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Pro Bono

Godfrey & Kahn recognizes that the legal community has a responsibility to ensure that all citizens have access to legal representation when needed and that the justice system operates in a fair and just manner.

Accordingly, the firm encourages its attorneys to devote a minimum of 50 hours each year to pro bono services, and will give full billable hour credit for up to 50 hours of firm-approved pro bono services per year, with the potential for more depending on the case.

There are a variety of ways to provide pro bono services, and the firm encourages its attorneys and paralegals to seek out pro bono matters that are of interest to them. Following are some of the types of legal services that qualify as pro bono and for which the firm will give billable hour credit:

  • Representation or advocacy on behalf of low income individuals
  • Civil rights and public rights law
  • Representation of charitable organizations
  • Community economic development
  • Administration of justice in the court system
  • Law-related education

Case Studies

A sampling of some of the pro bono cases our attorneys have handled are highlighted below.

  • Reforestation and Conservation Project - Osa, Costa Rica
  • Permanent Asylum
  • Baird Creek Preservation Foundation
  • Eastern District Bar Association
  • Ice Age Trail Alliance
  • Indian Nations
  • Izaak Walton League
  • Legal Aid Society Partnership - Small Claims Court, Help Desk Participation, Tax Clinic
  • Modjeska Theatre
  • Political Asylum
  • Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
  • State Prisoner
  • Wisconsin Humane Society

Reforestation and Conservation Project - Osa, Costa Rica

As part of its pro bono program Arthur Harrington of Godfrey & Kahn represented the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) in drafting a three-party agreement with NRF, Neenah Paper, Inc. and Friends of the Osa.

This innovative agreement covered an annual donation from Neenah Paper of an amount equal to Neenah Paper's greenhouse gas offsets, as determined through its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange. Neenah Paper operates three paper mills in Wisconsin and has long history of supporting conservation.

The annual donation will be used to support a reforestation project on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, which is widely considered a global conservation priority by conservation organizations. In particular, the Osa Project will sequester carbon, protect and restore viable biodiversity, and create new habitat for endangered wildlife including neotropical migratory birds. These efforts are in part to restore deforested and degraded land adjacent to the Corcovado National Park in the southeastern portion of the Golfo Dulce Forest. Under the agreement, any rights to carbon sequestration credits associated with the restorative portion of the Osa Project covered by agreement are retained by Neenah Paper. The Osa Project is also especially important to Wisconsin residents because it is the migratory home of 54 native Wisconsin species of birds, 18 of which are state conservation priorities and three of which are listed as threatened.

Permanent Asylum

A team of Godfrey & Kahn attorneys helped prevent the deportation of a Salvadoran man seeking asylum in the United States. The Salvadoran man arrived in the U.S. in 1995 and immediately applied for asylum because he knew that he would face a constant threat of violence due to his sexual orientation if deported to his home country.

After his application was denied and deportation proceedings began in 2007, Godfrey & Kahn attorneys took over his case. The team of attorneys compiled extensive documentation on the unfavorable conditions for individuals like their client in El Salvador, including declarations from experts in El Salvador, Costa Rica and the U.S. They were able to prove his well-founded fear of persecution in his home country, and as a result, he was able to apply for permanent residence.

With the help of our attorneys, the U.S. Immigration Court in Chicago granted the man permanent asylum, which quite possibly saved his life. After years of fearing deportation to a country where he would be subjected to assault, possibly murder and the constant threat of violence, our client now has a home in the United States.

Baird Creek Preservation Foundation

In 1997, a group of concerned urban conservationists in Green Bay, Wisconsin, spearheaded the acquisition of 35 acres of wooded slopes along the rapidly developing riparian corridor of Baird Creek. The land contains irreplaceable stands of old growth forest and a diverse sampling of plants, vegetation and animals. The foundation, in partnership with the city, hopes to preserve and restore the land as a quality natural greenway that may be enjoyed by residents and visitors for years to come. The group has also become active in the preservation of the upstream wetlands.

