The Paul Fuller Memorial Children's Service Program: Coudert Brothers LLP Globalizes Pro Bono

Sunday, August 1, 2004 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Stephen M. Hudspeth, chair of Coudert Brothers LLP's worldwide litigation practice and head of the firm's pro bono committee.

Editor: Mr. Hudspeth, would you tell us something about your practice?

I joined Coudert Brothers in 1986 from another firm, and my focus has always been in commercial litigation in a variety of areas, including antitrust, securities, white collar crime, alleged frauds against the government, internal investigations, and so on.

Editor: How were you drawn to pro bono work?

Thirty years ago, I began legal work on a pro bono basis for a large newly-constructed Mitchell-Lama housing project for lower income senior citizens in the Bronx. The work was extremely varied, and I was attracted to that aspect of it. There were litigation matters, but I also found myself handling corporate and insurance matters, employment and labor law issues and general not-for-profit law matters. It was an excellent educational experience as well as a very satisfying personal experience.

Editor: You were handling matters of considerable responsibility much sooner than you would otherwise expect to do?

: Absolutely. And in areas of the law in which I had not expected to be practicing at all. Pro bono work is filled with the unexpected, and one of its principal training benefits is that it exposes young attorneys to a great deal of responsibility early in their careers. I can think of few things that concentrate any attorney's efforts more than realizing that he or she is addressing a person's safety or living conditions, perhaps even that person's personal freedom. Young lawyers know all about hard work on client matters as part of a team with each person having different levels of responsibility; however, having personal responsibility for the totality of a matter (with senior attorney guidance, of course) often doesn't happen until attorneys are much further along professionally. Pro bono work can accelerate that process dramatically.

Editor: What are your responsibilities as head of the firm's pro bono program?

For our New York Office, I head a committee that screens projects and provides support and counsel to the attorneys who carry them out. I also continue to undertake pro bono projects myself. With respect to a project that originates in one of our other offices, I am essentially a gatekeeper. I review projects approved by our Office Managing Partners. The place I start from is that we are looking for reasons to take on suitable pro bono projects, not reasons to turn them down.

Editor: Can you give us an overview of the pro bono program at Coudert Brothers?

Service to the communities in which it operates has always been a hallmark of Coudert as far back as when Frederic Rene Coudert organized the fund-raising committee to ensure the placement of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. We are proud of our history of pro bono work that, among many other things, includes saving Central Park from commercial development and much more recently (and over 16 years of effort) also includes getting a prisoner off death row and then securing his release based on discovery of previously suppressed evidence.

There is considerable variety to the pro bono projects that our offices handle - one would expect that of a law firm with 29 offices around the world - but there are undertakings outside of the U.S. that anyone familiar with what our City Bar Association considers pro bono work would also recognize. For example, two of our Belgian attorneys are in a group of only two dozen attorneys admitted to practice before the highest court of Belgium, and they regularly handle pro bono appeals to that court on behalf of people unable to afford representation. Our other European Offices and our Hong Kong, Singapore and Australian Offices also conduct pro bono programs of the sort that would be very familiar to an American practitioner. We operate in a variety of cultures, and we try to be sensitive to what is appropriate pro bono work and what works in each culture

As part of Coudert's 150th anniversary, we are honoring our history with a common thread in pro bono across all of our offices that resonates with our legacy and with the cultures in which we work around the world. The common thread which our Executive Board selected after consultation with our attorneys around the world is children.

Editor: What considerations went into choosing children over, say, prisoners' rights or the environment?

Children were selected both because of the struggles they face around the world and because of one of the early special moments for the Coudert family and later for our firm: the rescue of orphan Paul Fuller, who himself became a lawyer, a leader of our firm and an important figure in the New York legal community. So our children's initiative globally we call the Paul Fuller Memorial Children's Program.
Let me add that this special program has not stopped us from doing the great variety of projects we have done as part of our pro bono practice for years. That variety is important in the professional development of our young lawyers, and it enables Coudert to have an impact across a wide range of legal and social issues.

