Munger, Tolles & Olson

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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
16
Munger, Tolles (129)
96.4
124.4
68.4

 

Since 2006 Munger, Tolles & Olson has represented more than 100 Section 8 housing tenants in Los Angeles facing evictions, in a battle that has been fought all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The issue is whether landlords can evict tenants by simply refusing to accept the Section 8 vouchers, or if they are bound by the city's more tenant-friendly rules that require good Am Law Pro Bono 100cause for an eviction. At the core it's a preemption issue: Does the federal law (which would allow the evictions) preempt the local law?

Partner Michael Soloff, who is heading this effort at Munger, says the firm's involvement began with an associate on parental leave who wanted to do pro bono work. She contacted the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which referred some state court eviction cases to the firm. "They were a good opportunity for young lawyers to get into court," Soloff recalls. He was reviewing one case with an associate when he started thinking about the preemption issue. A Legal Aid lawyer later told him that a landlord in a pending federal case had already asserted a preemption argument. "Things took off from there," says Soloff.

At that point, Munger got involved in a pending federal lawsuit in L.A. federal district court. That case began when the Legal Aid Foundation and the National Housing Law Project sought an injunction to stop a landlord from evicting 22 Section 8 tenants. The landlord argued that federal regulations allowed him to terminate tenancies for business or economic reasons, including a desire to charge higher rents. After Munger started assisting, the trial court granted the plaintiffs' motion, and issued a permanent injunction barring the evictions. The landlord appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The court heard oral arguments last February and has not yet issued a decision.

This case could have a significant impact, because roughly 25,000 families in L.A. use Section 8 vouchers in rent-controlled buildings. In the state court evictions cases, Munger has been quite successful: Only one of the roughly 100 tenants represented by the firm has been evicted. Eight Munger lawyers and two nonlawyers have worked on the project.

Soloff notes that, for a combination of reasons, the wave of Section 8 eviction attempts in Los Angeles has subsided: "One silver lining from the terrible economy is that with rents no longer rising, Section 8 tenants with the financial support of the federal government look more attractive." In addition, he believes their efforts in court have made landlords more hesitant to evict without cause. "It became expensive and difficult for landlords [to try to evict these tenants]. That greatly reduced the number of cases. We set our finger in the dike."

—Susan Beck | July 1, 2009

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