Partner Wade A. Thomson is a litigator who concentrates primarily on complex commercial disputes. He practices in the firm's Chicago office. He has worked on several pro bono asylum cases.
Q: What kind of pro bono work do you do at the firm?
Wade: I have worked on a wide variety of pro bono cases, primarily focusing on asylum and criminal law. One of the greatest attributes of our pro bono program is the breadth of pro bono matters you can choose to work on.
I have worked on over a dozen asylum cases at Jenner & Block, primarily through the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). Our firm regularly partners with NIJC on asylum matters, and through my work on its cases I have joined NIJC’s Leadership Council. Through asylum cases, I have been able to help many people start new lives in the United States. I have also been able to combine the protection of human rights with my dedication to a free press. Specifically, I have represented four journalists seeking asylum. I have also assisted children from Guatemala who have fled abusive homes, and victims of torture from several countries.
In addition to my asylum work, I have represented several clients in criminal matters, including murder cases. These criminal cases have provided me the opportunity to assist those who could not afford adequate representation, achieve a better understanding of our criminal justice system, work on high-profile matters, and obtain significant litigation experience. I have cross-examined police officers, vetted experts, prepared cases for jury trial, and interviewed numerous witnesses under difficult circumstances.
Q: Describe one or two of the most significant pro bono cases you have worked on while at the firm.
Wade: I represented a Haitian journalist who was repeatedly beaten and received death threats because of his broadcasts. He fled Haiti with his wife who was at the time eight months pregnant. When they arrived in Chicago, the couple was frightened, spoke very little English and had nowhere to stay. Our representation became much more than legal advice. We helped the couple find housing, clothing, and support for their newborn child. After we obtained asylum for the family in the United States, we still had to get their 11-year-old daughter out of Haiti, but this task was complicated by the hurricanes that hit Haiti in 2008. After months of advocating, we got the daughter out of Haiti and accompanied the family to pick her up at O’Hare airport. I am now the godfather to the youngest daughter of this amazing family.
Q: Why is it important to you to do pro bono?
Wade: For me, the duty to perform pro bono stems from the simple realization that I’m in a place to help others, and if the roles were reversed I would want someone in my position to help me. Pro bono makes me a more grounded person, a better lawyer, and has enriched my life in countless ways.
We are taught in law school how important it is to that everyone has adequate legal representation, but not until you are in practice do you understand how significant pro bono representation really is to our legal system.
Q: How has Jenner & Block supported you in your pro bono practice?
Wade: Most significantly, Jenner & Block has provided me, and numerous others, the opportunity to bring in the pro bono matters that are most significant to me. There are no shortage of worthy and interesting pro bono opportunities at Jenner & Block. The ability for young associates to have significant say over what they work on is a key aspect to our pro bono program.
Q: How has pro bono helped you professionally?
Wade: In addition to the many other benefits I have received from pro bono work (e.g., increased awareness, gratitude of clients, professional recognition), it has also helped me become a better lawyer. I have been the lead decision-maker on numerous pro bono matters, was the face of the firm for the clients, opposing counsel, and judges, and developed numerous skills that translate over to my litigation practice. Among other things, I have had substantial roles in drafting, oral arguments, and trials that an associate might not always get in billable matters. Pro bono work provides associates with transferable skills and confidence.
Q: What would you tell others about your experience doing pro bono?
Wade: Many Jenner & Block lawyers are proud to say that some of their most memorable victories in their legal careers were pro bono cases. With all the negative things said about lawyers, pro bono is a reminder of the good lawyers can do.
Pro bono has broadened my horizons in several ways. Through pro bono work, I have met numerous special people from many different walks of life (from children of parents who are incarcerated, to foreign journalists, to prosecutors, to prominent attorneys at other large law firms, to members of Congress), and have done things I never expected. I have lobbied members of Congress in Washington, DC on behalf of pro bono clients, travelled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to protect clients’ rights, and became the godfather to the child of one of my pro bono clients.