement of LGBT allies in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America.
Inspired by Brandon’s work, White & Case partner Owen Pell wondered whether a similar study could be conducted on behalf of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace & Reconciliation, with which Owen has a longstanding pro bono relationship. Owen asked Brandon to develop a template for comparing the laws of various Latin American countries across different areas of law, a template which might be applicable to these nations’ ongoing genocide-prevention efforts. The prototype templates Brandon produced have now led to a request from 18 nations for inclusion in an ensuing study.
Such outcomes are a not-uncommon side benefit of successful pro bono initiatives, as White & Case has discovered through the firm’s long commitment to social responsibility. One high-impact initiative leads to another; an innovative project in one area has the unexpected effect of suggesting important new directions elsewhere.
In a similar way, pro bono work at White & Case helps associates define and sharpen their skills, leading to lasting—and sometimes unexpected—benefits.
“From the beginning, White & Case entrusted me with tremendous responsibility to shape the project as I and the ALDES El Salvador team thought best,” says Brandon. Owing to this project, Brandon had the chance, early in his career, to take a significant role in conceiving and executing a multi-office project. This opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others made a difference in Brandon’s career, too.
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