Faegre & Benson

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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
53
Faegre & Benson (86)
61.9
61.8
61.9

 

Wilhemina Holder lost her father, former Liberian president William Tolbert, Jr., when he was executed in a coup d'etat during the Liberian Civil War in 1980. Holder hid at her neighbor's house because, she recalled many years later, the coup's soldiers had threatened to "skin her alive."The Am Law Pro Bono 100

Her account was just one of many harrowing stories that surfaced during the Liberian Truth & Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project, as survivors of the conflict came forward to tell their tales of bloodshed, starvation, and ethnic clashes. Lawyers at Faegre & Benson collected these statements and compiled them into a report intended to guide Liberia back to a peaceful and lawful post-conflict existence.

Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) have been used in 29 countries, including South Africa, Sierra Leone, and Peru, to heal the sharp divisions in society caused by horrendous internal conflicts. After taking survivors' statements and holding public hearings about the events of the conflict, TRCs make recommendations on how their nations can move forward. The Liberian TRC—which consists of prominent Liberian leaders—is the first commission to hold hearings outside the nation's borders, says James O'Neal, who heads Faegre's litigation group and orchestrated a public hearing in St. Paul. (More than 25,000 Liberian refugees live in the Twin Cities.)

Letting survivors speak out about their experiences is one way to respond to the "felt need for justice" that exists after a war, says O'Neal. "There is no way to prosecute everyone who committed a crime during the conflict," he says, "but this is something we can do."

The diaspora project started in 2006 when the Liberian TRC asked Advocates for Human Rights to help collect statements from the conflict's refugee population. The Minnesota-based nonprofit established a pro bono consortium that employed the resources and expertise of several law firms, including Faegre, to complete the project, O'Neal says.

In the past three years, Faegre lawyers have heard testimony from Liberian refugees in Minnesota, London, and Ghana. These statements served as documentation for the consortium's report, which was turned over to the Liberian TRC in June 2009. The report recommends that Liberia provide immediate health care and trauma counseling for survivors, resolve tribal rivalries, and eliminate government corruption.

The Liberian victims interviewed by the TRC may never return to their homeland, but when these refugees tell their stories of survival, says O'Neal, they "feel as if history is listening."

—Claire Zillman | July 1, 2009

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