Wilson Sonsini: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

Sanctuary has had the pleasure of partnering with talented Wilson Sonsini professionals on matters ranging from uncontested divorces to parole preparation for incarcerated survivors to asylum cases to immigration relief for survivors of trafficking.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*


Since first partnering with Sanctuary in 2016, law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati (WSGR) has become a steadfast supporter of survivors of gender-based violence through its truly robust and diverse pro bono practice. In the last year alone, Wilson Sonsini attorneys contributed over 2,000 pro bono hours, making the firm one of our top ten most active pro bono partners. Sanctuary has had the pleasure of partnering with talented Wilson Sonsini professionals on matters ranging from uncontested divorces to parole preparation for incarcerated survivors to asylum cases to immigration relief for survivors of trafficking. We are deeply grateful for their support and excited to highlight some recent successes Wilson Sonsini’s teams have secured for survivors.

Parole preparation, Ms. M 

Associates Alexia Syrmos and Fran Jennings, and partner Chul Pak recently worked with an incarcerated survivor, Ms. M, as she was approaching her appearance before the Parole Board. Ms. M was granted parole in February and released to be with her family this past March.

Ms. M was serving a 5-year sentence, lowered from the original 15 years, for fatally stabbing her ex-husband with a knife when he and two other people attacked Ms. M and her then-girlfriend in the street. Ms. M’s traumatic experiences of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband were never discussed at the time of the plea.

As previous blog posts have mentioned, in New York State, incarcerated individuals are not entitled to legal representation in their parole hearings. The burden falls entirely upon them to convey their remorse and rehabilitation, while simultaneously discussing a highly traumatic incident in their lives and responding to difficult questions from the Parole Board. As such, Sanctuary has been partnering with law firms to prepare individuals in advance for their parole hearings, both by conducting mock interviews and by putting together parole packets advocating for the client’s release.

We reached out to Alexia, Fran, and Chul to hear about their experiences working with Ms. M on this case. Alexia responded, “Working with Ms. M has, without any reservation whatsoever, been the highlight of my legal career. Ms. M is one of the kindest, most thoughtful individuals that I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Throughout the entirety of this process—a deeply personal, uncertain, and painful one—Ms. M was a beacon of hope. Even over the phone, you could feel positivity radiating off of her. Ms. M is the sort of person who can find a silver lining in everything. She’s always so quick to laugh and extend grace to others, no matter the circumstance.” Alexia noted that she is “beyond excited to see the things that Ms. M accomplishes in the next few years.”

Publication divorce, Ms. B

Associates Zak Kravat and Adam Toporovsky, now an Assistant U.S. Attorney, recently successfully obtained a publication divorce for their client, Ms. B, from her physically and verbally abusive ex-husband. Matrimonial cases provide our clients with critical relief in the form of severing legal ties from their abusers. Publication divorces are a slightly unusual form of an uncontested divorce (a divorce in which there are no issues to be litigated) in that, as a client’s spouse cannot be physically located, the legal team must file a motion requesting that the court allow service of the divorce papers by publication in a newspaper. Staff at Wilson Sonsini, especially Zak, have been incredibly generous with their time and energy on these types of matrimonial cases and have built significant expertise in this area.

“I have been fortunate to work with at least 100 different pro bono attorneys during my time here at Sanctuary for Families. Though they have all been memorable and I’ve been very appreciative of all of the individual pro bono attorneys, I must say it’s been a singular and distinctive honor working with Zak on the multiple cases he’s worked on (at least half a dozen off the top of my head). Even if the case became very complicated and lengthy, he never complained or gave up. He’s been determined, legally creative, and treats each client with the utmost respect, patience, and warmth. It’s a pleasure and honor to work with Zak. I wish I could award him an even greater honor and recognition of all he means to us here at Sanctuary. Thank you Zak.”

Francisco Santiago
Deputy Director, Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project

T-Adjustment of Status, Ms. R 

This February, Sanctuary’s client, Ms. R, received word from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that she had been granted a green card and had officially become a Lawful Permanent Resident. As a survivor of trafficking who assisted law enforcement in the investigation of her trafficker, Ms. R had been eligible for T nonimmigrant status (also known as a T visa). Wilson Sonsini Senior Counsel Jason Mollick headed the pro bono team that represented Ms. R on her T-visa case, with the assistance of Justin Cohen, former associate at WSGR and current litigation counsel at Google (and devoted member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Committee!). When Ms. R became eligible to adjust her status, Jason continued to work with her, ultimately helping her to obtain her green card. Jason has worked extensively on cases with Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, representing clients not only on their Adjustment of Status cases, such as this one, but with the manifold other legal issues that arise for trafficking survivors, such as by filing motions to vacate criminal charges and on applications for employment authorization documents so that survivors can work legally.

