Since its founding over 90 years ago, Covington has had a strong commitment to public service. The firm encourages all of its lawyers to participate in pro bono work, and devotes significant resources to finding pro bono projects that reflect the diverse interests of its attorneys.
Much of Covington’s pro bono work reflects the firm's commitment to providing legal services to economically disadvantaged individuals and families in our surrounding communities. Our six-month rotation program reflects this commitment by allowing attorneys and staff to work at each of three DC-based legal service organizations -- Neighborhood Legal Services Program, the Children’s Law Center and Bread for the City.
Our pro bono program encompasses a wide range of areas, including freedom of expression and religion; civil rights and civil liberties; gay rights; family law; education; landlord/tenant; homelessness; employment; criminal and court-appointed cases; police misconduct; environmental law; fairness in government procurements and grants; intellectual property; veterans benefits claims, and nonprofit incorporation and tax. The firm is involved in systemic reform projects concerning DC's prisons, public housing, and mental health and juvenile justice systems. Our attorneys are doing an increasing amount of micro-finance and international human rights work. Through our pro bono program, associates have opportunities to play a lead role in representing indigent criminal defendants at trial, on appeal and in habeas proceedings in matters ranging from misdemeanors to capital cases.
The firm's pro bono program is managed by two full-time attorneys in DC and two part-time attorneys in San Francisco and New York who actively seek pro bono opportunities and match new matters with lawyers' interests.
- The American Lawyer magazine has ranked Covington’s pro bono practice among the top three firms for 17 of the past 21 years.
- Since 2003, the D.C. Circuit Judicial Conference has recognized those firms where at least 40% of the attorneys perform 50 or more pro bono hours during the previous year. Covington has achieved this so-called “40 at 50” benchmark each year. This year, 51% of the firm’s DC attorneys reported 50 or more pro bono hours.
- Law360 designated Covington as a 2012 Pro Bono Firm of the Year, noting that dedication to the responsibility of pro bono service “permeates culture of Covington.” Law360 previously named Covington as a 2010 Pro Bono Firm of the Year.
- National Law Journal - Pro Bono Hot List (2013)
- National Law Journal "Champions" - In each of the past three years Covington lawyers have been selected as "Champions" for upholding the profession’s core values through public service, pro bono efforts, and advocacy for civil liberties - Robert Long (2012); S. William Livingston (2011); Anthony Herman (2010).
- Legal Community Against Violence - Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Award (2012).
- Chinese American Citizens Alliance - Champion of Justice Award - for facilitating the passage of legislation expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other legislation that severely restricted the immigration of persons of Chinese descent (2012).
- Washington Lawyers’ Committee - Outstanding Achievement Awards - for work in the fields of DC Prisoners’ Rights and Disability Rights (2012).
- Innocence Project New Orleans - Outstanding Volunteer Counsel - for work to recover compensation for IPNO’s exonerated clients (2012).
- Kids in Need of Defense - Allegiance Award (2012).
- District Alliance for Safe Housing - Keystone Award (2012).
- National Legal Aid & Defender Association - Beacon of Justice Award - honoring “Innovative Public-Private Partnerships that Protect Equal Justice for All through Appellate Litigation” (2011).
- Sanctuary for Families - Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Award - for successful representation of a battered woman from West Africa seeking asylum in the United States (2011).
- National Veterans Legal Services Program - Senator Daniel Inouye Award presented to James McKay for his longstanding pro bono support of veterans (2011).
- The Foundation for Criminal Justice - Certificate of Honor - for Representation of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers before the Supreme Court (2011).
- DC Appleseed - Pro Bono Partner Award - for “Outstanding Work to Revitalize the Anacostia River” (2011).
- Legal Aid Society of New York - Pro Bono Publico Award for Outstanding Service - for extraordinary commitment in an Alabama death penalty case (2010).
- City Bar Justice Center - Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Pro Bono Service - for work with low-income entrepreneurs through the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (2010).
- Children’s Law Center - Children’s Pro Bono Champion Award (2010).
- Human Rights Campaign - National Ally of Justice Award - for work on the DC Marriage Act (2010).
- The Federal Circuit Bar Association - Broadmoor Bench & Bar Award - for work related to the Association’s Veterans Pro Bono Programs (2010).
- United States District Court for the District of Columbia - Daniel M. Gribbon Pro Bono Advocacy Award (2010).
- Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Legal Action Project - 20th Anniversary Honor Roll (2009).
- DC Mayor Fenty - Community Service Award (2009).
- The Nature Conservancy - Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award (2008).
