Pro Bono

Our Commitment to the Community in Which We Live and Work

Since our inception over 60 years ago, Farella Braun + Martel has actively participated in our local communities. Through pro bono work, charitable giving, and participation in charitable and civic organizations, we have strived to honor our core principle of giving back to the community. 

Pro bono matters are treated like any other case in the office. Farella does not limit the number of hours for which lawyers can receive credit for pro bono work, and associates are encouraged to further hone their advocacy and trial skills and serve our community by taking on pro bono opportunities.

The firm’s pro bono efforts have encompassed:

  • Representing immigrants seeking safety in the United States under federal asylum law.
  • Defending municipalities against challenges to gun safety laws.
  • Representing individuals in civil rights litigation.
  • Pursuing impact litigation against the government concerning important public policy issues.
  • Handling death penalty habeas corpus cases.
  • Defending eviction cases for individuals who cannot afford counsel.
  • Taking on Ninth Circuit pro bono panel matters.
  • Representing indigent defendants pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act.

As one Farella attorney observed, “My pro bono appellate work, which included an argument before the Ninth Circuit as an associate, not only provided me with a valuable experience but great personal satisfaction from knowing I was helping someone who would otherwise have no access to legal assistance.”

Our commitments run deeper than pro bono efforts because we know that community success requires involvement with and sponsorship of organizations that do good for others. We support organizations ranging from legal service providers to entities involved with education, the environment, and the arts.

We dedicated our 50th Anniversary to giving back to the community. The year-long program included $500,000 in direct gifts and a volunteer challenge to our attorneys and staff. By year-end, over 5,000 hours were volunteered at over 75 non-profit organizations.

Recent Pro Bono Work

Jack London State Historic Park

Chris Locke assisted Jack London Park Partners (JLPP) with environmental/land use counseling, strategic advice, and representation concerning environmental/land use issues relating to the management, operation, preservation, and restoration of Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma County, California. The park is the former ranch of author Jack London and includes protected wildlife habitat, preserved ranch structures and orchards, a museum, and hiking and horseback riding trails. Notably, Chris, assisted by Chris Rendall-Jackson, accomplished the acquisition of more than 400 acres of open space to be added to the park. The open space property was previously part of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). The engagement involved complex and high-level political issues and legal strategies to ensure permanent protection of the open space, the natural resources, and the wildlife habitat. Learn more here.

Asylum Win for Pro Bono Client

Won a grant of asylum for a Maya K’iche’ woman from Guatemala who was subjected to various forms of persecution, discrimination, and trauma throughout her childhood and into her adulthood. She fled Guatemala in 2019 and presented herself to U.S. immigration officials, declaring an intent to seek protection in the U.S. At an August 2023 merits hearing, the immigration judge found her testimony to be credible and granted her asylum application on multiple alternative grounds. The government has waived its right to appeal.

U.S. Supreme Court Denies NSO Group’s Petition To Review Its Sovereign Immunity Claim

Provided legal assistance to Access Now and a coalition of civil society organizations to draft and file an amicus curiae brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s consideration of NSO Group Technologies Ltd. v. WhatsApp Inc. The NSO case originated in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California after WhatsApp alleged that NSO infiltrated its servers to inject its Pegasus spyware technology onto the phones of WhatsApp’s users, including dissidents, journalists, and human rights activists working abroad. The question on appeal was whether NSO was entitled to immunity as an agent working on behalf of sovereign governments, and Access Now’s amicus brief argued that it should not. In November 2021, the 9th Circuit released its decision agreeing with WhatsApp and Access Now’s position and declining to afford NSO that immunity. You can read Access Now’s amicus curiae brief here.

NSO filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court in the hopes that the Court would review and overturn the 9th Circuit’s decision. Rather than ruling on NSO’s petition, the Court requested the opinion of the Solicitor General’s Office as a means of obtaining the United States government’s view. In August 2022, we assisted Access Now in submitting a letter to the Solicitor General’s office urging it recommend that the Court deny NSO’s petition, and in November 2022, the Solicitor General did just that.

