Karen Newton Cole is tenacious, talented, and timeless. As the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) of the District of Columbia, she has expanded NLSP’s SE presence – opening a neighborhood law office with attorneys from 3 practice areas and launching a new practice, the Economic Security Unit. She is always looking for ways to serve her community efficiently and effectively while keeping the client centered in NSLP’s work. To that end, she initiated their Community Share Sessions to obtain input from NLSP clients and DC communities. Prior to rejoining NLSP, Karen had a long career with the federal government and spent time as a partner in a D.C. public-interest law firm. It is not hyperbole to say Karen has had a positive and lasting impact on the public-interest community in D.C.
One of her most enduring traits, especially during the pandemic, is her ability to build coalitions and address existing challenges while sustaining previously achieved gains. She needed to call upon this trait time and again during the panic at the start of the COVID lockdown and then during the long slog that has been the last two and a half years. But throughout it all, Karen led her organization and the D.C. Consortium of Legal Service Providers with resilience and grace. It is her continued leadership of the Consortium that helped our entire community shift to remote representation, work through first the closing and then the reopening of our courts, and kept our community informed about vital information that helped legal service providers continue to serve their client population despite significant barriers.
Beyond leading NLSP and the Consortium, Karen serves our community in a variety of ways. In 2018, Ms. Newton Cole received the Advocate for Justice Award from the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers. Karen is also a Commissioner on the DC Access to Justice Commission, a member of the NLADA Mutual Insurance Program Board of Directors, serves on the DC Bar Board of Governors, and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. With each endeavor she brings a “possibilitarian” attitude, always imagining new possibilities through inclusive leadership and resourceful thinking.
As Karen herself has shared, her job is to “elevate the needs of the District of Columbia’s low-income residents and, more broadly, to address systemic injustices that impact all minority populations. The pandemic exposed societal inequities not only in healthcare, housing, and economic opportunities but also in the lack of representation and advocacy.” She continues to work toward equity in our society every day through example, empathy, and encouragement.
We are honored to recognize Karen with our 2022 Presidents Award for Public Service.
Learn more about Karen and the other award recipients at our 2022 Awards Ceremony. And share your congratulations on social media using #Awards22.