Winston Ostrow helped finalize the original documents when the foundation received its corporate charter and has been involved ever since. His efforts include advising the foundation on contract negotiations with environmental consulting groups, negotiating the acquisition of additional parcels of land, and reviewing funding agreements between the organization and federal, state and city agencies.

Locally, the foundation is regarded as an important environmental achievement and is considered a significant player in regional conservation issues.

Eastern District Bar Association

The Eastern District of Wisconsin Bar Association was formed in June 2002 and is committed to promoting improvements in the administration of justice in the district by reducing costs and delays in litigation, compiling and maintaining a current list of counsel willing to undertake pro bono representations and mediations, offering education to attorneys and the public on practices and procedures of the court, and assisting in overall operations in any way possible.

Many of our attorneys are members of the association, including Matt Wuest, who currently serves as Co-Chair, and Tony Baish, Co-Chair of Godfrey & Kahn's Litigation Practice Group. Tony helped develop Continuing Legal Education programs to prepare lawyers for common pro bono matters. This training is free provided attendees join the Eastern District's list of attorneys who are willing to undertake pro bono representations.

Tony also helped establish a program to aid smaller or sole practitioners accept pro bono cases by establishing a cost reimbursement fund for out-of-pocket expenses. The outcome of this program is pending, but Tony's efforts for the association demonstrate our commitment to the Milwaukee community through pro bono services.

Ice Age Trail Alliance

Our firm provides legal counsel and assistance to the Ice Age Trail Alliance, a nonprofit volunteer-based organization that works to support and protect the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a long-distance hiking trail tracing glacial formations within Wisconsin.

The Ice Age Trail traces back to the 1950s, when Raymond Zillmer, a Milwaukee attorney and avid hiker, worked to preserve the hiking trails of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. His dream was to create a much larger linear park that would trace the route of the most recent continental glaciation and preserve Wisconsin's unique glacial features. He proposed a long-distance hiking path that visitors would enjoy for years to come. In 1980, under the sponsorship of Congressman Henry Reuss, Congress recognized the historic significance of the Ice Age Trail by designating it a National Scenic Trail, in the same category as the Appalachian Trail. Today, the Ice Age Trail Alliance works with the National Park Service and the Department of Natural Resources to manage and support the trail. The Ice Age Trail is over 1,000 miles, and currently over 600 miles of the trail are permanently protected. Godfrey & Kahn assists the Ice Age Trail Alliance in its efforts to protect the remaining sections of the trail.

Ellen Drought, a shareholder in the Investment Management Practice Group, has worked with the organization as Chair of the Development Committee and with respect to corporate governance matters. Ellen has volunteered with the Ice Age Trail Alliance for many years and also serves on the board. Godfrey & Kahn's Real Practice Estate Group has provided critical support with respect to land acquisitions and easements. 

We are pleased to support the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the work they do that carries on Ray Zillmer's vision.

Indian Nations

Our firm supports tribal governments in protecting tribal sovereignty, enhancing tribal self-government and promoting the welfare of tribal members. Many tribes seek to encourage tribal member entrepreneurs, but the growth of private business activity in Indian country has been slow due to many entrepreneurs' lack of resources, experience and credit. In an effort to fill this gap, we established a program to provide free legal services to members of tribes wishing to start their own businesses in Wisconsin. Among the Indian-owned enterprises we have recently assisted are a pet grooming business, taxidermy shop and stove distributorship. Brian Pierson, the firm's Indian Nations Law Team leader, drives these efforts.

Izaak Walton League

Saving the American outdoors for future generations is the soulful mission that started the Izaak Walton League (IWL) in 1922. As one of our nation's oldest and most respected conservation organizations, the IWL supports 300 local chapters and 40,000 members nationwide to protect our country's natural heritage while improving outdoor recreation opportunities.

About 15 years ago, the IWL's local Brown County Chapter received state funding to acquire the Osprey Point property in Bellevue, Wisconsin.Winston Ostrow, shareholder and member of the Litigation Practice Groupin the Green Bay office, immediately offered his legal services pro bono. Winston assisted the chapter in securing a 100-year lease that allows the chapter to manage the property for conservation purposes. He also helped with the acquisition and retention of the property deed and advised the IWL on the restrictions set by the Department of Natural Resources.