Jason reflects, “Working with Ms. R has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying parts of my career. We not only assisted her in attaining valid legal status, but also witnessed first-hand how legal assistance can help someone rebuild their life, start a family, and secure a future. It has been an honor to partner with Sanctuary for Families in this task.”

Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative Jessica-Wind Abolafia writes, “Over a period of seven years, Jason Mollick led a team that not only helped Ms. R and her husband to obtain T visas, but successfully represented Ms. R as a victim witness in a federal investigation, vacated her criminal convictions in two states and four jurisdictions, and assisted her and her husband to secure lawful permanent residency – ensuring unity and permanency for Ms. R and her family. Jason’s dedication, compassion, attention to detail, supervision of the team and trauma informed practice is exemplary.

“I thought for a long time there was no justice. When I met the team they really tried to make me feel comfortable. With everything going on in the world, they made me feel safe to apply for immigration status and to trust in the system. I felt supported. I am so grateful for what they did for me and my husband. I have returned to feel that yes, there is justice.”

– Ms.R, Sanctuary Client

We are deeply grateful to the Wilson Sonsini staff who have supported our work, both the people briefly mentioned in this post and so many others who have also been instrumental in assisting survivors of gender-based violence. We look forward to our continued partnership!


Join the Wilson Sonsini team in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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Cleary Gottlieb: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

Sanctuary teamed up with Cleary Gottlieb to submit an amicus brief highlighting how Florida’s proposed 15-week abortion ban would disproportionately endanger survivors of intimate partner violence.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*


Florida’s House Bill 5 (HB 5) is the latest in a string of proposed state laws restricting access to safe abortions and reproductive care. This controversial bill, which proposes a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is currently before the Florida Supreme Court—the highest state court in Florida— in the case of Planned Parenthood Southwest and Central Florida v. Florida. This law, like any law curtailing reproductive rights, gives abusers another powerful tool by which to control their victims. Sanctuary’s Reproductive Rights Working Group, co-chaired by Sanctuary attorneys Anne Glatz and Luba Reife, recently teamed up with Cleary Gottlieb to submit an amicus brief highlighting the danger this proposed ban would disproportionately pose to survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). We reached out to authors Jennifer Kennedy Park, Sarah Gutman, Lilianna Rembar, and Caroline Soussloff—all of whom are Floridian or have Floridian family members themselves—to learn what participating in this project meant to them.

Partner Jennifer Kennedy Park explained, “I was raised in Florida and still have family living there so I was horrified at the passage of HB5.  … Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we’ve seen the terrible impact of the reversal of Roe v. Wade.  As we feared, states are passing increasingly restrictive and dangerous bans on abortion—with no regard for women’s lives, health or autonomy. I personally, along with thousands of other law firm partners, committed to fighting for reproductive freedom in a call to action in the American Lawyer that, to date, more than 2,650 women partners from nearly 200 law firms have signed on. This brief is part of that commitment.” Associate Sarah Gutman added, “Abortion bans like Florida’s HB5 harm all people, but the devastating consequences will fall heaviest on those who are already the most marginalized. That’s why it’s so important for all of us—including law firms—to work to protect and expand access to abortion. It can literally be a lifesaver.”

While clear logical links exist to suggest that pregnant people in abusive relationships will be disproportionately impacted by such legislation – for example, the fact that many abusers attempt to restrict their partner’s birth control options as a means of imposing control and restricting their bodily autonomy – the statistics nonetheless are truly staggering. Women who have experienced IPV are nearly three times more likely to report that their partner made it difficult to use birth control, increasing the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Sarah Gutman noted, “I was particularly glad that [the amicus brief] highlights the links between gender-based violence (GBV) and denial of abortion access.  Abortion bans and GBV are different sides of the same coin—both are attacks on bodily autonomy.  They create barriers to full social, economic, and political equality regardless of gender.” As the amicus brief explains, in addition to facing universal barriers to care, such as financial restrictions, etc., pregnant victims of IPV are frequently subjected to harassment, surveillance, intimidation, or interference by their abusive partners while attempting to access reproductive health services. Research also shows that pregnant people subjected to GBV are more likely to seek abortion or prenatal services later into their pregnancy than others. Given that most people do not know that they are pregnant until six or seven weeks into the pregnancy, a ban at 15 weeks would force a survivor of IPV to consider their options and make all necessary arrangements to overcome these challenges in a very short period of time. Associate Lilianna Rembar adds, “Forcing pregnant Floridians to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the 15-week ban will especially harm victims of gender-based violence who face physical, psychological, and financial adversities, along with other barriers to obtaining abortions.”

