Pro Bono

Since its founding over 90 years ago, Covington has had a strong commitment to public service.  Over the years, the firm has received recognition both nationally and locally for its contributions to the legal needs of persons and organizations of limited means.

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 lawyers 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.  Covington pioneered the loaned associate model over 45 years ago. Since its start in 1969, nearly 300 lawyers have participated in the program.

While many of Covington’s pro bono efforts are anchored in meeting local needs, the firm also has a long history of serving the most vulnerable clients and important causes, regardless of location.  The firm handles numerous death penalty and wrongful conviction cases across the US, as well as other important civil and human rights matters, including class action litigation and systemic reform projects related to homelessness, marriage equality, freedom of the press, juvenile justice, mental health, mass incarceration, and government-sanctioned discrimination.  Lawyers in all of Covington’s offices are also working to advance international human rights and global access to justice, advising hundreds of NGOs focused on improving access to food, water, healthcare, education, economic opportunity, peace, and justice in the world’s poorest regions.


  • The American Lawyer magazine has ranked Covington’s pro bono practice among the top five firms for 21 of the past 25 years, including ten years at number one.
  • 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.
  • Law360 designated Covington as a 2014 Pro Bono Firm of the Year, noting that the firm has worked on “some of the year's most pressing civil-rights litigation, including landmark challenges to New York City's stop-and-frisk policing and an Arizona county's targeting of Latino drivers under Sheriff Joe Arpaio.”  Law360 previously named Covington as a Pro Bono Firm of the Year in 2010 and 2012, and 2013
  • Neighborhood Legal Services Program - Covington was presented with NLSP's inaugural Enduring Impact Award for longstanding commitment to legal services and NLSP as a pro bono and advocacy partner, donor of rotating associates for 45 years, and sponsor of the Howard Westwood fellowships (2014).
  • National Law Journal - Covington was named to NLJ’s Pro Bono Hot List in 2013 and 2014.
  • California Lawyer - Stanley Young received a California Lawyer of the Year (CLAY) Award for trial victory in a class action racial profiling suit (Melendres v. Arpaio), as co-counsel to the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project (2014).
  • B’nai B’rith International - Distinguished Achievement Award honoring Covington's dynamic leadership and demonstrated commitment to diversity and public service (2014).
  • Washington Lawyers' Committee - Outstanding Achievement Awards for work with the Criminal Justice and Disability Rights Projects (2014).
  • Up2Us - Legacy Award (awarded to Paul Tagliabue) (2014).
  • Voices for a Second Chance - Charles A. Horsky Civic Leadership Award (awarded to firm chairman Timothy Hester and public service committee chair Alan Pemberton) (2014).
  • Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia - Klepper Prize for Volunteer Excellence (awarded to Stephanie Doebler) (2014).
  • Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center - Access to Justice Award (2014).
  • Center for Constitutional Rights - Legal Partnership Award for successful challenge to NYPD stop-and-frisk policies (2014).
  • Law Students in Court - Celebration of Service Award (awarded to Tom Williamson) (2014).
  • Connecticut Fair Housing Center - George J. and Patricia K. Ritter Pro Bono Award for fair housing work (2014).
  • DC Appleseed - Pro Bono Partner Award - for 20 years of support since the organization's founding (2014).
  • GlaxoSmithKline Litigation Summit - Public Service Firm of the Year (2014).
  • National Law Journal "Champions" - Three Covington lawyers have been honored 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).
  • National Legal Aid & Defender Association - Beacon of Justice Award (2013, 2011).
  • The Justice & Diversity Center - Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service Award (2013).
  • National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty - Pro Bono Service Award (2012).
  • Legal Community Against Violence - Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Award (2012, 2011).
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • Sanctuary for Families - Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Award (2011).
  • National Veterans Legal Services Program - Senator Daniel Inouye Award (presented to James McKay for his longstanding pro bono support of veterans) (2011).
  • 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).

Recent Highlights


  • Covington won asylum for a prominent Iranian journalist.  In 2005, an Iranian court had sentenced our client 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, he was diagnosed with a serious illness, which prison authorities ignored for months before finally granting him leave to seek treatment.  While on leave, he secured a US entrance visa and fled to the United States.  With Covington's assistance, the client applied for and obtained asylum based on the persecution he suffered on account of his political beliefs.  Covington also successfully obtained humanitarian parole for his 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.
  • 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 children remain in this country by seeking various forms of immigration relief, including SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status).

