Wes Heppler is an inspiring, one-of-a-kind champion. He advocates strenuously for his clients, is a true colleague and friend to his co-workers, and is a dedicated advocate for just systems to help the homeless. It is with immense pride and admiration that we announce him as the recipient of the 2023 Justice Impact Award for Legal Services Lawyers.
Wes is unique in that he both is and is not a legal services lawyer and is and is not a law firm lawyer. Wes Heppler’s remarkable journey in the world of pro bono service began in 1989, just two years after the inception of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH). As a volunteer attorney and board member, he embarked on a path marked by selflessness, tirelessness, and unwavering commitment. This journey continued for over three decades, all while Wes pursued his career as a telecommunications attorney at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, where he retired as a partner six years ago.
Wes’ “retirement” was different from most. Upon retiring from the law firm, he transitioned into a new role as a full-time, volunteer staff attorney at the Legal Clinic. For the past six years, he has dedicated himself full-time to pro bono work with WLCH, supporting clients facing homelessness and housing insecurity. As a volunteer staff attorney, Wes became “one of the team” in all ways other than his salary. He has not cherry-picked what he worked on or how he engaged. Wes has been all in. He has shown up and offered to fill any need that was identified. He came to staff meetings, offered to take on-call shifts to represent emergency cases of families unlawfully denied shelter, took the lead on projects as needed, attended Interagency Council of Homelessness meetings, and helped WLCH recruit and strengthen their pro bono program. At the end of this year, he plans to retire once again, this time from his role as a volunteer legal services lawyer, while continuing to serve on the WLCH board.
Wes’s role in strategic planning for homeless services in the District has been invaluable. Was has a keen ability to navigate the complex landscape of policies, anticipate the consequences of decisions, and advocate for the best interests of clients. With humility, humor, and profound love for WLCH and its staff, Wes has been a guiding force, reminding everyone of their strengths and encouraging collaboration when possible, while also fearlessly pursuing litigation when it best served clients’ needs.
Throughout the past three decades, Wes has been a tireless advocate for hundreds of low-income DC residents. His work encompassed securing shelter, maintaining housing subsidies, and restoring utilities. He championed effective and respectful services, health-focused shelter solutions, and improved housing conditions. Wes embraced the clinic’s approach of meeting clients where they were, both literally and figuratively, by listening carefully to their needs and respecting their choices.
Wes has served on the WLCH board for an astonishing 34 years, including two years as Vice President and 16 years as Board President. He chaired a board committee dedicated to enhancing and supporting pro bono attorneys and partnerships. Wes’s leadership is defined by his actions and examples, and he played a pivotal role in establishing the Client Emergency Fund, which aids low-income clients in meeting critical financial needs.
What perhaps most sets Wes apart is not what he has achieved over his 34 years of service, but how he has accomplished it. He approaches his work with grace, kindness, compassion, and unwavering respect for colleagues, adversaries, and, most importantly, his clients. He advocates zealously to hold public officials and private parties accountable to the law, all while recognizing their humanity. Wes is a person of humility and humor, and he has never sought or expected recognition for the thousands of hours he has devoted to advancing housing justice for DC residents.
Wes Heppler, a true champion of justice, is a shining example of dedication, compassion, and unwavering commitment to the most vulnerable members of our community. He embodies the qualities of a genuine hero, dedicated to the cause of justice, without seeking recognition or praise. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Wes Heppler for this well-deserved honor, and we are profoundly grateful for his tireless efforts in the pursuit of justice.