Oh, what a night! Thank you to everyone who joined us at our 2019 Awards Ceremony, and an extra-special thank you to our award recipients for the work that they do to serve our community. We could not have been more excited to honor one of our own, Jen Swedish, with the Above and Beyond Award. While her role as treasurer of the Board of Washington Council of Lawyers is largely unseen, the positive impact she has made on the Council is unmatched. Jen is a key component of our leadership team, and her stewardship of our finances for the last seven years has meant that we have been able to grow and adapt to meet any challenge. It was an honor to have Board Member and past president Paul Lee accept our Law Firm Award on behalf of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Through the efforts of Barbara Kagan, immediate past Pro Bono Counsel for more than 25 years, and with Paul's continuing guidance, Steptoe is a strong leader in the pro bono community. We were proud to recognize the firm's commitment to pro bono service and the myriad ways Steptoe has supported Washington Council of Lawyers in furthering our mission. Marisa Schnaith with the U.S. Department of Labor exemplifies exactly what one person can do with hard work and a drive to help. We were excited to present her with our Government Pro Bono Award. Not only did she dedicate 100 hours of individual pro bono service last year, but she is instrumental in the continuous innovation and expansion of her department's pro bono activities. She is an outstanding example for all government lawyers. Our Legal Service Award recipient Trisha Monroe from Legal Aid is one of those amazing individuals who is both warm and fierce at the same time. She makes her clients feel secure, perhaps for the first time in a very long time, and is dedicated to walking with them as they seek safety, security and healthy relationships. Over her career, she has been a tireless advocate for more than 6,000 victims of domestic violence and a kind and caring mentor for her family law/domestic violence colleagues across the public interest community. Lastly, were thrilled to award Nicole Austin-Hillery, Executive Director of U.S. Programs at Human Rights Watch with the Presidents Award for Public Service for her legacy of powerful civil rights advocacy on behalf of individuals and for systemic change throughout her career. Nicole's vision, dedication, and leadership have been a true inspiration to the many law students, lawyers and lawmakers who have had the privilege of working with her. She is a true hero. Now, more than ever, our community needs opportunities to come together, celebrate our accomplishments, reflect on the positive influences we have on the lives of our neighbors, and recharge our collective professional batteries. We were thrilled to share this evening with so many wonderful advocates and friends! Keep up the good work and know that the Washington Council of Lawyers stands ready to assist, support and encourage you.
Nicole Austin-Hillery has long been recognized as a passionate, mission-driven, and committed civil rights leader fighting for the disenfranchised. As the newly created U.S. Program Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, she directs efforts to end systemic injustice within the United States. Nicole is a fervent advocate for progressive public policies addressing a wide range of human rights issues, from immigration to national security, criminal justice, and civil rights. Nicole has been blazing new trails and taking on unique challenges throughout her career. Before embarking on her current role with Human Rights Watch, Nicole served as the first Director and Counsel of The Brennan Center's Washington, D.C. office where she led policy development and represented the organization before Congress. Nicole pressed for substantive results through her testimony before the Executive Branch and various state and local legislative bodies, and lead conversations that prompted action through her widely-read opinion editorials for major news outlets such as Time Magazine, The Hill, and CNN.com. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Howard University School of Law, Nicole has always fought injustice. She spent her early career as a civil rights attorney at the law firm of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC as part of the firm's civil rights employment class action practice. She also worked as the George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Law Fellow at the national office of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. Nicole puts thought into practice through her wide and far-reaching pro bono service to the legal community. While many know her as the 2018-2019 President of the Washington Bar Association, she also has served as an Advisory Committee Member of the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law and as co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section's Defense Function Committee. Additionally, Nicole inspires the next generation of social justice warriors as an adjunct civil rights professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and as a former Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow at Harvard Law School. Despite her busy schedule, Nicole has been an insightful contributor to Washington Council of Lawyers. She served as a past President and currently serves as co-chair of the Honorary Board Committee. Nicole is a long-time Washington Council of Lawyers board member and has been a fixture at our Summer Pro Bono and Public Interest Forum. In addition to serving as a breakout session panelist for several years, Nicole has moderated our keynote discussions for the past three years, leading conversations with Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in 2019, David Cole, ACLU National Legal Director in 2018, and The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. Nicole is flawless in leading warm and engaging conversations that highlight current legal issues. She has also participated in our Racial Justice Series programs, including an examination of the events in Ferguson and how to address ongoing racism in the justice system. Nicole is a tireless advocate for those living in the margins of society. It is an honor to award the 2019 Presidents Award for Public Service to Nicole Austin-Hillery.
They say it's always the quiet ones. In our case, the quiet one is a force. Quietly, and without fanfare, Jen Swedish simply gets things done. Effectively. Excellently. Extraordinarily. As one of her fellow board members aptly stated, "She has a behind-the-scenes role that even most Board members don't fully see. But Jen has provided a critical service to Washington Council of Lawyers." Jen has been a member of Washington Council of Lawyers Board of Directors for 10 years. And for 7 of those years, she has served as our Treasurer. There is nothing glamorous or exciting about the weekend and late-night hours Jen has spent pouring over spreadsheets and reconciling bank accounts. However, it is vitally important work that ensures our financial stability and ability to serve our mission. She has fearlessly tackled the IRS's complex rules and regulations, always ensuring we are doing exactly what needs to be done. She is adept with Excel, creating pivot tables and using shortcuts to make the work easier. These may sound like trivial talents. They are not! Jen's work over the years has saved Washington Council of Lawyers thousands of dollars in accounting and bookkeeping expenses. A long-time board member said it best, "In a small organization, it is vital to have passionate board members who are willing to take on the difficult tasks. Jen has consistently demonstrated her passion for Washington Council of Lawyers through her long-time stewardship of our finances and her dedication to our success. She has been a key component of our leadership team, and through her efforts, has ensured our ability to meet any challenge." Jen contributes this valuable volunteer service while juggling the obligations imposed by judges, discovery schedules, and travel stemming from her active caseload as a full-time litigator at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the competing demands of having and raising three precious children. (We like to think of them as future public-interest lawyers.) She also has been a key contributor to the work of our committees, especially the Personnel Committee. Her insights and financial acumen have helped the Washington Council of Lawyers make solid decisions so that we have been able to grow our membership, offer more trainings to pro bono and public-interest lawyers, advocate effectively for increased access to justice, and build a stronger public-interest community. Although Jen's work has been in the background, it is central to advancing our mission. Two of the four pillars of our mission are training public-interest lawyers and developing leaders in the public-interest community. Jen was supporting these pillars even before she joined the board by serving as a co-chair of our Mentoring Program. As an alumnae of the program herself, she has been generous with her time in advising other co-chairs on how to effectively lead the program, and serving as a panelist at Mentoring Program events. Our Above & Beyond Award gives us the opportunity to thank Jen for a thankless job. We are pleased to take public notice of her dependability and dedication. We honor the talents she has shared with us and the hours she has devoted. We are grateful for her contributions and thrilled to recognize Jen Swedish as the 2019 recipient of our Above & Beyond Award.