Wilson Sonsini: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

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!

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