Morrison & Foerster



Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
Morrison & Foerster (23)


In the fall of 2007, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid started getting complaints on its voicemail system from clients that it had no record of in its files. Around the same time, people began showing up at its offices in San Antonio, El Paso, and Austin asking for attorneys who didn't work for the organization. "That is how we realized what was going on," says Cindy Dyar, an Edinburg, Texas–based staff Am Law Pro Bono 100attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. "It wasn't a mistake. People weren't getting confused. They were getting scammed."

In the weeks ahead, Dyar and her colleagues would learn that the irate clients were the victims of an elaborate fraud by the operators of phony legal aid organizations. This time the ringleaders were targeting Colorado and Texas, but similar schemes had occurred in California and Nevada. "They arranged it so when people called information and asked for legal aid, they would get them," Dyar says.

Many of the victims paid up front for legal help that never came or was substandard, including some who were seeking help with bankruptcy filings. While Dyar and her colleagues were uncovering the scam, Dyar mentioned it to Sara Brin, a friend from law school and an associate at Morrison & Foerster in New York. The result was twin suits, one brought by Morrison & Foerster on a pro bono basis, filed against several companies and 15 individuals involved in the fraud in February 2008. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid filed claims in Texas state court, while Morrison & Foerster filed a 77-page complaint in federal court in Colorado.

In addition to false advertisement, unfair competition, and racketeering claims, the complaints also alleged trademark infringement on behalf of legitimate legal aid organizations in the two states. "Within a few weeks these fraudulent operations were shut down and the defendants actually left Colorado," says Jamie Levitt, a Morrison & Foerster partner who spearheaded the pro bono effort. "We were looking to stop these guys, and that happened immediately." Of the three ringleaders, one died soon after the federal complaint was filed and the two others never responded. The lawyers are now seeking default judgments.

—Drew Combs | July 1, 2009

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