As a global law firm, Morrison & Foerster is passionate about pursuing solutions to better our communities near and far. Our lawyers dedicate countless hours and resources on projects from securing human and civil rights to providing better access to health and public resources. Global pro bono initiatives of this scale require cross-border collaboration with MoFo lawyers from various offices joining forces with the best community partners, public interest legal organizations, and legal services providers to make the widest possible impact.
San Francisco and New York lawyers are advising AGRI-INVEST LLC, a Cameroon-based social enterprise focused on improving the lives of farmers in rural Cameroon, especially in areas where Boko Haram is active. Its work includes organizing cooperatives of small farmers, teaching good farming practices, monitoring production, providing interest-free microloans to women, and getting harvests to factories that can provide a reliable market.
MoFo has handled extensive patent work for Angaza Design’s innovative “pay as you go” system that makes household solar power systems affordable and accessible for customers in East Africa and elsewhere. Angaza’s innovation is to enable customers to purchase the solar-powered system over time via mobile money services, replacing reliance on kerosene and batteries with a solar-powered lighting and charging system that runs clean, bright LED lights, charges cell phones, and runs radios.
The firm has a long pro bono relationship with Kiva, a nonprofit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the Internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunities for small entrepreneurs around the world.
MoFo Berlin lawyers answered a call from the Berlin Court of Appeals for lawyers to volunteer as guardians for unaccompanied refugee children, advocating for their housing and other governmental benefits. The children arrived in Berlin alone, having lost their parents in their home countries or on their way to Germany.
Tokyo lawyers are assisting the Japan Association for Refugees by providing legal counsel to some of the country’s 5,000+ asylum-seekers from Africa, Southeast Asia, Syria, and other countries. Over the last decade, MoFo lawyers have represented over 20 asylum seekers and have beaten the odds by winning asylum in three of those cases, one of which was the first-known case of a person being granted asylum from persecution on the basis of sexual orientation — a remarkable achievement in a country that typically grants just one out of every thousand asylum applications.
London litigators are representing individuals referred by the group Asylum Aid in proceedings to determine if they are stateless. A stateless person has no recognized nationality and no passport or other identification that permits crossing international borders, and often has no country where he or she has a right to reside. A statelessness determination allows the individual and immediate family to obtain permission to remain in the UK for renewable 30-month periods, with the possibility of eventually gaining an indefinite leave to remain in the UK or being granted nationality of the country with which they are most closely associated.
Morrison & Foerster joined 15 other law firms and 15 international banks to support a case that led to a unanimous ruling in favor of a British lesbian expatriate who was denied a spousal visa based on a discriminatory policy under the Hong Kong Marriage Ordinance. We joined a brief arguing that denying spousal visas to same-sex spouses impedes the ability of international professional services and financial institutions operating in Hong Kong to recruit the best talent.
MoFo supported the formation of the Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network (LLAN) in Tokyo, and then teamed up with the organization to prepare a Viewpoint on Equal Marriage that was adopted by five foreign chambers of commerce active in Japan. The Viewpoint argues that by legally recognizing LGBTQ+ marriages, Japan can raise its international competitiveness in attracting talent.
The firm is working closely with the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice and the nonprofit Freedom to Marry to support the global campaign for recognition of same-sex marriage. The work includes counseling same-sex couples from Latin America in marriage equality litigation before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Lawyers in the firm’s Northern Virginia office have advised Evidence Action since helping the group establish itself as an independent organization in 2010. Evidence Action builds rigorous, ongoing evaluation into its projects, enabling it to put resources into provably effective public health interventions. Its premier projects are Dispensers for Safe Water, which places chlorine dispensers in the immediate vicinity of wells and other water sources, and Deworm the World, which promotes mass treatment through school-based deworming programs to reach the entire at-risk population while minimizing costs.
San Francisco and Denver lawyers are advising Ophirex, a biotech start-up, on its efforts to provide low-cost snakebite antidotes for people in developing countries. Our lawyers helped to form a related nonprofit and are advising on licensing. The project’s goal is to raise money to develop and distribute a new compound to treat snakebites, which kill more than 90,000 people and result in amputations or other permanent disabilities for another 400,000 people each year.
Lawyers in MoFo’s Berlin office are advising Ärzte für Madagaskar E.V. (Doctors for Madagascar), a charity founded by German neurologists with the goal of improving health care in Madagascar. Given that less than 5% of the Madagascar population has savings accounts but more than 50% have mobile phones, the organization is launching a mobile platform that will enable users to transfer income via cell phone into a healthcare “wallet.” The funds can then be used at registered, certified clinics. The platform will also support healthcare donations from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government entities.
Corporate and tax lawyers in multiple offices have advised the Ahl Masr Foundation, an Egyptian NGO, on its project to build and operate one of the largest hospitals in the world to treat burn victims. The hospital is being built in Cairo to offer comprehensive free treatment to patients in the Middle East and Africa, including medical and psychological care as needed for the fullest possible recovery. Our advice focuses on the foundation’s plans to raise funds for this effort in the United States and the UK.
Tokyo corporate and tax lawyers are helping Project HEAL to establish a nonprofit organization in Japan and apply for tax-exempt status. Project HEAL was founded in the U.S. in 2008 by two 15-year-old girls, Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran, who had been treated for anorexia. It was their goal to provide 100% free treatment, peer support, and mentorship to others who have eating disorders but cannot otherwise afford treatment. Project HEAL is a global network of over 100,000 people across 40 chapters.
Lawyers from our London office made two trips to Africa to lead professional development workshops on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs); the first in Rwanda and the second in Kenya. The full-day workshops were designed to arm lawyers with the information and tools they need to implement the UNGPs, to help businesses small and large, domestic and international, to recognize and meet their human rights obligations and to prepare lawyers to undertake human rights due diligence work.
MoFo lawyers who specialize in corruption cases are working with the International Legal Foundation (ILF) as it trains lawyers in Afghanistan to provide competent defense to low-income detained individuals facing corruption, bribery, and embezzlement charges. The Afghani government asked ILF to train defense lawyers in connection with a new court the government created to hear corruption cases. We are creating training materials and providing ongoing advice as ILF’s corruption defense practice gets underway.
Berlin lawyers have successfully represented a number of Holocaust survivors, or their family members, in obtaining benefits from reparations programs established by the German government. Each matter has involved unique challenges in proving our clients’ entitlement to government support. Our lawyers have worked in partnership with a U.S.-based organization, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which has helped thousands of Holocaust survivors apply for reparations, pensions, and other benefits from Germany.
More than a dozen MoFo lawyers have supported the work of Social Accountability International (SAI) with pro bono legal services. SAI promotes worker well-being around the world by building local capacity and developing systems of accountability through socially responsible supply chain standards. SAI’s tool for implementing international labor standards is being used in over 3,000 factories, across 65 countries and 66 industrial sectors.