Gibbs & Bruns associate Caitlin Halpern is a national finalist in 2023 The American Lawyer Industry Awards nominated in the category of “Young Lawyer of the Year (Beyond Practice).”
Despite the demands a young litigator faces regarding time and dedicated client and practice-focus, Caitlin has stayed true to her keen pursuit of community service and pro bono efforts. And she’s done so at an incredibly admirable level. Not only is Caitlin the firm’s young lawyer pro bono liaison, she actively handles multiple pro bono parole matters and coordinates additional parole representations by her fellow lawyers. Thus far, Gibbs & Bruns has taken on 20 parole cases, and achieved favorable outcomes in 13 of those cases (with 3 case losses and 4 matters still pending). And, in true Caitlin form, she’s taken this effort one step further and is working with the University of Texas Parole Project, run by Professor Helen Gaebler, and a Littler Mendelson attorney, to establish a statewide network of attorneys to take on pro bono parole cases.
Caitlin recently completed a selective training program in § 1983 litigation run by Civil Rights Corp, and currently represents a senior citizen assaulted outside his home by a law enforcement officer. Her pro bono docket also includes a medical reprieve application on behalf of an elderly incarcerated woman with Stage IV lung cancer and a guardianship petition to establish parental rights for an orphaned child’s older sister. Caitlin has handled pro bono cases referred by Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Lambda Legal, Refugee Services of Texas, the Office of Capital & Forensic Writs, and the Innocence Project, as well as an amicus brief on behalf of the Innocence Network in the Melissa Lucio case. In addition, Caitlin managed a class-action lawsuit brought by Gibbs & Bruns and the ACLU of Texas on behalf of hundreds of individuals detained as material witnesses in Laredo; see Judges in Laredo Jailing Witnesses in ‘Mechanical Scheme’. Caitlin also serves on the Houston Bar Association’s HAY Center Committee, which supports programming for youth in foster care.
In 2019, Caitlin and her partner Stephen started a debate class at the Harris County jail, the second-largest jail in the country. Previously, Caitlin lived and worked in New York City, where she taught a weekly debate class on Rikers Island. Spending Friday nights in jail was the highlight of her weeks: “My students were hungry for new opportunities, and it was so inspiring to watch them gain valuable skills and confidence in their intellectual abilities.” The Rikers Debate Project nonprofit has been featured in sources including the New York Times and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Caitlin brought the effort to Houston, where more than 20 volunteers were trained and cleared to teach in the jail. With enthusiastic support from Harris County Jail (HCJ) staff, the group began meeting twice a week to teach public speaking, critical thinking, and current events. HCJ has strong vocational programming, but this effort was the first of its kind and enhanced educational offerings beyond basic literacy and GED programs. Caitlin updated the Rikers Debate Project’s curriculum to focus on practical skills like evaluating evidence and working in teams. Each class involved a lesson and touched on current events such as the border wall and the rights of incarnated people to vote. Students involved in the program frequently report on conditions within their respective facilities, and their voices have been featured in major media outlets including the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Observer, The Marshall Project, and ProPublica.
The Rikers Debate Project also started a debate program via Zoom for formerly incarcerated people, which included practice sessions twice a week and demonstration debate events every month or two. University event co-hosts have included Yale, Princeton, NYU, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins. The Zoom debate program was featured on an episode of the New Yorker Radio Hour that was broadcast on NPR.
Caitlin now serves as Executive Director of the Rikers Debate Project’s national organization. She and her partner Stephen hope to resume in-person classes at HCJ later this year and plan to start a class for incarcerated women at HCJ as well.
Caitlin’s talents and tireless dedication to serving those in need were recognized by the Houston Business Journal who named Caitlin a 2021 “40 Under 40” Honoree; American Lawyer Media who named her an “On the Rise” honoree, 2021 Texas Legal Awards; and the American Bar Association who named Caitlin a 2020 “Top 40 Young Lawyer On The Rise.”
Winners in all categories of The American Lawyer Industry Awards will be announced during a dinner in New York City on November 15, 2023.
About The ALM Awards
The American Lawyer Industry Award honorees are selected by Law.com and The American Lawyer’s editors and reporters for all categories. Each nominee is judged in their respective categories, but editorial staff may award nominees in a different category at their discretion.