- In December 2008, Covington won asylum for a prominent Iranian journalist, Ms. S. In 2005, an Iranian court had sentenced Mr. S to death for his outspoken support of press freedom and women's rights. The sentence was reduced to three years on appeal. After serving one year, Mr. S was diagnosed with a serious illness, which prison authorities ignored for months before finally granting Mr. S leave to seek treatment. While on leave, Mr. S secured a US entrance visa and fled to the United States. With Covington's assistance, Mr. S applied for and obtained asylum based on the persecution he suffered on account of his political beliefs. After Mr. S's asylum application was granted, Covington successfully obtained humanitarian parole for Mr. S's wife, who had fled to Turkey but was denied a US visa. Humanitarian parole is a rare form of discretionary relief, which permits a foreign national to travel to and remain in the United States. The Covington team lobbied various Washington officials to establish that, in this case, there were unusual circumstances that warranted a grant of humanitarian parole. Mr. S was reunited with his wife in the United States in 2009.
- Though Iraq has faded somewhat from the news, between one and two million Iraqis remain refugees. Often fleeing from death threats by armed groups, many escaped to neighboring countries such as Syria, where they have tried to navigate the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refugee and resettlement process without access to counsel. Working with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at Yale Law School, several Covington attorneys are assisting three Iraqi refugees to appeal USCIS’s decision to reject their applications though they were deemed meritorious by the UN Refugee Agency.
Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
- The firm represents undocumented children who have escaped, often alone, abusive situations in their home countries. Through the KIND program (Kids in Need of Defense), our attorneys help the children remain in this country by seeking a form of immigration relief called SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status).
- We represent siblings J & A MJ, children who arrived in the United States unaccompanied from Guatemala. Their parents sent them to the United States after receiving death threats from Guatemalan gangs against the children. After arriving in Texas and staying in a detention facility for several months, J & A were evacuated from the facility due to Hurricane Ike, and sent to New York, to live with their sponsor, a family friend. The case is now pending before a New York immigration judge.
Children and Education
- Covington provides general corporate and employment advice to RUGMARK Foundation USA, a nonprofit organization working to end child labor in the carpet industry in South Asia.
- In August 2010, the firm contributed to a report published by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, entitled "The State of the District of Columbia Public Schools 2010: A Five Year Update."
- A favorable settlement that the firm obtained resulted in reforms to a North Carolina school system designed to prevent abusive treatment of special needs students.
- In a separate matter, the firm is advocating on behalf of incarcerated special needs youth in Maryland who are not receiving the rehabilitative special education services mandated by state law.
- In yet another case involving a Georgia school system, the firm is challenging the pattern of forcing troubled youth into “alternative” schools that are jail-like and provide no real education. These efforts are an attempt to curtail the “school-to-prison pipeline” problem facing this country’s low income minority youth.
- The firm has successfully concluded a child custody and adoption case in which we represented the prevailing parties pro bono for more than a decade. The child at issue, KT, was born in December 1997 with traces of cocaine in his system. As his biological parents showed little interest in caring for KT, care for the baby was provided by our clients, CM and ETS. They eventually were given temporary custody of KT in connection with a neglect case brought by the District against the biological mother. We filed a complaint for permanent custody on behalf of CM and ETS in September 1998. The biological father, who had never provided overnight care for KT, opposed the complaint. In July 1999, after a week-long trial, the trial court granted our complaint for permanent custody. The biological parents appealed. It took several years for the appeal to be fully briefed and argued and several more years for the Court of Appeals to issue a decision. Eventually, in W.D. v. C.S.M., 906 A.2d 317 (D.C. 2006), the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the permanent custody order and reopen the neglect case. Identifying an issue that had not been raised by either biological parent, the court ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the custody complaint because it concerned a child who was already the subject of a neglect proceeding. The Court of Appeals’ decision in W.D. v. C.S.M. was controversial. In July 2007 the D.C. Council enacted legislation that effectively overruled the decision and made it clear that a trial court does have jurisdiction over a third-party custody complaint in circumstances similar to those of our case. In May 2007, as soon as the case was remanded to the trial court, our clients filed a petition to adopt KT, who by this time was almost 10 years old and was thriving in their care. In January 2008, the trial court held a show cause hearing on the adoption petition, and in July 2008 it issued a decree of adoption in favor of our clients. The biological father again appealed but repeatedly sought extensions of the briefing schedule, so the firm filed a motion to dismiss his appeal. In response, the biological father has decided to withdraw the appeal, thus ending the litigation.