Good Work

At law firms and in business, many NYU Law alumni carry on the Law School’s tradition of public service through their commitment to pro bono. What drives them to take on this demanding work on top of other significant professional responsibilities? Here’s what some of them told us.

Amelia Starr ’93

Chief Pro Bono Counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell

Amelia Starr
Amelia Starr

As a litigation partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, Amelia Starr ’93 handled commercial litigation, securities litigation, regulatory enforcement, and insolvency work—and always made time for pro bono. In the COVID-19 pandemic, she retired and searched for jobs with more scope for pro bono. But when Davis Polk’s previous head of pro bono retired, Starr realized that she didn’t need to leave the firm.

The pro bono portfolio she supervises is wide-ranging but particularly focuses on immigration, racial justice, and domestic violence matters—often intertwined, Starr notes. One example involved a woman who fled Honduras after her husband shot her, raped her, set her on fire, and threatened their daughter. The case suffered a serious setback in 2018 when the Trump administration excluded domestic violence as grounds for asylum. Starr invoked the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) instead: her client’s three hours of harrowing testimony left the judge “literally curled up into a ball,” Starr recalls, and they prevailed under the more challenging standard for CAT.

“NYU Law sends tons of people into public service, and that’s awesome. But what NYU does that’s just as important is it sends people into the private sector with a public service commitment that stays with them. It’s not a clinic you do your third year. It’s a public service ethos that stays with you your entire career. Pro bono can’t be siloed. Pro bono only works if it’s part of your DNA in everything you do.

“I work on interesting, hard questions that matter. People find a safe harbor in the US because of the work I do. They get freed from unlawful imprisonment because of the work I’m doing, and they get justice when they’ve been improperly discriminated against at their workplace. This is no easier a job than when I was a billing partner. But I feel like my practice is incredibly meaningful and important to the people I serve.”


Anne Brooksher-Yen ’06

Vice President, Deputy General Counsel at Celanese

Anne Brooksher Yen
Anne Brooksher-Yen

In 2018, Anne Brooksher-Yen ’06 was an associate general counsel at chemical manufacturer Celanese in Dallas when she teamed up with law firm Haynes and Boone to represent a mother and teenage daughter from El Salvador who had been separated and were seeking asylum based on claims that they had become targets of gender violence. Brooksher-Yen and her co-counsel were successful in reuniting the pair, and their work inspired others at Celanese to become involved in representing asylum seekers. It also prompted Brooksher-Yen to help create Celanese’s first formal pro bono program in 2019.

“Celanese has always been a company that really prioritizes the importance of community service, but prior to 2019, there was no organized way for Celanese lawyers to contribute to legal pro bono causes. The pro bono program created a partnership between Celanese and local law firms—the first was Sidley Austin—to provide a wide-open list of pro bono opportunities to our lawyers.

“Pro bono has had a major and positive impact on my career. In my early career, it helped me gain important skills. As I’ve gotten more senior, it’s resulted in recognition and visibility within my company and community. It also has helped my company with retention. I, along with many of my colleagues, love working somewhere we feel like we have a free rein to take on causes that are important to us.”


Tamar Rosenberg ’03

Partner in Tax and Nonprofit Industry Team Leader at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton

Tamar Rosenburg
Tamar Rosenburg

The pro bono projects taken on by nonprofit law specialist Tamar Rosenberg ’03 tend to track the headlines. After Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Razom, a nonprofit organization focused on Ukraine, received tens of millions of dollars in donations and undertook emergency aid efforts far exceeding its previous operations in scale. Handling matters involving corporate governance, tax exemption, and contracting, Rosenberg worked as part of a Sheppard Mullin pro bono team to support Razom’s emergency relief efforts and its expansion.

At the start of the pandemic, Rosenberg co-led a Sheppard Mullin team supporting the Face Shield Project, which produced and distributed 30,000 face shields to first responders and health care workers when protective supplies were scarce. And after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Rosenberg formed and obtained expedited tax exemption for Effective Law Enforcement for All, a nonprofit co-founded by Sheppard Mullin partner David Douglass that works with community, civic, and law enforcement leaders to reevaluate approaches to policing.

