Firm's pro bono work makes impact


by Linda Laderman
Legal News

Last year, Robert Levine sat in a U.S. District Courtroom in Houston listening to five victims of human trafficking, women from ages 15 to 78, testify at a sentencing and restitution hearing that would aid the court in establishing a financial value for the reparations they should receive as a result of their ordeal.

As the manager of dispute advisory and forensic services at Stout, Risius and Ross (SRR), Levine was instrumental in constructing a methodology to assist the court as it determined how much compensation should be given to the victims.

“My report was considered by the judge and my conclusions accepted as the value of restitution awarded,” Levine said. “Our recommendation for reparations were also included in counsel’s initial briefs,” Levine said.

Reparations for the victims were derived from assets that were seized by the government from the people convicted of committing the offense, Levine explained.

Despite becoming well acquainted with the issue over an extended period of time, Levine still found it difficult to hear from those who suffered at the hands of the traffickers.

“Each of the women who chose to speak were provided with the opportunity to address their perpetrators,” Levine said. “It was an impactful experience, but not an easy thing to listen to.”

Reflecting on his involvement in the trafficking case, Levine said he was acutely aware that even though the court successfully used his formula, no amount of money could erase the pain of the women who testified.

“It was satisfying to hear that our client was awarded restitution. I do not expect that any amount of compensation would be considered sufficient relative to what the defendant's victims endure,” Levine said.  “Knowing there was an award did seem just. On a personal level, I was happy to have been able to provide our client with a measureable degree of help in achieving that award.

“Professionally it was certainly rewarding to know that after consideration of my work, the judge had accepted my opinions when entering the restitution award. Upon hearing the amounts awarded to the other victims, I realized how important the work of our client's entire team was to examining all measures of her loss to ensure that she received fair restitution.”

The work Levine and his group accomplished for their client was part of SRR’s ongoing pro bono approach to collaborate with attorneys on issues that often reach beyond traditional categories of corporate philanthropy.

Justin Cherfoli, managing director of Levine’s group, said that in addition to supporting professional organizations like the Oakland County Bar Foundation, for which SRR is a Signature Event platinum sponsor, the company also takes on issues that impact at risk groups that are outside of the business sector.

“In 2008, we started our pro bono practice to offer the specialized financial expertise of SRR professionals to low-income individuals and the non-profit organizations that support them,” Cherfoli said. “Philanthropic giving is just not enough. We do great work protecting the community.”

According to Cherfoli, an issue must be a good fit with SRR’s capabilities before the company allocates any resources to it.

“We are committed to accepting only those pro bono matters that are consistent with our focus areas and expertise. We do not make decisions based on what is a timely or trending issue. Rather we look for matters that are a good fit for the services we provide and where we can make the biggest contribution and impact,” Cherfoli said.

In the 16 years he has been with SRR, Cherfoli said he has seen a surge in the amount of hours the company dedicates to the social issues that benefit from the kind of expertise SRR can offer.

“Our community involvement has grown each year since I have been at the firm. Since our pro bono practice was formed in 2008, we have grown from just four to almost 30 pro bono matters per year, eclipsing one million dollars in hours contributed” Cherfoli said. “It makes me very proud to be part of our firm and its continuing efforts to offer pro bono services to the community.”