Spotlight on Kevin Curnin and Our Public Service Project: Finalist for Chambers ‘Outstanding Pro Bono Program’
Stroock and its lawyers have been shortlisted for five Diversity & Inclusion Awards from Chambers USA this year. In this article, we profile the firm’s Public Service Project, a finalist for Outstanding Pro Bono Program, and Kevin Curnin, a finalist for Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year. Click here to see our other finalists.
When it comes to commitment to pro bono work, Stroock and Kevin Curnin stand apart in many ways.
Kevin, the head of our Public Service Project, is one of the first — and still one of the few — full-time BigLaw partners dedicated fully to pro bono.
In part because of our firm’s relatively small size, the PSP has had to be creative, innovative and strategic about optimizing our resources over the years.
We were among the first firms to focus on transactional or business pro bono, for example, including by developing long-term general counsel relationships with nonprofit clients.
When we set up a GC relationship, we dive deep into the client’s operations to provide wraparound legal counsel. Kevin looks for clients that will, in turn, deeply benefit their communities.
“While most firms prefer one-off matters,” Kevin explains, “we believe this model has a greater payoff for the client — though it also requires a greater commitment from the firm.”
A Banner Year
In 2018, we took a deep dive into this model with four GC relationships: Teens for Food Justice, Emma’s Torch, Kids Rise and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee.
Kids Rise helps low-income public school students in New York City attend college, and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee provides tools and information to support more than 1,700 nonprofits in the greater New York City area. Its member organizations affect areas as varied as education, social services, the arts, religion, philanthropy, health, education and economic development.
Emma’s Torch helps refugees, asylees and survivors of human trafficking begin careers in the food industry by offering them paid apprenticeships, and we guided this client in opening a new location inside the Brooklyn Public Library last year.
We have a similarly close relationship with Teens for Food Justice, a nonprofit that sets up indoor sustainable farms in New York City schools.
We also emphasized immigration work in 2018, largely in response to widespread migrant family separations.
“Although we’re not a firm that had done a lot of immigration work,” Kevin explains, “we understood that now was the time.”
Through the Public Service Project, two Stroock lawyers traveled to El Paso in the summer to aid in reunification efforts, and other lawyers joined the effort remotely.
A team of several Stroock lawyers also traveled to the Albany County Jail to assist hundreds of immigrants who had become inmates, preparing them for credible fear interviews, a crucial step in the asylum-seeking process.
Our firm also helped shape the broader legal arguments being made on behalf of immigrants seeking asylum.
In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions handed down a decision against asylum seekers in In the Matter of A-B. In A-B’s aftermath, a coalition of advocacy groups asked Stroock to analyze Third Circuit case law.
Through the Public Service Project, a Stroock team prepared a memo as a resource to limit the fallout from A-B.
Stroock lawyer Jennifer Recine is separately leading a pro bono immigration case, representing Honduran farm workers in a lawsuit over recruitment fees. She recently secured reversal from the 11th Circuit of a federal district court’s dismissal of contract claims by 11 federal guest workers against their employer.
Outside of immigration, Kevin and the Public Service Project pursue a broad array of civil rights matters.
Regarding reproductive rights, the Public Service Project has worked with some of the country’s leading organizations, including:
- The Center for Reproductive Rights (transactional counsel and key amicus briefing)
- The National Institute for Reproductive Health (researching New York State laws)
- The Feminist Majority Foundation (drafting local quiet zone and buffer zone ordinances)
- Physicians for Reproductive Health (access to contraception briefing)
- The Abortion Care Network
Our efforts for Criminal Justice Reform include work with:
- The National Legal Aid & Defense Association on addressing oppressive fines and fees and understanding public defense fees
- The Vera Institute of Justice on how New York’s courts assess fines and fees
- The Council on American-Islamic Relations on privacy issues related to border searches
- The Southern Poverty Law Center on challenging Tennessee’s life without parole statute
- The nonprofit Reprieve on methods of capital punishment
From the Public Service Project’s founding, Stroock was one of the first firms to become involved in anti-trafficking work. Kevin has since worked with multiple organizations at the state, city and national level to address trafficking, through research, writing, coalitions, litigation and direct representations.
“To borrow a phrase, we hit above our weight. We aren’t big enough to pile up huge hours and measure impact by the sheer mass of our work,” Kevin says.
“We pick our spots, and time and experience have helped us do that. We’ve had the great good fortune of meeting and working with so many great legal services partners and extraordinary clients.”
Congratulations to Kevin and all of our lawyers who support the Public Service Project.
“Inside Look” is a new feature profiling Stroock and its lawyers.