Ukraine flag

“When the war broke out in Ukraine and we all saw the suffering on TV, I was moved to help, like many people. I have found pro bono work to be a way to be more directly involved, beyond making charitable donations. It was very gratifying to support the incredibly hardworking and dedicated individuals helping those in need on the ground.

“NYU Law’s classes on the laws of tax-exempt organizations and philanthropy helped me explore—and begin building skills early on—for my eventual practice in this niche area representing nonprofits. Seeing dedication to public interest law as an institutional value at NYU Law also made an impression on me. My firm’s sincere dedication to making a meaningful impact through pro bono work is one of the factors that led me to want to stay and make partner.”


Noam Biale ’11

Partner and Pro Bono Coordinator at Sher Tremonte

Noam Biale
Noam Biale

When Noam Biale ’11 interviewed for associate positions at law firms, he made it clear that he wanted pro bono work and indigent criminal defense to be a large part of his practice. Sher Tremonte—founded by Justin Sher ’00 and Michael Tremonte ’98—offered him the job of being both associate and the firm’s first pro bono coordinator.

Now a partner, Biale handles highstakes criminal defense matters and complex civil litigation. In his pro bono practice, he has represented immigrants seeking asylum and successfully argued the landmark First Amendment case Burns v. Martuscello, which grants people who are imprisoned the right not to be forced to become informants. Along with other counsel, Biale represented the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol in litigation over their subpoenas.

A member of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panels of both the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, he regularly represents indigent defendants by court appointment.

The Capitol building

“My goal was to be a federal public defender. A former assistant dean for public [service] at NYU Law, Deirdre von Dornum, advised me to work for a few years on serious criminal federal defense work at a firm to get experience. At first, I thought firm work would be a means to an end, but I’ve ended up being able to build such a robust public interest practice at this firm while building a retained practice that I find really interesting and that I’m passionate about. This thing that was sort of a means to an end to get the dream job became, for me, an even dreamier job.

“I like having to figure out legal issues in totally different areas of law, and what I really care the most about is representing clients. There’s not so much this division between pro bono and for-profit law. They inform each other. Everything you do on any case informs your practice on future cases.

“My pro bono and CJA clients have taught me a lot about how to be optimistic about human beings and human relationships, even when bigger systems, like the courts, are not producing justice for people. It’s given me a different perspective, I think, on being a lawyer and the practice of law than I might have otherwise had.”


Jennifer Wu ’04

Partner at Groombridge, Wu, Baughman & Stone

Jennifer Wu
Jennifer Wu

In 2021, Jennifer Wu, then a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, co-authored a report published by the Asian American Bar Association of New York and Paul, Weiss that examined rising levels of violence against Asian Americans in New York. Then she was called on to help a victim of that violence. Since then, she has taken on more than a dozen similar cases, advising victims and their families on their rights. Read more about Wu's practice.

“Yao Pan Ma was a gentleman in Harlem who was collecting cans and got beaten. When that incident happened, his GoFundMe raised more than $500,000 in a few days. I got a call from my friend who’s an elected official [asking me to advise the Ma family], and after that case, I started working with more victims who had been the targets of anti- Asian violence. When there’s a case that involves anti-Asian violence, we get called directly.

Protest sign with "Stop Asian Hate"

“I’m providing a kind of one-stop shop to these victims, helping them with not just a criminal case, but probate laws and property laws and whatever else they may need. I also work with the district attorneys, or assistant district attorneys, to communicate or build trust in the legal system. Many of the victims don’t want to talk to the DA. They’re afraid they’re going to get deported. So we’re there to make sure people trust the system, [so] that it’s not like they feel ignored and misunderstood—[which is] primarily how a lot of immigrants feel about the legal justice system, that there’s no justice in the justice system.

“My parents are immigrants [from Taiwan], and so seeing someone like me, who’s a native Mandarin Chinese speaker, be able to come in and explain the law to families and victims, that’s pretty meaningful, especially because I’m a woman, as most of the people who are being attacked are women.”


Jessica Klein ’03

Head of Pro Bono Practice at Sullivan & Cromwell

Jessica Klein
Jessica Klein

After working as a litigation associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, Jessica Klein began leading the firm’s pro bono efforts in 2011. Her cases include asylum, domestic violence, education law, and civil rights matters. Two recent litigations to secure US citizenship for the children of same-sex, binational couples hold a special place in her heart, Klein says. One family had twins, delivered via surrogate; each man had donated genetic material to one of the children, but only one twin was recognized as a US citizen.