“Forcing pregnant Floridians to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the 15-week ban will especially harm victims of gender-based violence who face physical, psychological, and financial adversities, along with other barriers to obtaining abortions.”

-Lilianna Rembar, Associate

Due to sexual violence or reproductive coercion, IPV increases the risk of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, which in turn increase the risk and severity of IPV. Resulting pregnancies from these abusive relationships threaten to create lifelong legal ties tethering the victim to their abuser and are often used as tools of control themselves. Additionally, pregnancy places victims of IPV at severely heightened risk of an escalation of physical violence: Femicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant and post-partum women in the United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries. Pregnant and postpartum women in the United States are more than twice as likely to die by homicide than by any other cause. Associate Caroline Soussloff reflected, “I was galvanized to learn that the leading cause of death in pregnant women in the United States is homicide—I hope that Florida’s judges and politicians will be too. I hope that fact, and the other data and stories included in our brief, will help to root their decision-making in the experiences of the one in four American women who obtain abortions.”

“The pro bono team from Cleary Gottlieb exceeded expectations at every step of the process. Faced with a very short deadline, the Cleary team immediately jumped into action and impressed us with their keen insights and erudite, nuanced grasp of the issues. The end result was a compelling and highly persuasive brief that concisely but thoroughly illustrated the impact of reproductive rights restrictions for survivors and victims of gender-based violence in general, and the impact of HB5 on Floridians subjected to GBV in particular.”

Anne Glatz
Senior Staff Attorney, Sanctuary for Families

We are incredibly grateful to Cleary Gottlieb for representing Sanctuary for Families in this advocacy. The brief, which was submitted on March 9, was signed by organizations and individuals including Legal Momentum, The National Organization for Women Foundation, The Rapid Benefits Group Fund, Women for Abortion and Reproductive Rights, Margaret A. Baldwin, JD, Professor Cyra Choudhury, Professor Donna K. Coker, Professor Zanita E. Fenton, Doctor Kathryn M. Nowotny, PhD, and Jodi Russell. We are thrilled to work in collaboration with these outstanding individuals and organizations and are committed to conducting continued advocacy from the perspective of GBV service providers as the reproductive rights landscape continues to change in dangerous ways for survivors.


Join the Cleary team in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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Kasowitz Team Secures Parole for Incarcerated Survivor of Gender Violence

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Kasowitz team for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of “Amanda.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring a Kasowitz team for its dedicated advocacy in successfully securing parole for “Amanda,” an incarcerated survivor of gender-based violence. This representation included both parole preparation, as well as preparation for a parole rescission hearing, and ultimately was a major factor in the client’s release. We are thrilled to highlight the work of Kasowitz’s Nefertiti J. Alexander, Partner; Teresa Matushaj, Counsel; Binta A. Watkins, Staff attorney; Christina Lewis, Associate; and Katrina Bader, Law Clerk.

When the Kasowitz team first met their client, Amanda, she was incarcerated for identity theft and larceny. She had served a third of her sentence and would be up for parole in four months. In New York State, incarcerated individuals are not entitled to legal representation in their parole hearings. The onus falls entirely upon them to convey their remorse and rehabilitation, while simultaneously discussing a highly traumatic incident in their lives and responding to difficult questions from the Parole Board.

The Kasowitz team diligently set about preparing Amanda for her hearing through mock interviews and, equally importantly, bolstering Amanda’s self-confidence and sense of preparedness. At the same time, they put together a compelling parole packet that included statements from Amanda and her friends and family, records of her highly successful performance in various programs while incarcerated, and discussions of the support she would receive and the plans she had for her life post-release.

Like all of Sanctuary’s clients, Amanda is a survivor of gender-based violence and compound trauma. She has suffered a lifetime of abuse, beginning with sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend when she was only a child, and continuing through abusive relationships as an adult. The value of having a truly trauma-informed, compassionate, and communicative team in such a matter cannot be overstated, and the team’s relationship with Amanda grew stronger and stronger as they worked together. It was a celebration for all when Amanda was granted parole. Director of Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer reflects, “At the time [the team] started working with her, Amanda was struggling with the conditions of her confinement, and was receiving little support. The team immediately stepped in, formed a strong bond with Amanda, and assisted her in every possible sense. They helped her prepare for her parole hearing, and they also made a tremendous difference in her life and self-confidence, through their trauma-informed, compassionate, and skillful work.”

