In the world of public service, some people shine brightly. They stand out for their exceptional talents and unwavering commitment to making a positive impact on their community. Nancy Drane is one such individual. Although few beneficiaries of her work know her name, countless DC residents have benefited from her zealous advocacy and commitment to ensuring equal access to justice for all. We are thrilled to recognize Nancy Drane as our 2023 Presidents Award recipient for her outstanding contributions to the DC legal services community.
A Visionary Leader
Nancy is a true trailblazer in the world of access to justice. As the Executive Director of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, Nancy is at the helm of an organization whose mission is to increase local resources for the District’s civil legal services network, reduce barriers that prevent equal access to justice for low- and moderate-income District residents, promote greater pro bono service by local attorneys, improve planning and coordination of legal services delivery in the District, and call attention to the glaring disparity between the community’s need for legal services and the resources available to meet those needs. That is a tall order of business, and Nancy does it all with compassion, grace, and great skill.
Nancy’s entire legal career has been marked by a deep-rooted commitment to improving the lives of those in need. Before joining the Access to Justice Commission in November 2016, she had a remarkable 13-year career at the Children’s Law Center, where she served as a staff attorney, then training director, and finally pro bono director. In her capacity as pro bono director, she facilitated opportunities for hundreds of pro bono lawyers to represent adults and children in a range of vital legal matters.
A Life Dedicated to Justice
Nancy’s passion for helping others was evident even before law school. At Boston College, where she earned a degree in Political Science and Communications, she served as the President of the Undergraduate Government, showcasing her leadership skills even at that young age. After graduation, Nancy worked as an elementary school teacher in Chicago, Illinois, and administered an education-related non-profit.
Nancy’s commitment to serving others continued in law school. She earned her law degree, cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she was a Child Law Fellow. During her time in law school, she interned with the American Bar Association and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. After graduating, she gained valuable experience by clerking for the Honorable Dominic J. Squatrito of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.
A Driving Force for Access to Justice Funding
It is especially appropriate that Nancy receive the Presidents’ Award this year. Nancy played a pivotal role in a high-drama city council budget process. Ultimately, the council restored millions of dollars of funding for access to justice programs. These vital programs are the lifeline for countless residents, providing them with the legal support, services, and protection they need.
An early version of the DC budget would have dramatically cut funding for the Access to Justice Initiative. Advocating for the restoration of funding was no small feat and required extensive effort from community advocates, legal leaders, and those who directly benefit from free legal aid. In her capacity as a behind-the-scenes coordinator, community organizer, and outright champion, Nancy was instrumental in making these efforts a success.
Ultimately, the D.C. Council passed a revised budget providing $31 million for the Access to Justice Initiative in 2024. This funding ensures that legal services organizations can continue their vital work. So many in the District owe their thanks to Nancy for the many, many hours of work she put into the effort.
But there is no rest for the weary. Starting in November of this year, the D.C. Access to Justice Commission will join six nonprofits and 19 private law firms to provide free legal representation to housing subsidy recipients who are facing eviction. Nancy was a key player in creating this partnership that will reduce housing insecurity and homelessness by reviving this right-to-counsel initiative.
Nancy also knows how to raise the bar on private law firm donations to legal services providers. She champions private donations from lawyers and law firms in the District and inculcates a culture of giving back, spearheading the D.C. Access to Justice Commission’s Raising the Bar Campaign, which encourages local law firms of any size to support legal services in the District. This year, 40 firms and solo practitioners were recognized for donating a record $7.3 million to more than 40 local legal services organizations in 2022. Coordinating and motivating numerous law firms to support a diverse range of local legal services organizations is only possible due to Nancy’s drive and talent.
A Wealth of Knowledge and Expertise
Nancy’s accomplishments extend beyond her impressive career trajectory. She has consistently shared her extensive knowledge with the legal community. Nancy serves on the Board of the Washington Council of Lawyers, and on the Board of DC Refers, an online directory of lawyers willing to assist modest-means District residents at reduced rates. Furthermore, Nancy has been a sought-after presenter both locally and nationally, covering a wide array of topics, including pro bono work, attorney training, child welfare, cultural competency, and vicarious trauma.
Nancy also is a trusted adviser, wise counselor, and genuine confidant. She is quick to provide a listening ear, sound advice, and practical solutions to her colleagues. With an easy laugh, she readily offers compliments and extends kindness and loyalty to her many dear friends.
In recognition of her unwavering dedication to equal access to justice, we celebrate Nancy as the deserving recipient of this year’s Presidents Award. Her remarkable career, commitment to public service, and tireless efforts in the realm of access to justice serve as an inspiration to us all. Nancy is indeed a true champion for the cause of justice, and we applaud her for her exceptional contributions to our community.
We are thrilled to recognize Nancy Drane as the recipient of our 2023 Justice Impact Awards Presidents Award.