“Under the State Department policies at the time, unless you had a biological connection to your child, even if you were the legal parent at birth and were married to the non-US citizen parent, if your child was born outside the United States, the child wasn’t recognized as a US citizen. We fought for the citizenship of these young children and prevailed. Getting to work with families is a privilege because they let you into their lives.

“My clinical work was my favorite part of going to NYU Law. I had the opportunity to work with [Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law] Randy Hertz and [University Professor] Tony Amsterdam as clinical professors, and that really inspired me in terms of becoming a practitioner. When I knew I was going to go into private practice, I talked to Randy Hertz about how to make sure public interest would be a part of my practice. He was very respectful of my question and gave me some advice. And when I was a first-year associate, within a month of starting at my firm, I opened a new pro bono matter to take on an amicus brief on a criminal justice issue—taking on the matter from a lawyer at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund whom I had interned for through my clinical work at NYU Law.

“While I was doing paying client work as a commercial litigator, I always had a very significant pro bono docket. My colleagues knew that pro bono work was important to me, and I was always supported at the firm, whether I was going to Guantánamo to represent a detainee or going to family court in the Bronx.

“In terms of goals for the future, I want to continue to find areas of need where the exceptional lawyering abilities of my colleagues can bridge the justice gap, and to be a part of that work. And to help lead and inspire others to continue to do amazing things in pro bono. I have a great job.”


Emma Lindsay LLM ’03

Partner at Withersworldwide

Emma Lindsay
Emma Lindsay

At the beginning of her career, Emma Lindsay LLM ’03 believed that seriously committing to public service or private practice might be an either-or proposition. But today, as a partner at the global law firm Withersworldwide, she is US head of the firm’s international arbitration and public international law practice—and the first leader of its worldwide pro bono practice, overseeing attorneys across the firm on pro bono matters as well as handling her own pro bono projects.

One of those projects currently involves advising the government of Ukraine as part of a legal task force to support accountability for crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, she led a Withers team that filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court on behalf of United Nations human rights officials in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The brief argued that overturning constitutional protections for abortion would be “out of step with the rest of the world”—a point, Lindsay notes, that was made by the dissent.

US Capitol Building

“As a young lawyer with a human rights background, I thought I’d go to a New York law firm for two years, I’d get those hard legal skills that US firms drum into you as a junior associate, and then I’d go back to ‘saving the world.’ And here I am nearly 20 years later, still in private practice. I have been able throughout my career to be part of—and then, as I’ve grown in seniority, to mobilize—teams of lawyers to do pro bono in a law firm setting in a way that I think goes back to that original desire to do good. If you know it’s something you want to do, pro bono is a good thing to start early, when you join a firm, perhaps when you’re ramping up and not yet so busy on fee-paying work, and have it be just something you do as part of your practice. Once you start, it’s pretty hard to let it go.”


Jacob Kreilkamp ’03

Partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson

Jacob Kreilkamp
Jacob Kreilkamp

Before law school, Jacob Kreilkamp ’03 worked for nonprofit PEN American Center, advocating on behalf of imprisoned writers and journalists. He has maintained his commitment to public service at Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles, where he is now a commercial litigation partner and co-chair of Munger’s Pro Bono Committee. Kreilkamp focuses his pro bono work on civil rights cases, most of them aiming to bring about changes in law enforcement practices, and often partners with the ACLU of Southern California. Last year, he received the organization’s Advocate for Justice Award “for being a stalwart champion of the ACLU SoCal’s mission and a mentor to other...lawyers, often on complex, urgent cases.”

ACLU Building with mural

“When I came to Munger, I wasn’t sure how long I would stay and I thought maybe I would go off and become an ACLU lawyer one day. But what I quickly discovered is I could work with the ACLU and bring all the resources of my firm to bear in those cases—really basic stuff that when you practice in Big Law is second nature, like being able to send a car to pick a witness up, or to have paralegals put binders together so the attorneys could be focusing on the questions they were going to ask. So it’s a very different path to accomplishing the same sorts of goals.

