Chris Jennison, a lawyer at the U.S. Department of Transportation, goes above and beyond in his commitment to pro bono service and his dedication to encouraging others to make pro bono service part of their career. For his strong and steady commitment to doing pro bono work and the many ways he has encouraged other government lawyers to do pro bono work, Chris is the recipient of the 2023 Justice Impact Award for Government Lawyers.
Chris’ career as a government lawyer began in 2016 when he joined the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the spring of 2017, he began a pro bono journey that has been marked by steadfast dedication and a deep sense of purpose. His pro bono experiences have not only enriched his legal skills but also made him a more effective government lawyer.
Chris’s initial pro bono case presented a formidable challenge – a landlord/tenant case in D.C. Superior Court that he worked on with another Honors Attorney. The case was his first significant litigation experience as a practicing attorney and was very different from his usual legal work, which primarily involved administrative litigation. The client, a single mother facing eviction and a custody battle, had amassed over $14,000 in unpaid rent and was in dire straits. With Chris’s legal support, she not only had the back rent forgiven due to the deplorable housing conditions in her home, but also resolved the housing issues. Finally, Chris and his co-counsel connected the client with assistance to help her navigate the custody dispute. Not surprisingly, Chris remains in contact with this client to the present day.
This challenging legal experience fueled Chris’ passion for pro bono work. Since that initial case, he has taken on 15 pro bono cases in DC and Maryland, handling contested divorce, custody, and landlord/tenant disputes. Among his current caseload is a contested divorce and custody case in Montgomery County, MD, which has been ongoing for over two years. Family law cases are often some of the most challenging to find volunteer attorneys for, given their complexity and the sensitive nature of the issues involved. Chris’s legal acumen, professionalism, and unwavering commitment to his clients have set a commendable standard.
One of the standout aspects of Chris’s pro bono work is his commitment to mentoring and guiding other lawyers in their pro bono endeavors. He has worked with both inexperienced and seasoned attorneys who were taking on pro bono cases for the first time, helping them overcome any apprehensions they might have had about pro bono litigation. Many have expressed how Chris’s guidance and support alleviated their concerns and encouraged their commitment to pro bono service. Chris is a helpful guide and trusted mentor.
Since 2021, Chris has been the Chair of the Department of Transportation’s Pro Bono Services Committee. This committee, comprised of representatives from various DOT subagencies, is dedicated to fostering pro bono participation, providing training, and raising awareness about pro bono opportunities. They have initiated valuable projects, including a revamp of the DOT pro bono website and advocacy for updates to pro bono policies, including the inclusion of administrative leave for pro bono attorneys. Chris’ commitment to mentoring and training agency lawyers in handling pro bono matters, litigating cases, and providing non-litigation legal services to low-income individuals and entities has been unwavering. His passion for fostering a culture of giving back within the legal community is truly commendable.
Chris possesses an unwavering commitment to justice, dedication to helping those in need, and inspiring leadership in the government legal community. He is a true embodiment of the spirit of pro bono service and a deserving recipient of the 2023 Justice Impact Award for Government Lawyers.