Leading the Way to a More Equitable and Inclusive World

By Brenda Gazzar   |   May 20, 2024
Barbara Becker (left), Gibson Dunn’s first female Chair & Managing Partner, and Katie Marquart (right), the firm’s first Pro Bono Partner, are leading figures in the firm’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They have championed initiatives supporting women and spearheaded the firm’s robust pro bono practice.

When Katie Marquart joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP as a young lawyer, she knew about the firm’s prowess in litigation and transactional matters, as well as the firm’s inclusive, warm culture and longstanding tradition of service. She was excited about the prospect of working at the firm, but could not have anticipated the deep roots she would put down, nor could she have foreseen the role she would play in helping the firm invest in and develop a world-class pro bono practice.

A little over a decade ago, Marquart – at that time, a seventh-year associate – approached firm management to pitch the creation of a formal pro bono practice, with an attorney dedicated to managing the firm’s global pro bono work. The firm’s leadership agreed, naming her Gibson Dunn’s first Pro Bono Director. A few years ago, in 2020, Gibson Dunn promoted Marquart to Partner.   

Now, Marquart manages a robust pro bono practice that mobilizes members of practices and offices around the firm. Last year, Gibson Dunn attorneys donated a record-breaking 165,000 pro bono hours, and about 1,650 of its attorneys – more than 80% of its total attorneys – were engaged in pro bono work. 

From supporting refugees fleeing war-torn countries to responding to the Covid-19 crisis to helping reunify immigrant families, much of the firm’s diverse pro bono work involves rapidly responding to crises both at home and abroad. 

A salient example of the firm’s crisis response pro bono work dates back to 2017, when nearly 200 Gibson Dunn attorneys provided thousands of hours of pro bono assistance to those affected by the travel ban that prohibited individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The following year, at the height of the U.S. family separation crisis, Gibson Dunn mobilized Spanish-speaking lawyers and sent them to the U.S.-Mexico border to meet with parents in detention facilities who had been separated from their children and attempt to reunite them. In parallel, the firm helped identify the parents of hundreds of “lost” children who had been transported from Texas to New York without tracking who their parents were or where they were detained. 

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged communities around the world, 300 lawyers at Gibson Dunn came together to provide more than 10,000 hours of free legal advice to small business owners struggling to navigate the effects of the pandemic. 

While this crisis still raged, a new one rapidly unfolded. After the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021, the firm took on hundreds of Afghan clients fleeing threats of violence from the Taliban, assisting them in their legal journeys to obtain refugee or asylee status in the U.S. and U.K. The firm’s pro bono clients include a group of Afghan women who served in Afghanistan’s Female Tactical Platoon, an all-women security forces unit that fought alongside U.S. and Afghan special forces and were at extreme risk of Taliban reprisals due to their military service and gender. Gibson Dunn helped these women and their families apply for asylum to remain safely in the United States. Gibson Dunn’s pro bono clients also include members of one of Afghanistan’s national women’s sports teams, who became symbols of women’s empowerment and thus a target for the Taliban. The firm is helping dozens affiliated with that team in their efforts to evacuate to the United States. 

And, of course, Gibson Dunn’s pro bono practice extends far beyond this type of crisis response work. The firm maintains many long-standing community relationships with organizations that regularly refer cases for clients seeking a variety of different assistance, including work on behalf of veterans, domestic violence survivors, nonprofits and small businesses, individuals facing unlawful evictions, and immigrants eligible for various forms of humanitarian relief. The firm is proud of all of its work on behalf of these clients. 

And Marquart notes, the firm has also never shied away from also taking on larger-scale impact cases – cases that have the ability to change the lives of not just their individual clients but of entire communities. Over a decade ago, for example, the firm took on the Prop 8 litigation – advocating in the courts for same-sex marriage. And, more recently, the firm has represented DACA holders at the Supreme Court to preserve their rights to stay lawfully in the only country that they have ever called home. The firm has also taken seriously its commitment to fighting for racial justice and equity, including taking on groundbreaking civil rights cases and, more recently, helping businesses and nonprofits navigate the changing legal landscape post-SFFA. “We are uniquely positioned to take on some of these larger cases,” says Marquart. “The decision to do so requires the firm to not only invest substantial time and resources, but also to really evidence the courage of our convictions. I am proud to have seen us do just that time and time again, often when it matters the most and when our clients’ civil liberties and due process rights, as well as equal protection under the law are at stake.”

Gibson Dunn’s passion for social justice is also reflected in the firm’s internal focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. An important milestone came when Barbara Becker – who joined the firm in 2000 and co-chaired its Mergers and Acquisitions Practice Group for over a decade – was elected as the firm’s first female Chair & Managing Partner in 2021. At the time, you could count the number of women in top leadership roles at the 50 largest U.S.-based firms by revenue on two hands, according to The American Lawyer, a premier industry magazine.

Becker’s colleagues describe her as a phenomenal leader who is eager to help and support Gibson Dunn’s 1,900-plus lawyers in 21 offices around the world as they find and follow their own paths to success. Becker’s leadership has also been recognized in the broader legal industry, including when she was named Managing Partner of the Year by The American Lawyer in 2023.

Becker – who, prior to her election as Chair & Managing Partner, helped create and lead Gibson Dunn’s Global Diversity Committee – has been championing inclusion at the firm for decades. Since the Global Diversity Committee launched the firm’s Women of Gibson Dunn initiative in 2014, over 80 women have been promoted to partner and over 60 lateral women partners have joined the firm. 

The firm’s dedication to supporting and promoting its talent is echoed by Zakiyyah Salim-Williams, Gibson Dunn Partner and the firm’s Chief Diversity Officer, who observed: “We want our attorneys to live fulfilled lives, and to that end, we are immensely proud of our inclusive firm culture that allows our talent to meaningfully contribute in both their personal and professional lives.” She also noted, “The next step of our DEI journey is to focus even more on giving back to the communities in which we work and reside. As it relates to our Women of Gibson Dunn initiative specifically, we look forward to continuing our work alongside community partners and clients to support organizations that provide resources and relief to women and girls across the globe.”

With Becker at the helm, and as the firm approaches its 135th anniversary in 2025, Gibson Dunn continues to cultivate an environment where all can thrive – both within its walls and beyond.


Gibson Dunn

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