“[Working on pro bono matters as an associate] was an amazing experience for me because not only was it fun and righteous to be doing this work, but I was learning how to run big, complex civil cases. I was able to translate what I was learning—from handling discovery responses to taking depositions to arguing motions—to my paid work.

“At my firm, we do two broad categories of pro bono litigation. Some of my colleagues do individual client services stuff, like asylum matters, where you’re working directly with individuals and getting them some relief. That can be incredibly rewarding, of course. I’ve always veered more toward so-called impact litigation, where I’m trying to bring about some kind of systemic change through litigation.”


Richard Mason ’87

Senior Partner and Chair of Restructuring and Finance at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Richard Mason
Richard Mason

An Eagle Scout, Richard Mason ’87 says that Scouting was critical to building his character and helping him face adversity. Decades later, he returned the favor, leading the 250 independent Local Councils of Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as they navigated the BSA’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which culminated in a historic $2.5 billion settlement of tens of thousands of sexual abuse claims. He also helped to end the organization’s ban on hiring LGBTQ camp leaders.

Mason as a Scout in 1974
Mason (back row, left) as a Scout, 1974

“It’s harder for someone who is not a litigator to do pro bono work. But I would say that NYU instilled in me a mindset of thinking about community service and about applying the law in ways that help people. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to make a difference for a movement that is very important to me.

“Being at the center of the BSA settlement allowed me to keep together a movement and bring justice to abuse survivors. And it was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had to convince over 10,000 Local Council volunteers across the country to say yes to the settlement. I had to explain to them what this bankruptcy was about— that it’s not our responsibility, because the abuse largely occurred decades ago, and yet it’s 100 percent our responsibility— and at key points I had to tell them hard truths.

“I was not persuaded we were going to succeed, but we kept at it. I think what made it work was my background. I was told by the BSA, ‘You’re an Eagle Scout. You’re the chair of one of our largest councils. You’re a bankruptcy professional with a national reputation. G-d put you on this earth for a reason.’

“My advice to attorneys doing pro bono work would be to pick the spots where you’re going to have an impact and where you can both employ your talents and grow them. And handle the assignment as a real matter. You can’t treat it any other way.”


Deniz Gurbuz ’16, LLM ’17

Associate, Capital Markets Group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Deniz Gurbuz
Deniz Gurbuz

In 2021, Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) honored Deniz Gurbuz ’16, LLM ’17 for her work during the pandemic helping New Yorkers of limited means with unemployment insurance claims. More recently, she has worked with VOLS to provide legal advice, information, and advocacy to incarcerated women, helping them preserve their parental rights, maintain family ties, and plan for reunification upon their release. Through a program operated by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gurbuz helped a formerly incarcerated client set up his own company to paint murals for restaurants. “It was very rewarding to help put my client on a path toward a bright and secure future built on his amazing talents,” she says.

“Paul, Weiss allows us take on significant responsibility in our pro bono matters, even as junior associates, and being involved in pro bono work has allowed me to hone my client relationship and matter management skills. These experiences have also given me insight into all of the steps I will need to complete in order to see a matter to the finish line.

“I find it helpful to set a monthly [pro bono] goal at the beginning of each month. Having a set goal allows me to realistically balance my billable and pro bono workloads, and in particular, brings a sort of predictability to my pro bono practice that makes it far more feasible than simply following an ad hoc method—as it is often difficult to find time on a given day for unplanned pro bono work.

“There’s a power that comes from having a law degree, and it’s important to use that power to help people who are otherwise not familiar with the legal system navigate issues that are central to their lives.”

Atticus Gannaway is senior writer, Alana Grambush is a writer, Shonna Keogan is chief communications officer, Michael Orey is public affairs director, and Emily Rosenthal is public affairs officer at NYU Law. Interviews have been condensed and edited.

Illustration by Wenjia Tang. Photo credits: Dallas Headshots/Clint Swisher (Brooksher-Yen); Adobe Stock/butenkow (Ukrainian flag); iStock/drnadig (Capitol); Groombridge, Wu, Baughman & Stone (Wu); Adobe Stock/Xavier Lorenzo (Protest); Adobe Stock/Nicole (Supreme Court); ACLU of Southern California (ACLU Building); Andrew Zinn (Kreilkamp); Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (Gurbuz)

Posted on September 11, 2023