For the last ten years, Avis E. Buchanan has been the director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia(PDS), which provides defense, and related legal and non-legal services, to indigent adults and children charged with crimes and delinquent acts in the local DC courts. PDS is widely regarded as one of the best public defender offices in the country, local or federal; Avis is the longest-serving director in PDS history. As director of PDS, Avis oversees an extensive range of cutting-edge legal and non-legal services aimed at providing the best possible representation to criminal defendants. PDS has a staff of 220, roughly half of whom are lawyers. PDS has seven legal units and, uncommonly, pulls from those to create practice groups that focus, for example, on forensics and mental health, two chief aspects of trial and sentence-mitigation work. Specialists not only assist in individual cases but push for reforms of local and federal policies and legislation. They also run training programs for lawyers, social workers, investigators, and others working on the front lines of DC justice. Indeed, PDS was set up as a model public defender organization, Avis says. “We give people a fighting chance, just as rich people have… We are helping people at a very crucial time in their lives. We are dealing with people facing scornful, judgmental attitudes.” PDS attorneys force the system to see people as human beings – not just criminals, or bodies moving through the system. Avis has worked to expand access to justice throughout her career, in both civil and criminal cases. After graduating from law school and clerking for a federal appellate judge, Avis joined PDS as a staff attorney in 1982. She represented criminal defendants for six and a half years, during the height of the crack epidemic in D.C. For the next 13 years, Avis served as a staff attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Project, and then director of litigation at Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. There, Avis litigated individual and class action civil rights cases across the country. After over a decade of litigating civil-rights cases, Avis returned to PDS in 2002, as deputy director, and then became its director in 2004. Avis, who grew up in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, says that the struggle for civil rights has been a “running theme of my existence” and results directly from the influence of her father. Her parents’ values and her faith led her into public interest law and continue to guide her work. “The idea of helping people and doing for others is what I was taught at home and taught at church,” she said. And Avis continues to be active in her community: she sits on her church’s board of trustees, her former elementary school’s board, and on the board that runs the local Adventist Health Care system. She also sits on the board of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and on our own Honorary Board. Finally, Avis is a mentor to young people in a variety of settings. She has served as a mentor through the public interest program at Harvard Law School, and has volunteered to be a mentor at Georgetown Law. She also reaches out to younger people at church, and takes time to help young people who friends or colleagues send to her for advice. “I have them come down to the office, introduce them to attorneys and take them to do court-watching,” she says. “It demystifies the job, and shows them it is within their reach.” We’re not the first to notice Avis’s accomplishments. She has received the Wiley A. Branton Award from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Edwin D. Wolf Award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. We’re pleased to join these organizations in honoring Avis’s many contributions to both civil and criminal justice.
Greg Lipper was introduced to Washington Council of Lawyers in 2011 by Taryn Wilgus Null, our then-President and at the time a colleague of Greg’s at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where Greg is a First Amendment litigator. Taryn invited Greg to attend one of our programs with her, and introduced him to some of our other members. Fast forward: Greg joined our Board of Directors in 2012, instantly became the Chair of our brand-new, but sorely needed, Communications Committee, and revolutionized our outreach, communications, and impact. Greg’s tireless work ethic, quick wit, and razor sharp editor’s pen have transformed the way we reach DC’s public interest community. Some attorneys have even commented that they ENJOY reading our emails! Under Greg’s leadership, we started an active, lively Twitter account; before Greg, we didn’t even know what Twitter was. Greg and his team on the Communications Committee have launched us into photos, graphics, Facebook, Storify, Flickr, Tumblr, and an overall “bettr” way of working towards our mission of promoting pro bono service and the public interest practice of law. We asked our board members what they liked best about Greg, and here is what they had to say: Greg gives 110% to everything he does. Greg is always pushing the envelope and successfully encouraging the Washington Council of Lawyers to reach new heights. His energy and enthusiasm know no bounds. Greg possesses an uncommon blend of humor, sincerity, and intellect. Greg brings new ideas and ways to use technology to advance our core mission with such excitement for our work. Greg has pushed and pulled us into the 21st century in terms of our use of social media. His energy and enthusiasm are boundless. Plus, he makes me laugh—a lot. Greg constantly challenges everyone around him to be more thoughtful, rigorous and excellent. He changes the very nature of any conversation and dialogue with his presence. The council is a far more energetic and current organization because he is on its Board. Greg has tenacity! Greg has played a critical role in the marketing and inter-connectedness of the Council with its members and the public. Kudos to Greg! Greg’s energy, creativity and technical expertise makes him an indispensable member of the Council. I admire his willingness to advocate for a position in light of opposition—his willingness to challenge the board makes us a stronger organization. Greg gets things done as soon as the idea is out of someone’s mouth! I’m grateful for his very helpful combination of dedication, energy and efficiency! There are too many good things about Greg to be able to mention them all here – I will email with a bit more reflection to pare it down! I will Tweet my comments about Greg. We are grateful for all of Greg’s work, and we are delighted to recognize him with our Above and Beyond Award.