However, after parole was granted but before her release, Amanda received—unfairly, we believe—a disciplinary ticket from a correctional officer that put her at risk of potential revocation of her parole. The team jumped in again to prepare their client and represent her in her rescission hearing, and their zealous advocacy helped Amanda to secure her release the following month.

“The Kasowitz team formed a strong bond with Amanda that allowed her to begin addressing and processing her trauma. Their compassion and patience not only helped Amanda secure her release from prison, it also allowed her to tap into her own strength and emerge as someone who was more confident, self-assured, and ready to begin a new chapter in her life. The Kasowitz team was a true friend and advocate for Amanda, and they went “above and beyond” in support of their client.”

Ross Kramer
Director of SFF’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative

Sanctuary is thrilled to honor Nefertiti, Teresa, Binta, Christina, and Katrina for their tremendous legal abilities and dedication to their client.


Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Kasowitz’s outstanding pro bono work.

PURCHASE TICKETS

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.


Romy Felsen-Parsons is Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.

Cleary Associate Uses Trauma-Informed Approach in Advocating for Survivors

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring Cleary Gottlieb associate and former Cleary Gottlieb Fellow Morton Bast for her trauma-informed advocacy in working with two survivors of domestic violence.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring Cleary Gottlieb associate and former Cleary Gottlieb Fellow Morton Bast for her trauma-informed advocacy in working with two survivors of domestic violence. Morton worked with both clients for over a year, going so far as to take both cases with her back to Cleary Gottlieb in order to continue her legal representation from the firm.

In a previous Pro Bono Spotlight, Sanctuary for Families highlighted the work that Cleary associate Morton Bast did as a Cleary Gottlieb Fellow at Sanctuary. This groundbreaking new Fellowship placed Cleary associates full-time at legal services organizations for one full year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities during the pandemic while enabling Cleary Fellows to continue expanding their skill sets and pursue their specific interests. This year’s Above and Beyond Awards ceremony will honor Morton for the extensive work she did with two clients, Ms. D and Ms. O, both at Sanctuary and later at Cleary Gottlieb.

After being trained on how to approach trauma-informed, client-centered advocacy, Morton diligently and immediately set about putting these ideals into practice. Providing legal services to survivors of trauma, while extremely rewarding, of course, poses its own unique challenges, and Morton quickly learned that trauma can interfere with a person’s ability to recall details and to tell a coherent story of their experiences. One client, Ms. D, was deeply traumatized by her experiences of severe domestic violence and, as a result, extremely anxious about testifying in court – in addition to being extremely frustrated by over four years of litigation. Morton worked extensively with the client for hours at a time to gain her trust and prepare her for trial at her own pace.

“One of the major challenges of this case was that the client was not able to share her experiences in the typical structure of a direct examination, i.e. broken up into pieces in response to the attorney’s questions; she really needed to get into the zone and just deliver her story all at once. So rather than trying to force that, Morton and our team reconstructed the direct examination to allow the client to be the most comfortable telling her story on her own terms.”

Jennifer Friedman
Director of Sanctuary’s Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project

When Morton’s Fellowship at Sanctuary ended, she took Ms. D’s case with her back to Cleary Gottlieb. Ultimately, the case was settled at the eleventh hour on the morning that trial was scheduled with a highly favorable result for the client: an admission to domestic violence from the abuser and a 2-year Order of Protection, as well as consent to full legal and physical custody of the children. After this settlement, Morton stayed actively involved in the ongoing visitation case, which was also finally settled recently. Morton engaged in extensive negotiations with opposing counsel, drafted the final visitation stipulation, and was in constant communication with her client to ensure that the final visitation schedule was safe and enabled her to maintain her work schedule. Finally, after three and a half years of litigation, and Morton’s dedicated advocacy, Ms. D’s cases are resolved.

In Morton’s other major case, she drafted a motion for an extension of an Order of Protection for Ms. O, whose abuser, a convicted pedophile, was seeking visitation with their child. Morton, after leaving Sanctuary, continued on this case as well, successfully arguing the motion before the court in August and obtaining a final 2-year extension for the client.

In both the quality of her trauma-informed advocacy and her long-term dedication to her clients, Morton has truly gone above and beyond. Sanctuary is delighted to recognize Morton for her outstanding work on these cases.


Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Morton and Cleary Gottlieb’s outstanding pro bono work.

PURCHASE TICKETS

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.


Romy Felsen-Parsons is Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.