Life-Changing Work

June 4, 2019

As Scott Oostdyk described it, the primary objective of McGuireWoods’ pro bono work “is to help people facing life-changing circumstances who lack the resources to hire lawyers to overcome challenges.”

“If that results in a U.S. Supreme Court victory that changes public policy, a record-setting judgment or a better way to battle homelessness, that’s just an additional benefit of doing good for our communities,” said Oostdyk, the firm’s pro bono partner liaison, in a recent interview with The National Law Journal.

McGuireWoods recently received national recognition for results the firm achieved for pro bono clients in 2018, earning a spot on the NLJ’s Pro Bono Hot List. It was the latest of several national and regional honors the firm has earned for pro bono work, including innovative collaborations with clients to expand access to legal services in underserved communities.

In his NLJ interview, Oostdyk cited the significance of McGuireWoods’ federal court win securing the largest civil single-plaintiff trafficking award in U.S. history; a U.S. Supreme Court Fourth Amendment victory that changed how police are trained to conduct searches; and a partnership with corporate general counsel to aid Charlotte, North Carolina-area legal aid organizations.

A team led by McGuireWoods’ Betsy Hutson won an $8 million federal court judgment for client Kendra Ross, who had been forced to work round-the-clock for a regimented cult for more than a decade starting at age 11. The most satisfying part of the case, Oostdyk recalled, was the evidentiary hearing in 2018.

“Kendra had the incredible courage to return to the epicenter of the cult, take the stand in open court, and testify against her traffickers,” Oostdyk said. “After the hearing, the judge walked down from the bench, shook Kendra’s hand, expressed sincere compassion toward her, and said it was a true honor and privilege to meet her.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Collins v. Virginia, won by McGuireWoods partner Matt Fitzgerald’s pro bono team, held that police officers can’t use the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception to access a vehicle in a home’s curtilage without a warrant. The court’s 8-1 decision provided needed clarity on the limits of the automobile exception and helped McGuireWoods earn recognition on NLJ’s 2018 Appellate Hot List.

McGuireWoods also was recognized on the Pro Bono Hot List for its role establishing Charlotte Triage — co-led by firm pro bono director Angie Zimmern — in which private-practice lawyers and in-house counsel team up with Charlotte-area legal aid providers to help underprivileged clients fight evictions, secure housing and employment, and protect access to healthcare.

Oostdyk told the NLJ that McGuireWoods “looks to take on transformative issues in its pro bono work.” But the work is important for what it provides clients, he noted.