Our 2014 Law Firm Award goes to our longtime friends at Sidley Austin LLP. Sidley is a global law firm with more than 1,800 lawyers in 18 offices around the world, including in Washington, DC. While often hired to handle complex transactions and “bet the company” litigation, Sidley also recognizes its profound responsibility to use its lawyers’ skills and experience to provide services to individuals and organizations that otherwise would be unable to afford legal representation. “Pro bono is something our firm’s management cares deeply about and takes personally,” say Jeffrey Green, partner and firm-wide chair of Sidley’s Pro Bono Committee, and Becky Troth, pro bono counsel for Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office. As one indication of the firm’s commitment to pro bono work, Sidley’s lawyers and staff devote more than 100,000 hours to pro bono projects annually. Sidley’s Committee on Pro Bono and Public Interest Law was instrumental in implementing four significant firm-wide initiatives in the last ten years: (1) the Capital Litigation Project, handling death penalty appeals; (2) the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project, representing clients in political asylum and other immigration matters; (3) the Veterans Benefits Project, representing veterans in benefits appeals; and (4) the Africa-Asia Agricultural Enterprise Program, serving the world’s poorest farmers and their communities. In addition to these firm-wide projects, Sidley has served pro bono clients in virtually every area of the law, from individual actions to recover disability benefits and child support to national cases affecting voting rights and marriage equality. Another important component of Sidley’s pro bono work is its fellowship program, which allows associates to work at nonprofit organizations before they join the firm. Over the last twelve years, more than 60 incoming Sidley associates have served as DC Bar Pro Bono Fellows at local legal services organizations. Since March 2012, Sidley also has sponsored a loaned associate program with the Legal Aid Society of DC, through which a Sidley associate spends four months working full-time with Legal Aid’s Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project. Over the last year, Sidley has received significant recognition for its pro bono program. Among many other distinctions, it was included among Law360’s Pro Bono Firms of 2014; received the 2014 Exceptional Service Award from the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project; and won the Pro Bono Counsel Award from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Finally, Sidley has provided extensive support directly to Washington Council of Lawyers and our projects. Betsy Howe, a Partner in Sidley’s DC office and chair of Sidley’s Pro Bono Committee in Washington, served as our treasurer in 2012–2013 and our president in 2013–2014. Becky Troth has been an important part of the DC Pro Bono Weekworking group for many years; together, with Mayer Brown’s Marcia Maack, Becky organized the Virtual Pro Bono Fair, a lasting resource for the pro bono community. We are also grateful for the firm’s generosity with use of their space and sponsorships of our events. It is due to the strong support of law firms like Sidley Austin that we have been able to grow, thrive, and better promote pro bono service and public interest law. We are grateful to Sidley Austin and pleased to honor the firm with our 2014 Law Firm Award. You can learn more about Sidley and our other award winners at our 2014 Awards Ceremony.
