Pro Bono Practices

Our pro bono practice provides assistance in a breadth of areas.


Through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, we provide advice to individual artists and arts organizations on contracts, intellectual property, litigation, real estate, tax and general corporate matters. 

Working with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, we also host legal advice clinics at the firm for artists.  

  • We began hosting legal advice clinics for artists in the fall of 2009 and have held 12 clinics at Davis Polk since that time.

Asylum and Immigration


Through our asylum program, we represent individuals from all over the world fleeing political, religious, sexual orientation or gender-based persecution in their home countries.

Much of our asylum program is conducted as part of a clinic in partnership with Columbia Law School. As part of the clinic, two of our lawyers instruct Columbia law students on assisting clients in asylum proceedings and the students work together with teams of Davis Polk lawyers to represent clients in their claims for asylum.

  • Since the clinic’s inception in 1997, we have represented nearly 200 clients seeking asylum and succeeded in every case.

U Visas and VAWA Self Petition

In conjunction with Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, Davis Polk lawyers represent victims of domestic violence in their applications for U non-immigration visas. A U Visa permits an immigrant crime victim who assists in the investigation and prosecution of the crime to remain in and work legally in the United States for up to four years. After three years, our clients are eligible to adjust to permanent resident status.

In addition, our lawyers assist victims of domestic violence in filing Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions to permit them to obtain permanent resident status independent of their battering spouses.

Furthering our work with Sanctuary for Families, we assist victims of human trafficking with immigration-related legal services.  

  • Since we began assisting crime victims obtain U Visas in 2008, we have helped more than 220 clients.

Civil Rights

We handle civil rights matters, including prisoners’ rights, voting rights, workers' rights, and other forms of discrimination. 

Cases are referred by federal court pro bono panels and our partner organizations such as the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Legal Aid Society, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Prisoners’ Legal Services, among others.

  • We are representing over 100 low-income homeowners defrauded by companies that promised to modify the terms of their mortgages and thereby decrease monthly payments, but instead absconded illegally with the upfront fees they collected.


Our corporate pro bono efforts are focused on a wide variety of areas. We work with nonprofit organizations on business ventures, contracts, corporate governance issues, intellectual property, mergers, microfinance, real estate and tax questions, among other matters. Several of these are described in more detail below.

Some of our corporate pro bono clients include End Rape on Campus, A House on Beekman, the Hispanic Society of America, iCivics, Lighthouse International Film Festival,, SeaChange Capital Partners, the Station Alliance and Wingspan Arts.

  • We devoted nearly 4,000 hours to corporate pro bono work in 2015.

Corporate Governance

Davis Polk provides ongoing corporate governance advice to a variety of nonprofit organizations. Some of our recent clients have included Groundswell Community Mural Project, Minds Matter and the Sylvia Center.

Intellectual Property

The Davis Polk IP Transactional Group advises and counsels pro bono clients on intellectual property-related matters. Our IP lawyers provide advice on IP-related agreements, software agreements, licenses and website-related matters.

Some of our recent clients include the American Skin Association, Case Commons, Classroom, Inc., Groundswell Community Mural Project, iCivics and  

In addition, we have assisted Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts with IP-related clinics held at Davis Polk.


We serve as counsel for several microfinance clients, including Grameen America, MicroCredit Enterprises, Oikocredit, and Pro Mujer. These organizations work to alleviate poverty by facilitating micro-entrepreneurship.

Our lawyers have assisted in drafting loan documentation, employee policies and lease agreements. We have also advised on credit facility matters and handled closings and other transactional matters.

Real Estate

Davis Polk provides ongoing real estate assistance to corporate pro bono clients Financial Services Volunteer Corp., GMHC, Hour Children and Settlement Housing Fund, among others.

Small Business Clinics

Since the spring of 2011, we have partnered with Citibank to participate in the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) small business clinics. NELP, a City Bar Justice Center program, that provides free legal assistance to low-income micro-entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a small business or who already have an existing business.

At two-hour small business clinics, our lawyers have provided advice on business entity formation, commercial leasing, intellectual property, contracts and tax, as well as other issues relevant to low-income micro-entrepreneurs.

We have participated in 12 clinics since we began the program.  

Criminal Justice

Davis Polk works on a wide range of criminal justice matters, allowing our lawyers the opportunity to represent clients in trials or appeals, and to conduct policy and research work. 

Working with the Legal Aid Society and other organizations that advocate on behalf of indigent defendants, our lawyers represent clients in appellate and other post-conviction advocacy, including habeas corpus and 440 motions and advocate on behalf of wrongfully convicted individuals. We advise on matters including setting standards for indigent defense work and we work on various clemency initiatives.  