Children & 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.
  • 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.
Capital Defense & Wrongful Convictions

  • Covington currently handles a total of 11 capital cases: six in Alabama and one in each of the following states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Tennessee.  The firm traditionally has represented clients during the post-conviction phase.  More recently, it has turned its resources to the direct trial and direct appeal stages. In 2012, Covington secured the release of an Alabama client who spent 17 years in prison, most of it on death row.
  • Through our relationship with the Innocence Project of New Orleans (IPNO), the firm has assisted a number of Louisiana exonerees in obtaining compensation for wrongful convictions.  The firm recently obtained $1.88 million in settlements in a section 1983 case for an exonerated client who had served nearly 20 years in prison for a rape that he did not commit.

Prisoner Rights

  • Covington serves as co-counsel with the D.C. Public Defender Service and the ACLU National Prison Project in the 25-year old "Jerry M" litigation, seeking to remedy conditions in the District of Columbia's juvenile corrections system.  We moved for the appointment of a receiver to run the city's Youth Services Administration, but then in lieu of a receiver agreed to a "work plan" process in which both sides agree upon reform efforts under the aegis of a Special Arbiter.  The work plan process has resulted in the appointment of a progressive juvenile justice administration that has made considerable progress toward reforming the system.  We have negotiated the terms of exit criteria that will terminate the lawsuit upon the achievement of agreed performance measures, and the court has approved them.  We have also lobbied the D.C. Council for legislative reforms of the juvenile justice system.  A new model juvenile facility, a keystone of the work plan's requirements, opened in April 2009.  Covington lawyers continue to advocate for progress under the work plan.
  • In response to the U.S. Parole Commission’s expedited scheduling of more than 500 remedial parole hearings, a battery of Covington attorneys mobilized to provide representation to D.C. Code offenders incarcerated in federal prisons around the country.  The Commission’s move came in response to the ruling in Sellmon v. Turner, 551 F. Supp.2d 66 (D.D.C. 2008), in which Judge Huvelle ruled that the Commission’s practice of applying Federal parole guidelines, rather than the District of Columbia parole guidelines in force as of the prisoner’s date of offense, constituted an impermissible ex post facto extension of the term of imprisonment.  Given a second chance to make their case for parole, the hundreds of D.C. offenders eligible under the Commission’s rules faced the daunting task of putting together their parole cases for Commission consideration under the newly applicable parole guidelines.  Over 25 Covington attorneys have answered the call for help from the D.C. Prisoners’ Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, and thus far have represented nearly 40 prisoners at 14 correctional facilities around the country before Parole Commission hearing examiners.  We have helped to obtain paroles in 23 of those cases.

Guantanamo Bay Detainees

  • We represent twelve men currently detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  All have been detained for more than a decade.  None have been charged with any crimes.  From 2009 to 2012, we litigated the cases of seven clients in federal district court, the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court.  The district court found that five of the seven were unlawfully detained and ordered their release; one was released and allowed to return home, while the other four victories were overturned by the court of appeals.  We prepared three petitions for certiorari to the Supreme Court, all of which were denied.  In 2012, we won an order affirming that prisoners who have lost or dismissed their cases retain the right to meet and communicate with their attorneys, and we argued another client’s case in the court of appeals.  We also negotiated a procedure that permitted us to review the personal papers and effects of our client who died in the prison in September 2012, so that his attorney-client privilege was preserved during the government's investigations into his death.  In addition to the ongoing habeas proceedings, our efforts have included: acting as co-counsel in Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S. Ct. 2229 (2008), which held that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus extends to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay; filing amicus briefs and coordinating the amicus effort in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S. Ct. 2479 (2006); and advocating on behalf of our clients’ rights to obtain exculpatory evidence from the government, to be told of the allegations against them, and to confront their accusers.

Employment Discrimination

  • The firm is co-counseling with the Urban Justice Center in representing three former nail salon workers in wage and hours claims brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act and NY state statutes, against the owners of two nail salons in Long Island, NY.  The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the salon owners and operators failed to pay our clients overtime compensation, spread of hours compensation, and minimum wages.  The complaint also alleges retaliation against our clients, asserting rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as age and race discrimination for submitting a labor complaint.  The civil suit is proceeding in parallel with prosecution of the salons and their owners by the National Labor Relations Board.

