2021 GC Review

2021 Global Citizenship Review

What's inside

Highlights from our Global Pro Bono Practice and volunteering activities

A message from our Chair

Hugh Verrier

Hugh Verrier

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021 we worked with many of the world’s leading non-governmental organizations to help address a wide range of environmental and social challenges. Our capabilities and global network give us the opportunity and responsibility to do pro bono work that only a firm like ours can undertake.

Research by our lawyers on environmental law in each of the 193 UN Member States will inform the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2022 Environmental Rule of Law Report. We also assisted Conservation International on an innovative way to generate carbon credits through improved forest management across a large area of the Amazon forest.

Two major court victories in 2021 helped advance the rights of children. In a victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, our lawyers helped win justice for the families of children killed in a fire at a juvenile detention center and improve conditions for all detainees. Our lawyers also helped win a US$4.2 billion pre-trial settlement with New York State to honor its commitment to phase in full funding for all school districts in the state. 

This review reports on our pro bono work on these and other issues, such as balancing human rights while countering terrorism, protecting the rights of the media, protesters and police during protests, and helping refugees navigate complex legal processes.

Progress and setbacks exist in tandem in worldwide efforts to protect both people and planet. Through our Global Pro Bono Practice, we seek to do our part as lawyers to address the challenges of our time.

Hugh Verrier, Chair

Environmental stewardship

Our pro bono work continued to support important environmental advances

The role of law in protecting the environment

Our research on 193 countries informs the UNEP 2022 Environmental Rule of Law Report

Two walruses seen in profile sitting with their backs against each other on ice floating off the coast of Norway.
Andy Mann © Bespoke Reps

Carbon credits at scale

Structuring sustainable forestry projects to reduce emissions and drive investment

View from the base of the forest floor of foliage, large intertwining tree trunks and a glimpse of sky in the Amazon forest in the Madidi National Park, Bolivia.
Toniflap © Adobestock

Advancing human rights

Highlights include a major education funding victory and advice on balancing human rights while countering terrorism

Immigration navigation

Pursuing justice for immigrants in the UK

Family portraits hung on a wall in a Jamaican home in London in pastel frames with distinctive flower designs like those profiled by photographer Jim Grover in his 2018 exhibit "Windrush: Portrait of a Generation."
© Jim Grover

Balancing security and human rights 

Informing a response to the EU by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism 

A close-up of hands holding a mobile phone with the screen displaying the image of a fingerprint as the person uploads their biometric data in the form of their fingerprint.
Jason Lee © Reuters

The rights of children

Boosting the foundations of children’s rights

Afghan refugee girls in colorful headscarves seen from above as they kneel on blankets holding small personal chalk tablets while attending school in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Muhammed Muheisen © Bespoke Reps

Funding matters

A landmark US$4.2 billion settlement on education funding in New York State

Close-up of the hands and arms of two young elementary school students who are lying together on the floor and reading a book that is on the floor in front of them.
FatCamera © Getty Images

Voting rights vs. realities

Breaking down barriers for American voters

Voting rights activists during a rally at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC hold up large individual orange letters emblazoned with light bulbs that spell out the words Freedom to Vote.
Jose Luis Magana © Associated Press

Justice system reform

Our lawyers worked on a wide range of issues, including protections during protests and compensation for victims

Protected protest

Legal analysis to protect the rights of media, protesters and law enforcement in the US, Africa and Latin America

A journalist holding a TV camera on his right shoulder faces a police officer seen from behind while a protest is going on in the back.  The journalist is reminding the officer that the press are considered "essential workers" in regard to curfews related to protests.
Wong Maye-E © Associated Press

A 15-year journey for justice

Victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for victims’ families and detained children

The white, arched paneled ceiling of the Hall of Heroes at the headquarters of the Organization of American States lined with the flags of the Member States.
Juan Manuel Herrera © OAS/OEA

