Within a day of Russia launching attacks on Ukraine, leaders at some large U.S. law firms said they were preparing to provide legal assistance to refugees, as large numbers of people in Ukraine face the looming threat of displacement.
Jenny Rikoski, partner and co-chair of the pro bono committee at Ropes & Gray, said the firm, ready to provide humanitarian immigration support, is now getting organized so it can “move quickly to help on these cases.”
While it’s too early for some programs of pro bono refugee work, that could change soon, Rikoski said Thursday. For now, the firm is collecting a network of volunteers. Within a week, “the flood gates” may open for referral clients, she said, depending on what happens in Ukraine.
In an email, Kim Koopersmith, chair at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said the firm is “anticipating that this crisis will create refugee and humanitarian issues and we have begun to focus on how those issues can be addressed by our firm and in partnerships with other firms and NGOs.”
Meanwhile, at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, chair Brad Karp said the firm is “activating our pro bono machinery to handle the expected flood of refugee/immigration/asylum cases.” He said the firm is also using its contacts to help those most vulnerable in Ukraine find safe refuge.
“The situation is so tragic on a humanitarian level and so inexplicable on a geopolitical level,” Karp added.
Once a firm is referred cases, there are immediate ways lawyers can help refugees, including helping anyone who is Ukrainian and in the U.S. apply for asylum, said Rikoski, of Ropes. Another program, called Humanitarian Parole, allows people who haven’t gone through the traditional visa process to come into the U.S.
Ropes and other firms also have a number of pro bono partners, such as the International Refugee Assistance Project, that they anticipate working with.
The extent of the refugee work entailed may depend on whether the U.S. government sets up any special program to help people from Ukraine come to the U.S., Rikoski said, as well as on the length and complexity of the conflict. Law firms’ pro bono leaders will be closely monitoring in the upcoming days.
“We have lawyers with lots of experience, who have taken similar cases for people from lots of countries,” she said. “We just need to see what the humanitarian crisis looks like.”