After reviewing the briefs, including the Solicitor General’s brief, the Supreme Court issued an order on  January 9, 2023 denying NSO’s petition for certiorari. The case will now proceed to the discovery phase in the Northern District.

Legal Alliance for Reproductive Rights

Farella joined the Legal Alliance for Reproductive Rights with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide pro bono legal services to those who will be personally impacted by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We are ready, willing, and able to provide those services where they are needed. After the decision, the firm contributed to the National Network of Abortion Funds and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Learn more here.

Successful Challenge of Disastrous Trump-Era CRA Rule Changes

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released its final rule on December 14, 2022 completely rescinding the agency's harmful 2020 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rule that unlawfully gutted anti-redlining rules. The OCC will revert to prior regulations while it continues an interagency process to draft new CRA rules with the Federal Reserve Board and FDIC. Farella and Democracy Forward represented the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) and the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) in the lawsuit filed on June 25, 2020 against the OCC for unlawfully eviscerating the vital anti-redlining rules put in place under the CRA. The CRA was enacted to address redlining and secure access for communities of color and low- and moderate-income communities to financial services that have long enabled affluent, white communities to build wealth. Read a statement by the NCRA commending the repeal of the CRA rule changes and announcing the dismissal of the lawsuit here.

Amicus Brief on Behalf of Americans Against Gun Violence in U.S. Supreme Court Appeal

Farella filed an amicus brief on behalf of Americans Against Gun Violence in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al., v. Kevin P. Bruen, et al. appeal pending before the United States Supreme Court. In this lawsuit, the petitioners have sought to strike down a longstanding New York law that requires individuals seeking to obtain an unrestricted license to carry concealed handguns in public to demonstrate proper cause. After the Northern District of New York dismissed the case and the Second Circuit affirmed, the Supreme Court granted certiorari on the following question: “Whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ application for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.” Learn more here.

Development of La Cocina Municipal Marketplace

Farella served as the pro bono legal partner to La Cocina in the development of La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The nation’s first women-led food hall will be home to seven women-of-color chefs. The 7,000-square-foot food hall at 101 Hyde Street opens on April 5, 2021. La Cocina is a 501(c)3 nonprofit food business incubator that works to solve problems of equity in business ownership; inclusivity in the mainstream American marketplace; barriers to entry for women, people of color, and immigrant business owners; and the too-high cost of entry for the food industry generally. ​

City of Morgan Hill Defeats NRA Challenge, Secures Victory for Local Gun Safety Law

As co-counsel with Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Farella successfully defended the City of Morgan Hill in a lawsuit challenging its local ordinance requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms brought by NRA’s California state affiliate, the California Rifle & Pistol Association.

Ninth Circuit Grants Re-Trial for Death Row Inmate

Farella has won another significant victory for Marvin Pete Walker Jr., one of the longest-serving inmates on California’s death row, with the Ninth Circuit ruling on July 31, 2020 that the prosecutor had engaged in unconstitutional racial discrimination by striking all three Black jurors, and then giving demonstrably false reasons for why he did it. Read more here.

Marin County Bicycle Coalition Successful in Appeal to Permit Bicycle Access to Existing Trail Network

With assistance from Farella Braun + Martel, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) participated as amicus curiae in a successful appeal of a lawsuit challenging the Marin County Open Space District’s approval of MCBC’s proposal to open the Bob Middagh Trail in Mill Valley, Calif. to bicycle use. In a significant CEQA decision, the California Court of Appeal held on Jan. 24 that the “social effects” of bike use on trails falls outside the scope of the CEQA review. Learn more here.

South Valley Islamic Center Cordoba Center

With the help of Farella Braun + Martel Partner Don Sobelman, South Valley Islamic Center (SVIC) won approval for its 16-acre Cordoba Center Project in San Martin, California. Learn more here.

U-Nonimmigrant Status” Visa Applications

Farella lawyers teamed up with in-house lawyers from Oracle and Dropbox and Centro Legal de la Raza to help victims of violent crime who assist law enforcement apply for “U-Nonimmigrant Status” visas. U-visas incentivize cooperation with law enforcement for people who don’t have a valid visa (and therefore might otherwise avoid reporting a crime). Many of the clients we worked with had waited years to file their applications because they didn’t have money to pay legal fees.