Race & Ethnicity Discrimination

  • The firm is serving as co-counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights for the plaintiffs in a federal class action lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Police Department that challenges as racial profiling and otherwise unconstitutional the stop-and-frisks of Blacks and Latinos in the City in recent years.  In the past decade, the New York Police Department has stopped and frisked hundreds of thousands of people.  The vast majority of these people were Black and Latino, and most of them were not arrested as a result of the stop.  The trial began on March 18, 2013. (Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.).
  • In Melendres v. Arpaio, Covington took on “America’s toughest sheriff” when it served as lead counsel to a class of Latino citizens in Maricopa County, Arizona, litigating claims of widespread racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).  In December 2011, a federal judge granted class certification and partial summary judgment on the clients’ Fourth Amendment claims that the MCSO unlawfully searched and arrested Latinos, based only on suspicion of unlawful presence in the United States.  The court enjoined MCSO from engaging in these practices.  In September 2012, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the injunction.  The panel held that unlawful presence in the United States, by itself, is not a crime, and that, while unlawful presence is a federal civil violation, the sheriff lacks authority to enforce federal civil immigration law.  Trial on the Fourteenth Amendment claims took place in July and August 2012, and a decision is pending.
  • Covington recently assisted the Chinese-American community to secure a historic victory in the Senate concerning Chinese immigrants who endured decades of discrimination under federal law.  On October 6, 2011, the Senate passed by unanimous consent Senate Resolution 201, which expresses regret for a series of legislative measures passed between 1879 and 1904 that severely restricted the immigration of Chinese persons to the United States and violated the civil rights of Chinese immigrants already living in America.  The centerpiece of these measures, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibited state and federal courts from naturalizing any person of Chinese descent, thereby denying Chinese immigrants the ability to vote and participate in the US political process.  The laws were repealed in 1943, but largely as a military measure to strengthen the China-United States alliance during World War II, without recognizing the civil rights violations that occurred as a result of the laws.  The firm spearheaded the year-long effort to help gain congressional support, serving as pro bono counsel to the 1882 Project, a coalition of Asian-American groups that includes the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, the Committee of 100, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Council of Chinese Americans and OCA, and that also enjoys support from national civil rights organizations.

Discrimination Based on Religious Belief

  • The firm is representing the Sikh Coalition in its effort to ensure that TSA’s new policy requiring the secondary screening of airport passengers wearing bulky items of clothing, including the Sikh turban, does not unreasonably discriminate against members of the Sikh faith.

Gay & Lesbian Rights

  • Covington provided several hundred hours of pro bono support to Marylanders for Marriage Equality – a coalition of organizations, religious leaders, and individuals supporting Maryland’s legislation recognizing marriage equality – in support of the group’s successful effort to protect Maryland’s recently enacted same-sex marriage law from a referendum challenge.  Covington undertook similar work in the District of Columbia a few years ago when it successfully represented a coalition of same-sex marriage supporters in the defense of equality legislation passed in that jurisdiction.
  • Covington recently played a role in challenging the constitutionality of California Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution and eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.  In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the firm prepared three amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs in litigation over the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8.  In all three instances - at the trial court, at the Ninth Circuit, and most recently at the Supreme Court - the firm represented a group of professional social science organizations in briefs that focused on the mental health consequences of institutionalized discrimination in gay and lesbian populations.
  • Working with co-counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights, the firm obtained a settlement on behalf of a lesbian couple and their 9-year-old daughter.  When the parents had taken their sick child to a California emergency room, the hospital staff allowed only one parent to stay with her, forcing the other parent to remain in the waiting room.  In contrast, hospital staff allowed both members of a heterosexual couple to stay with their child in the emergency room.

Women's Issues

  • The firm's Women's Forum launched an initiative to represent immigrant women in asylum, trafficking and Violence Against Women Act cases.
  • The firm provided advice regarding the viability of requesting an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice into the practice of shackling pregnant women at state and local penal institutions, and helped the Rebecca Project design a survey to collect information from women who have been shackled while pregnant.

Domestic Violence

  • In Robertson v. United States ex rel, the firm's appellate litigators pulled out a come-from-behind victory in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The issue in the case was whether it is constitutional to allow a victim of domestic violence to bring a criminal contempt proceeding for violation of a protective order.  We came into the case as pro bono counsel for the victim of the domestic violence after the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari and re-framed the issue in a way that suggested the Court was poised to rule against our client.  Covington persuaded the Court to dismiss the case as "improvidently granted."  The Court’s closely-divided vote dismissing the case left the D.C. Court of Appeals' decision in our client's favor as the final decision in the case.

Gun Violence Prevention

  • In 2013, Covington hosted a workshop for gun violence prevention advocates from across the country who convened in Washington DC to lobby for the passage of a national gun violence prevention law.  In 2012, we assisted the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in an effort to prevent the passage of the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act.  The firm also routinely works on amicus briefs with the Brady Center and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


  • We handle regular requests for assistance on projects for The Nature Conservancy ("TNC").  The firm has advised on multiple series of Latin American debt for nature swaps and provided advice in connection with TNC’s efforts to explore projects in India and Micronesia.  We have assisted TNC with various organizational/regulatory issues, and advised on intellectual property issues involving TNC’s research efforts and collaboration with public agencies, universities and private parties.  The firm also has provided research and advice on treaties and national laws concerning IP rights of indigenous peoples and IP advice on the patentability of technology developed during TNC projects.  Finally, the firm is providing assistance in designing a FCPA compliance program for TNC's international efforts, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and providing research about liability issues related to controlled burn sites.
  • The firm advises the Coalition for Rainforest Nations on policy initiatives undertaken in the global climate change negotiations.  The principal aim of the Coalition is to represent the views of its member governments in support of the inclusion of credits for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the global climate change regime.  The Coalition currently has the support of the Governments of Bangladesh, Belize, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo, Colombia, Costa Rica, DR Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Fiji, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Thailand, Uruguay, Uganda, Vanuatu and Viet Nam.
  • The firm is working with DC Appleseed to restore the Anacostia River.