Creating competition

Bringing the Jessup alive online in 2021

Jessup competition
© White & Case

About pro bono

We are one of the world’s largest providers of pro bono legal services

Pro bono hours and participation

113,110 pro bono hours in 2021

100k+ pro bono hours for the 5th consecutive year
100% of our offices and practices do pro bono work

170 partners and counsel serve as pro bono leaders
50+ associates and legal staff serve as pro bono champions


Office highlights

Pro bono matters from each of our offices

Colorfully striped hot-air balloons float over snow-covered rock formations called fairy chimneys in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.
Anadolu Agency © Getty Images

Learn more

For more information about our commitment and activities, please visit our Global Citizenship web pages.

The white, arched paneled ceiling of the Hall of Heroes at the headquarters of the Organization of American States lined with the flags of the Member States.

A 15-year journey for justice

Victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for victims’ families and detained children


3 min read

In 2005, five children lost their lives in a fire at a juvenile detention center in a Latin American state. For years, the victims’ families sought answers and justice.
The state failed to take meaningful steps to investigate those who were responsible for the care of the children who died, including the prison authorities. They wanted to silence inmates who had denounced mistreatment and human rights violations within the prison.
Out of options, the victims’ families sought recourse before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2014, White & Case began collaborating with the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice and a local organization on this matter. Over the next six years, the legal team filed numerous briefs for the families and pushed for justice. The team stressed the continuing impact on the victims’ families and the ongoing deterioration of conditions and safety within the state’s prisons.
As our lawyers would uncover, the juvenile detention center lacked basic safety protocols and equipment. There were no fire alarms, extinguishers or sprinklers. Flammable and dangerous materials were allowed inside the building. Cells were overcrowded. There was no escape plan or emergency lighting in case of fire. The fire department lacked basic equipment and, on the day of the fire, arrived without water.

In 2018, the Inter-American Commission issued a report favorable to the victims. It confirmed that unsafe conditions at the detention center had contributed to their deaths and noted the impunity of those responsible. It also elevated the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2019. Before the Court, our lawyers made multiple submissions continuing to stress the ongoing suffering of the victims’ families, as well as the serious danger faced by those detained.

This resulted in a remarkable outcome. The state admitted liability before the Inter-American Court and dropped any challenge to the underlying facts. It also accepted its breaches of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. However, it decided to dispute the remedies sought by the families, including monetary compensation for the family members. It also questioned institutional and regulatory changes designed to bring about significant safety reforms to its prisons, including fire safety.

The White & Case legal team was led by partners Rafael Llano of Mexico City and Jonathan C. Hamilton of Washington, DC, with Mexico City associates Paulo Maza and Sabina Hidalgo, Washington, DC associates John Dalebroux, Alvaro Peralta, and legal assistant Audrey Vivas; Paris associates Fabiana Pardi, Katya Hartl, and legal assistant Adrian Hernández; and New York associate Vivi Méndez.

Our lawyers persisted in pushing for a fundamental restructuring and improvement of conditions in the prisons to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. The state resisted, and a hearing was scheduled for spring 2020, which would have provided the victims’ family members with their first day in court since the tragedy—some 15 years before. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, stood in the way, and the hearing was cancelled.
But the legal team refused to settle and pushed forward, stressing the families’ right to access to justice and to have their day in court. The Court agreed and scheduled one of the first virtual hearings following the start of the pandemic. After so many years, the victims’ family members were finally able to tell their stories in a court of law, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In December 2020, the Court reached an extraordinary final judgment in the case, ordering the government, among other things, to:

  • Continue and conclude the local criminal investigation and/or judicial proceeding and to determine local disciplinary measures for those responsible
  • Implement a protocol for fire safety in adolescent detention centers nationwide
  • Provide psychiatric or psychological treatment to the victims’ families
  • Pay more than US$1 million to the victims’ families, among other measures


Photo by Juan Manuel Herrera  © OAS/OEA
The Hall of Heroes at the headquarters of the Organization of American States

Service areas