Because of Winston's pro bono legal services, Osprey Point is now considered an environmental green space.

Legal Aid Society Partnership

Small Claims Court & Help Desk Participation

With more than 8,000 cases each year, the 27 attorneys on staff at the Legal Aid Society (LAS) in Milwaukee were delighted to hear of our firm's interest in working together to increase pro bono work.

In one particular effort, Karen Dardy, LAS staff attorney, and Paulette Wymbs, LAS legal assistant, presented information to Godfrey & Kahn attorneys and summer associates about their workload, most of which involves tenant/landlord or municipal issues. Karen and Paulette educated us on real case examples, procedures for handling the large caseloads, and handbooks on tenant/landlord and municipal laws. They emphasized that in addition to knowledge of the law and legal system, their success depends upon three unique factors: communication, empathy and patience.

Founded in 1916, LAS is one of the nation's oldest public interest law firms and serves Milwaukee's most vulnerable residents. Wisconsin courts are seeing an ever-increasing number of litigants without legal counsel, mainly because they cannot afford the services. Working directly with the small claims court, which the society helped to establish in 1921, LAS delivers free legal services in three major divisions: civil, guardian and mental disability law. With the majority of cases settling in two to ten days, there are ample opportunities for Godfrey & Kahn summer associates and attorneys to become involved in pro bono efforts while balancing their current work schedule.

LAS also runs the Self-Help Legal Clinic, a walk-in facility at the courthouse where area attorneys and paralegals can answer general questions. Volunteers at the clinic offer one-on-one assistance with forms and procedures and provide referrals to community resources when necessary. They also supply legal information on family law and small claims issues; however, advanced legal advice is not given at the clinic. Attendees are referred to the Wisconsin Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Program upon request.

Tax Clinic

Godfrey & Kahn hosted a Tax Clinic for shareholders and associates. Philip Rosenkranz, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society (LAS), led the clinic and has been involved with LAS's Tax Payer Advocacy & Counseling Services (TPACS) program since its inception. LAS started the TPACS program to begin addressing the growing needs of the Milwaukee community. John McDonald, an associate in the Corporate Practice Group, currently serves as the liaison for the TPACS program and coordinated the Tax Clinic event.

Tax Clinic participants learned about the types of cases in tax court, the certification required for tax court and the process for working with the IRS. The majority of cases in the TPACS program involve assisting taxpayers with IRS audits and handling cases that are scheduled for tax court. The cases usually come from the LAS walk-in clinic, the Milwaukee Public Library, IRS mailings and referrals. TPACS refers all cases involving criminal law issues to other agencies.

Modjeska Theatre

Milwaukee's near south side wasn't the same without vibrant shows playing at the Modjeska Theatre. In hopes of restoring a community's love for the arts, the Johnson family purchased the historic theatre after two years of vacancy in 1988. The Modjeska Theatre Company, Inc. was organized in 1997 as a nonprofit theatre company dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged youth through musical theatre which incorporates important life skills lessons in creative opportunities.

As part of a joint venture with Mitchell Street Development Opportunity Corporation, Godfrey & Kahn shareholder Mike Dwyer assisted in the Modjeska Theatre building acquisition in 2006. His pro bono efforts to date include formalizing the joint venture, acquiring the property, and obtaining a loan for the full purchase price of the acquisition. He is now assisting the joint venture in raising funds for a major theatre renovation, and plans to use historic and new market tax credits in part to finance the project. Michael continues to represent the Modjeska Theatre Company, Inc. in preparing employment and other contracts, drafting event license agreements for rental opportunities, and preparing long-term leases for retail space within the building.

With the help of Godfrey & Kahn, the Modjeska Theatre will continue to provide youth and many theatre goers with a magical experience of the arts.

