Ropes & Gray

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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
60
Ropes & Gray (29)
58.6
69.4
47.8

 

As Omar Fekeiki sees it, the men plotting his murder had lots of reasons to kill him. He has a Sunni first name, is avowedly secular, and, for three years, worked as a journalist and office manager for the Baghdad bureau of the The Washington Post. For any, and possibly all, of these reasons, Fekeiki was threatened and intimidated, and followed to and from work. So The Am Law Pro Bono 100when Fekeiki received his acceptance letter to the University of California–Berkeley's journalism graduate school as a Fulbright scholar, he didn't hesitate. He left Iraq right away, and hasn't returned.

That was in 2006. His dream was to return to Baghdad to start a newspaper, but last year, after learning that his name was on an insurgent hit list recovered in a raid, he decided to apply for asylum in the United States. A friend at The Washington Post directed him to Jennifer Rikoski, a Ropes & Gray tax and benefits associate with a special interest in international affairs. (She has a degree from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.) Rikoski agreed to take his case pro bono, but Fekeiki, at first, wasn't so sure he had the right lawyer. "I was worried at first because she is so young," Fekeiki says (Rikoski is 30). "I was literally putting my life in her hands."

Many of The American Lawyer 's asylum pro bono stories this year are about how difficult and capricious the application process can be. Fekeiki, who speaks flawless English, and who was able to easily articulate the dangers he would face upon return to Iraq, fared much better than most. "His credibility is palpable," Rikoski says of her client. His asylum request, with Riko­ski's guidance, was granted in three days, though it took a few weeks more before he received word that it had gone through.

His trust rewarded, Fekeiki has since referred other asylum-seeking Iraqis to Ropes & Gray. Rikoski has also taken asylum and refugee resettlement cases recommended to her by friends in the military. She has developed such a specialty in the area that she is now training other lawyers at her firm to manage the asylum cases.

As for Fekeiki, he hopes his asylum in the United States is temporary. He wants to go home. "I can't get over the guilt," he says, of living in safety when his countrymen still live in danger. He can't get over the fear, either. On a recent drive into work, a police officer aimed a gun at his car, and Fekeiki, who has been shot at in Iraq, panicked. It was only later that he realized that it was a radar gun.

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