For example, other pro bono projects include work on criminal appeals in the Second Circuit, a death row case in Florida, and an amicus brief on behalf of the English Parliament (their first-ever filing before the United States Supreme Court) on the Guantanamo Bay case, which contains a panoramic view of the development of principles of restraint on governmental power in England and in the U.S. from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 forward. While partners Ed Matthews and Ed Tillinghast oversaw the work, much of the writing was done by a team led by associate Damion Stodola assisted by first year associates Andrea Lauletta and Rachel Wrightson.

Editor: Please tell our readers some more about Paul Fuller and his career.

Paul Fuller was an extraordinary person. His mother died giving birth to him, and he was left by his father in the care of others in California where his father had originally gone in military service. Paul set out on his own at only nine years old to try, unsuccessfully, to find his father among the Gold Rushers. He then somehow managed to find his way alone across country to New York City, where Charles Coudert, the father of the firm's founding brothers, discovered Paul alone in an alley in 1856.

Young Paul was taken in by the Couderts, who were astounded that he was already fluent in Spanish. He was educated by Papa Charles at his lyceum. He later became a member of the bar and eventually a partner of our firm. In the 1870s, he married Charles' daughter Leonie.

In addition to being one of the most eminent international lawyers of his day, he made a number of very significant public service contributions, and in so doing, set a standard for our firm then and now. For example, he helped to establish Fordham Law School and went on to serve as its first dean. He also devoted himself to the work of St. Vincent de Paul and its orphanages.

So, in striving to make a difference in the lives of children around the world through this 150th anniversary initiative, we seek to honor Paul Fuller and our firm's traditions. I can think of few things that are more compelling than a child in need, and the worldwide dedication of our attorneys to this cause is extraordinary.

Editor: Are there criteria that a program has to meet to become part of the Paul Fuller Children's Program?

In fact, each of our 29 offices around the world has selected its own local charities helping children in need to work with and support. The choices made by our local offices have been varied and interesting.

For example, our London Office has been helping Kids Company with its work to address the needs of orphaned children and recently sponsored a reception for Kids Company held in the House of Commons. The event was hosted by two MP's, and the guest of honor was Cherie Booth QC, the wife of the Prime Minister. Our Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazakhstan Offices, as well as our Washington, D.C. Office, are doing work for Kidsave International. Our Hong Kong Office and our China practice generally are doing work for the Children's Institute of Hong Kong Limited, the Global Children's Foundation, and Po Leung Kuk (Hong Kong's oldest and largest system of schools and residences for orphans).

Our Shanghai Office is doing work for the Shanghai Orphanage, and our Singapore Office is doing work for the Chen Su Len Children's House. Our Sydney Office is doing work for Camp Quality (recreational and educational programs for children diagnosed with cancer). Our West Coast offices are providing pro bono assistance to Reading is Fundamental (LA), the Edgewater Center for Children and Families (San Francisco) and the Palo Alto Children's Library - the oldest free-standing children's library in the U.S. (Palo Alto).
Our New York Office has added an extra children's focus to our ongoing pro bono commitment by providing service to the not-for-profit Legal Services for Children, Inc. on the No Child Left Behind Act, and by handling domestic violence cases for the equally outstanding Sanctuary for Families; work related to teenage pregnancy services for the pre-eminent care facility in New York City for this work, Inwood House immigration asylum cases for the Association of the Bar of the City and for the NYC Immigration Coalition; work for a blue ribbon panel of experts on reform of the foster care system in the City; and cases in the New York City Family Courts involving children and their families.

Editor: You have obviously put a great deal of yourself into Coudert's pro bono work. Would you share with us what it is that you get out of these efforts personally?

The rewards of pro bono work are enormous. We are privileged to be able to step into another person's life and help in often very direct ways, sometimes where a successful outcome can very literally mean life itself. We have the privilege of doing this work as an extension of our professional lives. I am personally very grateful to be a member of a firm that has placed such a high value on the pro bono aspect of a lawyer's responsibility. I find in looking back over three decades of practice that it is these moments - when you know you have had a positive impact on someone's life - that are the ones you most remember.