Sunnyvale Measure C (Gun Violence Prevention) Ordinance Litigation

In Leonard Fyock, et al v. City of Sunnyvale, et al., No. 13-cv-05807 RMW (N.D. Cal.), Farella attorneys successfully defended the City of Sunnyvale’s ban on possession of large capacity magazines against a Second Amendment attack by the National Rifle Association. After full briefing and argument, Judge Whyte denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in March 2014. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling and filed emergency motions, first with the Ninth Circuit and later the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to stop the ordinance from taking effect pending the resolution of the appeal. The Farella team opposed both emergency motions on behalf of Sunnyvale, and both motions were denied. The Ninth Circuit Court heard oral argument from Farella and a specialist hired by the NRA on Nov. 17, 2014. On March 4, 2015 it affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

California Supreme Court Amicus Brief Opposing Proposition 8

Farella filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups opposing Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that bans same-sex marriage. Farella's amicus brief focuses on the negative and stigmatic impact the measure has on the current and future children of same-sex parents. The groups represented by Farella on the brief include: The Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, Family Equality Council; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Therapists Association; the Human Rights Campaign; The Human Rights Campaign Foundation; Kids in Common; Legal Services for Children; the National Black Justice Coalition; National Center for Youth Law; the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation; PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays Inc.) and the San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

Firm Highlights


New PFAS Listing Under Superfund Will Lead to Major Expansion of Liability

On April 19, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced its final rule designating perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances under Section 102(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation...

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California Regulation of Charitable Fundraising Platforms Part 2 - Reporting Due Diligence, Recordkeeping, and Disclosure Rules

Welcome to  EO Radio Show - Your Nonprofit Legal Resource . This episode covers the provisions of California’s Charitable Fundraising Platforms law (Gov. Code, § 12599.9) relevant to all covered charitable fundraisers and fundraising...

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Unplugged: The Renewable Energy Speaker Series - The IRA's Environmental Justice Incentive Programs

Join Farella Braun + Martel and the Environmental Law Institute for the relaunch Unplugged: The Renewable Energy Speaker Series with Farella’s John Ugai and guest speakers Miana Campbell with U.S. Department of Energy, Maria Castillo with...

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Farella Braun + Martel Earns San Francisco Green Business Recertification

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Copyright Law for Influencers and Brands: How Content Creators and Companies Hiring Them Can Navigate Copyright Law for a Successful Partnership

In recent years, the advent of the social media “influencer” has revolutionized advertising. Companies often partner with influencers to market their products, hoping to tap into the influencer’s devoted audience. Likewise, influencers create certain content...

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Burdened by Debt, Savvy SF Office Owners Get Creative

Restructuring, insolvency, and creditors rights partner Gary Kaplan provided expert commentary in The San Francisco Standard article, "Burdened by Debt, Savvy SF Office Owners Get Creative." In the article, Gary explained that in most cases...

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Farella Awards 2024 Diversity Scholarships to Bay Area Law Students

Farella Braun + Martel’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion + Belonging Committee is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2024 Diversity Scholarship grants totaling $45,000 to Bay Area first-year law students Marcus Albino, Saamia Haqiq...

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New PFAS Federal Drinking Water Standards Create Major Liability and Litigation Risk

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has released a final regulation setting individual drinking water maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for five per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These MCLs are incredibly stringent due to EPA’s stated concerns...

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AI and Privacy: What Every Company Needs to Do Today

Sushila Chanana and Benjamin Buchwalter will discuss "AI and Privacy: What Every Company Needs to Do Today' at the ACC 2024 Privacy Summit.  This session will introduce basics of AI governance, such as ownership...

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JPMorgan Chase Accuses TransUnion of Stealing 'Trade Secrets'

Intellectual property practice chair Eugene Mar provided expert commentary to American Banker for the article "JPMorgan Chase Accuses TransUnion of Stealing 'Trade Secrets'." In the article, he said: "By filing this as a trade...

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