Schiff Hardin



Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
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Schiff Hardin (120)


Four-hundred-lawyer firm Schiff Hardin does not shy away from death penalty cases. Last year, about six of its partners handled four capital punishment cases: three in Georgia—a state only second to Texas in executions—and another one in Alabama.

The Am Law Pro Bono 100Litigation partner Paul Greenwalt is currently representing Christopher Lewis, a mentally retarded man, who's on death row in Georgia. Last year, Greenwalt conducted an evidentiary hearing, asserting that Lewis received ineffective counsel. "The trial lawyer did no investigation," says Greenwalt. So the firm had to play catch up: It hired psychiatrists to assess their client's mental capacity, and investigators to dig through Lewis's school records to establish his history of retardation. "You have to do an analysis of his whole life," says Greenwalt. "It literally takes a book to tell his story. The opening brief was 250 pages long. When I work on a multimillion-dollar case, the briefs are not nearly so long."

Taking on a capital case is a huge commitment for any firm, says Schiff Hardin partner David Blickenstaff, who's representing Daniel Lucas, another death row prisoner in Georgia. "We spend at least $1 million on each case when you count the expert fees, lawyer hours, and expenses." In contrast, Blickenstaff says, the state of Georgia only pays lawyers $8,000 to handle death penalty cases.

The cases can go on for ten years. "The biggest challenge is to continue to grind away on them," says Greenwalt, adding that in 2008, he spent "half of my time on the Lewis case. There were holidays and weekends that I've missed."

But for both lawyers, there's also little doubt that they would take on other capital cases. Both strongly believe that the death penalty is doled out mainly to people who can't afford a decent lawyer. "By the time we get there, [the death row prisoner] has already lost once," says Greenwalt. Because of that inequity, they feel their roles are critical. "He's never had a fair shake in his life," says Blickenstaff about his client. "It's a chance to help someone who's never had help from anyone."

—Vivia Chen | July 1, 2009

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