We serve as counsel to the New York State Justice Task Force, a permanent body created by New York State Chief Judge Lippman to examine the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend reforms. Additionally, we are a founding member of the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Pro Bono Project. 

Other projects have been undertaken in conjunction with the Criminal Justice Act Panel in the Southern District of New York and the Innocence Project. 

We offer our mid-level litigation associates the opportunity to participate in internship programs at the Kings County D.A.'s Office and the Legal Aid Society.

  • Criminal justice matters made up nearly 20% of our total pro bono work in 2015.

Death Penalty

Davis Polk has long provided pro bono legal representation to individuals on death row.

This history includes our representation of Joseph James in the 1977 case in which the New York Court of Appeals held the New York death penalty statute unconstitutional, changing the trajectory of future death penalty cases.

We have also successfully appealed the death sentences of several inmates from across the nation.

Domestic Violence and Family Law

Davis Polk offers several opportunities to assist clients with family law issues. Working with Brooklyn Family Defense Project, Her Justice, Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services and several other legal service providers, we handle family law matters involving family reunification, custody, divorce, orders of protection and visitation on behalf of victims of domestic violence and their children.

In addition, through the Volunteers of Legal Service Incarcerated Mothers’ Law Project, our lawyers visit Taconic Correctional Facility on a monthly basis to counsel incarcerated women on issues relating to custody, visitation and child support.

Finally, we partner with the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project to conduct a pro se divorce clinic in which our lawyers help individuals complete the forms required to file for divorce.

  • In the last three years, we have assisted nearly 40 victims of domestic violence in filing for uncontested divorce.


Working with Advocates for Children, we represent children in class actions to ensure that they receive free and appropriate education. We also assist children with special needs in administrative hearings to obtain appropriate special education placements. In addition, we have done corporate work for several charter schools and the Fund for Public Schools.

We have partnered with lawyers from Morgan Stanley on several cases to assist children seeking special education services.

  • In July 2015, an E.D.N.Y. judge approved a settlement resolving one of our long-standing class actions filed on behalf of thousands of children with disabilities who had been excluded from school without proper notice and due process and thereby denied a free appropriate public education under state and federal law. 
  • The 53-page settlement requires the Department of Education (DOE) to adhere to specific procedural requirements, including minimum staffing obligations for sites that serve students on long-term suspensions, enhanced procedures to preclude imposition of suspensions based on behaviors that stem from students’ disabilities and procedures to help ensure that transfers and discharges are not imposed for disciplinary reasons. 
  • The settlement agreement imposes reporting requirements to monitor the DOE’s compliance.

Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Rights

We partner with GMHC and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, among others, on numerous corporate and litigation matters and have worked on policy papers on issues related to gay, lesbian and transgender rights.

In addition, we represent individuals seeking asylum based on persecution related to their sexual orientation.

  • Since 2009, we have successfully assisted nearly 200 transgender individuals with their petitions to change their names to those more reflective of their gender identity and gender expression.

International Human Rights

Davis Polk is dedicated to building a human rights culture in all communities, both within the United States and internationally.

We work on a variety of international projects ranging from representation in an asylum case to policy research for an international research organization.

Some of the organizations with which we partner include the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, Human Rights First, the International Justice Mission, the Legal Aid Society, PILnet (The Global Network for Public Interest Law), Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) and Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services.

  • In 2015, our lawyers devoted 683 hours to international pro bono matters.

Veterans Assistance

We regularly staff clinics to assist veterans at the New York City Bar Association. With guidance from the City Bar Justice Center staff, volunteer lawyers help veterans file claims and appeals with the Department of Veterans Affairs. We have partnered with some of the firm’s clients, including a number of major financial institutions, to participate in these clinics and assist veterans.

Working with certain veterans organizations dedicated to assisting members of the armed forces injured in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Davis Polk lawyers created a handbook to assist the families of service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a handbook to assist injured service members and veterans.

These handbooks are designed as a single-point resource, summarizing and supplementing information provided by the military and numerous governmental and charitable organizations. Written in plain English to make them as user-friendly as possible, the handbooks cover matters of immediate and long-term concern for both remaining families and injured service members, including the disability evaluation system, education, employment and health benefits, legal rights and legal assistance. The handbooks are updated on a regular basis and have been featured in numerous press articles.

  • Currently, we are partnering with lawyers from a number of major financial institutions to assist 23 veterans with their claims.


Through the Volunteers of Legal Service Elder Law Program, we help elderly individuals with their life-planning needs, including preparing wills, living wills, healthcare proxies, powers of attorney and control-of-body forms. Because many of our clients are homebound, our lawyers travel to their homes to assist them.

  • In the last three years, we have assisted more than 150 clients with their life-planning needs.