Political Asylum

For three years, a team of lawyers from the firm fought for the freedom of a Kazakhstan family. A woman and her two daughters, who were converts to Christianity from Islam, escaped religious persecution in Kazakhstan, and possibly even death, by seeking refuge in the United States after being denied asylum in Canada.

Our attorneys gathered countless affidavits from eyewitnesses about conditions in Kazakhstan which they used to prepare expert witness testimony for the three-day hearing. Eventually, the immigration judge rendered a favorable decision from the bench, citing the firm's excellent case presentation.

Other examples of our attorneys obtaining political asylum on behalf of a client include a case involving an Iraqi physician persecuted by Saddam Hussein's regime for his Kurdish ethnicity. Another case involved an Ethiopian woman persecuted for her family's political beliefs after a revolutionary coup. After revolutionary soldiers murdered her father, they imprisoned her and harshly interrogated her about family members who had also been jailed or simply disappeared. Although she was handicapped by polio, the woman escaped from prison, found her way to a refugee facility in Rome, and was taken by a church group to the United States on a temporary medical visa. To avoid her return to certain imprisonment by the new Ethiopian regime, Godfrey & Kahn attorneys fought for her asylum. Now a U.S. citizen, the woman later located her brothers and sisters for a joyous reunion.

These Godfrey & Kahn attorneys found immigration and asylum cases to be among the most professionally satisfying of their careers. The stakes are high and a successful outcome can transform - sometimes even save - the lives of their clients.

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Our firm represented an indigent defendant in an appeal of his criminal conviction before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. On August 28, 2007, the court issued an opinion on the case in which it vacated the defendant's conviction with respect to one of the charges included in his indictment, and remanded the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for a new trial on that charge.

Godfrey & Kahn wrote briefs and conducted the oral argument before Judges Frank H. Easterbrook, Ilana Diamond Rovner and Diane P. Wood of the Seventh Circuit. The attorneys persuaded the panel that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to allow the defendant to provide testimony that would have served as evidence negating the intent element of the charge against him. Given the stringent legal standards that must be satisfied to obtain reversal of a criminal conviction, particularly those who are indigent, this case victory is a rare and extraordinary result.

State Prisoner

When the Wisconsin Department of Corrections refused to offer residential treatment to a state prisoner as part of his sentence, Honorable James L. Martin of the Dane County Circuit Court referred a member of the Godfrey & Kahn Litigation Practice Group, to the case. Previous work with the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin - Madison Law School led to the referral.

An inmate filed motions with the court to modify his sentence because the Wisconsin Department of Corrections had repeatedly refused his attempts to participate in drug and alcohol treatment while incarcerated. Judge Martin requested that a Godfrey & Kahn lawyer assist the inmate in briefing his motion.

The Godfrey & Kahn attorney briefed and argued the matter. Although Judge Martin denied the motion to modify his sentence, based on that briefing, Judge Martin granted a motion to adjust the inmate's sentence to allow the inmate the opportunity to participate in the residential drug treatment program. The Godfrey & Kahn attorney also succeeded in obtaining the modification of another sentence to run concurrent with the inmate's first sentence in order to allow him to participate in the residential treatment program without delay.

The treatment plan was offered through Hope Haven, a Dane County residential facility. Godfrey & Kahn continues to ensure the prisoner receives the proper treatment plan as part of his sentence.

Wisconsin Humane Society 

The Wisconsin Humane Society is always on the lookout for good homes for underappreciated animals. The society has worked with our firm for more than 20 years and has grown significantly, becoming one of the most well known animal shelters in the nation.

Gardner Govan, a shareholder in the Milwaukee office, served on the society's board for 12 years and was president in 2005. He recalls when the organization expanded its services and built the Dalton Center where it operates today. Gardner, who leads the Estate Planning Practice Group, has also provided services to the Humane Society in dealing with bequests from now deceased pet lovers.

Most recently, our firm assisted in the society's merger with the Ozaukee County Humane Society. Patricia Falb, a shareholder in the Milwaukee office, organized the acquisition documents. In overseeing this merger, our firm helped position the organization for many more years of success.

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