International Media Law

  • On behalf of the Professional Media Program of the International Research and Exchange Board, Internews, the International Center for Journalists, the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, and the Global Internet Law Project (a joint venture of Internews and the Center for Democracy and Technology), we have undertaken substantial media law reform efforts in some 30 countries.  We have commented on and advocated changes in media laws in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.  We have traveled to meet with members of various parliamentary bodies and have advocated changes in favor of free expression, even-handed regulation of broadcast media, effectiveness of freedom of information legislation, and fairness of defamation legislation.  Countries have included East Timor, Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Turkey, Indonesia, Mongolia, Rwanda, Bahrain, Yemen, Somaliland and Jordan.  We also have conducted workshops for journalists and policymakers in a dozen countries.


  • An associate with the firm’s London office traveled to Beijing to assist the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) at the 2008 Paralympic Games, which took take place between 6 and 17 September 2008.  The associate advised the IPC on matters relating to anti-doping rule violations and assisted the IPC in ensuring that its Doping Control Programme was compliant with the IPC Anti-Doping Code, the World Anti-Doping Code and the provisions of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games’ Doping Control Guide.  The associate assisted the IPC with procedural issues that arise at the anti-doping rule violation hearings and arbitrations that will be set up and run at the Paralympic Village.  The firm continues to deal with anti-doping cases involving a British swimmer and a Russian power lifter and to advise the IPC on issues relating to classification, a complex system of ensuring that athletes compete in the appropriate disability class.
  • In relation to an engagement with Public International Law and Policy Group, associates from the D.C. office traveled to Tanzania to discuss human rights issues with members of Tanzanian government and civil society organizations in a three-day workshop on international human rights standards for the protection of marginalized groups.


  • Since 2002, the firm has provided a variety of transactional legal services to FINCA International, a nonprofit that makes micro-loans to small groups of individuals in underdeveloped countries, the vast majority of whom are women, for the purpose of starting or expanding their businesses.

Disaster Relief

  • Following the disastrous Haiti earthquake, Covington attorneys worked with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to support the Haiti Aid Accountability Project (HAAP).  Established by several international aid organizations, HAAP is a one-year project to promote the long-term sustainability of recovery and rebuilding efforts in Haiti through a human rights-based approach to international aid.  Covington lawyers are advising the RFK Center on how to implement a rights-based approach, including surveying community-based complaint mechanisms and evaluating extraterritorial human rights obligations of the United States when it acts as a donor state, including the extent to which the United States must respect the economic, social, and cultural rights of foreign aid recipients.


  • Covington recently assisted a group of workers in recovering severance pay from their employer.  When the employer, LandAmerica Financial Group (LFG), declared bankruptcy, it owed $650,000 in severance pay to 127 workers fired in the weeks before bankruptcy.  The Bankruptcy Code grants priority treatment to a portion of severance pay “earned” in the 6 months before bankruptcy.  LFG’s priority claims received 100% payment, non-priority claims only 28%.  LFG’s trustee sought to pro-rate each severance claim, arguing that each worker “earned” severance over the life of employment, not when fired.  He thus granted priority to only 5% of the $650,000 in severance claims.  The bankruptcy court accorded the claims full priority, and the trustee appealed.  Covington offered the workers pro bono representation, obtained expedited briefing and oral argument, and secured a unanimous, published opinion accepting our clients’ position.  As a result of the ruling, our clients received their severance payment checks.  The Fourth Circuit’s ruling that severance pay is earned at firing is the first Circuit Court opinion on this issue and should be influential nationwide.
  • The firm represented a low-income debtor in a Chapter 7 adversary proceeding in Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York.  The client is a 64-year-old mentally disabled man seeking to discharge his student loans.  The firm defeated the defendants’ motions for summary judgment and on the day trial was set to begin, the parties reached a settlement that was highly favorable to our client.
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"Pro Bono Firms Of 2014: Covington & Burling" Law360 (2014)

B'nai B'rith 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award Video 


2013 Annual Report

Pro Bono Newsletter Winter 2015

Pro Bono Newsletter Fall 2014 



Kelly D. Voss
Pro Bono Counsel

Pro Bono Manager - DC Office

Andrea Fitanides
Pro Bono Manager - CA Office

Pro Bono Manager - NY Office