Dorsey & Whitney



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
Dorsey & Whitney (73)


Dorsey & Whitney won a favorable custody settlement last December for a former member of The Family International, a worldwide cult with approximately 10,000 members. Amy Bril, an Orange The Am Law Pro Bono 100County woman who had been born into the cult, had battled her former husband and current Family member, Nathanael Bril, for custody of their three children for more than a year and a half.

Dorsey took the case in June 2007 after associate Eve Brackman learned about Bril's plight from a local newspaper story. Bril had separated from her husband in 2001 and left the cult the following year. The former couple originally followed an informal custodial agreement. But when Bril began speaking out in the national media in early 2007 about the physical, sexual, and mental abuse she suffered while in The Family, Nathanael Bril cut her off from her children, then ages eight to 13, and sued her for full custody. Bril, who says she was given away by her parents at age eight to be the cult leader's sex slave and was often held in captivity, was concerned about alleged reports that her children were being threatened by other cult members residing in her ex-husband's communal home. She also feared that Nathanael Bril might kidnap the children and take them to Brazil, the couple's former residence. Having recently lost her job as a tax preparer, Bril was unable to afford a lawyer. "This is what pro bono is for," Brackman remembers thinking. Three days later, after a conversation with California litigation head Steven Allison, Dorsey took the case pro bono. The firm asked Sheasby & Middleton partner Ronda Middleton, a family law lawyer, to assist as cocounsel.

Bril had warned Brackman that the custody battle would be contentious. And she was right. Although Dorsey immediately obtained temporary orders giving Amy full custody and the court ordered a full custody evaluation at the father's expense, Mr. Bril refused to respond or even acknowledge Dorsey's discovery requests until sanctioned in April 2008. After a four-month custody evaluation, extensive discovery, a nine-day evidentiary hearing, and several rounds of settlement negotiations, the judge scheduled a ten-day trial to start last October. On the eve of trial, Nathanael Bril offered to settle, giving his ex-wife full custody. Ms. Bril accepted but then negotiated with her lawyers an agreement that would give her custody of the two younger girls and Nathanael primary responsibility for their now 15-year-old son. Ms. Bril was elated as were her lawyers. "Amy is one of my heroes," says Dorsey's Brackman, who along with a six-lawyer team devoted more than 800 hours to the case.

This premium content is reserved for American Lawyer subscribers.

Continue reading by getting started with a subscription.

Already a subscriber? Log in now

What's being said

Comments are not moderated. To report offensive comments, click here.

Preparing comment abuse report for Article #1202431472107

Thank you!

This article's comments will be reviewed.