Our 2014 Government Pro Bono Award goes to John J. (Joey) Bowers, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice Civil Division. Joey has become a role model for the public interest community in a surprisingly short time. Joey joined the Civil Division’s Environmental Tort Litigation section after he finished clerking in 2011. Since then, he has taken on three major pro bono cases. In 2011, Joey took on a case that many other lawyers thought was too challenging; he helped a mother from Massachusetts maintain her custody rights in a trial that involved nine witnesses. In 2012, while still working on the custody case, he represented a client wrongly accused of causing a car accident. And he took on another case that same year, which ended after Joey spent 11 hours negotiating a settlement on the Sunday before trial. Joey has done plenty of other pro bono and volunteer work as well. He has helped clients draft wills and powers of attorney through the DC Bar/Bread for the City will clinic. He has volunteered at the DC Bar Advice and Referral Clinic. He coaches the Woodrow Wilson High School mock trial team and has led them to compete at a citywide program at the DC Superior Court. He is Co-Director of the Federal Bar Association’s Moot Court Program. And he is Co-Chair of the Summer Law Clerk Program for the Federal Bar Association’s Younger Lawyers Division. Joey has helped a huge number of people in a very short time despite an extremely busy schedule. He is a true public servant, and we are pleased to honor him with our 2014 Government Pro Bono Award.
Our inaugural Legal Services Award goes to Jodi Feldman, Supervising Attorney for Pro Bono and Training Programs at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Jodi is known throughout our legal community for her work ethic and commitment to pro bono service, but she also has been called the quintessential “unsung hero.” Most of her work involves building infrastructure behind the scenes – creating and improving programs that enable pro bono attorneys to provide high-quality legal help to thousands of people in need. After graduating from Georgetown Law, Jodi practiced at Wiley Rein before becoming a Staff Attorney and Pro Bono Coordinator of the Legal Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health. Jodi then joined Legal Aid in 2004, and jumpstarted its pro bono program. Legal Aid has increased the number of cases it places with volunteers every year for the past four years. Last year, attorneys contributed a staggering $16.5 million worth of attorney time for Legal Aid. Jodi’s work has increased not only the quantity of Legal Aid’s referrals, but also the quality of the resulting representation. She carefully matches pro bono lawyers with appropriate cases, makes sure that those lawyers get a Legal Aid mentor while working on their cases, and follows each case’s progress to its finish. She meets with various law firms throughout Washington, DC and coordinates firm-specific trainings. Jodi’s leadership also inspired unemployment-insurance referral relationships with both Arnold & Porter and McKenna Long & Aldridge and led to the establishment and maintenance of Skadden’s domestic violence Impact Project. On top of all of that, Jodi has given back to our legal community. She manages Legal Aid’s student intern program. She has been an active member of Washington Council of Lawyers and served on our board for several years. In fact, one board member notes that Jodi’s enthusiasm inspired her to become a member and participate in our events. Jodi is dedicated, energetic, and enthusiastic – and she gets results. We couldn’t be more pleased to honor her with our Legal Services Award. You can learn more about Jodi and our other award winners at our 2014 Awards Ceremony.
We're pleased to announce the winners of our 2014 Awards: Legal Services Award Jodi Feldman Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia Government Pro Bono Award John Bowers US Department of Justice, Civil Division Law Firm Award Sidley Austin LLP Above & Beyond Award Gregory Lipper Americans United for Separation of Church and State Presidents' Award for Public Service Avis Buchanan Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia Please congratulate these fine folks and organizations, and join us for the Awards Ceremony on December 4, at 6:30 pm.
by Aleta Sprague “Don’t sit back. Step up, take a case - just do it.” So advised Larry Schneider, when I asked him for a few words of wisdom for new attorneys seeking to get involved with pro bono practice. And he should know. The winner of our first-ever Legacy Award, Larry has made pro bono work a priority throughout his career, providing both direct services to low-income clients and leading the way in crafting policy reforms to improve the nation’s immigration system. Larry’s commitment to pro bono work emerged in law school, during which he represented clients in both civil and criminal matters through the law school’s clinics and spent a summer working at a legal services organization. Upon graduation, he joined Arnold & Porter, inspired in part by the firm’s established commitment to public service; according to longstanding policy, the firm urged each attorney to devote 15% of his or her time to pro bono matters. Larry joined the firm’s Pro Bono Committee early in his career and also took on a series of leadership positions with the Washington Council of Lawyers, including a term as president in 1983–1984. A pivotal moment in Larry’s pro bono career was the passage of the Immigration Control and Reform Act in 1986, while Larry was serving as Chair of the DC Bar Public Service Activities Committee (now the Pro Bono Committee). Larry recognized that many individuals in DC would newly qualify for citizenship under the Act, but that there was insufficient capacity to accommodate all their legal needs. So Larry began organizing a pro bono effort among area law firms, and got Arnold and Porter to partner with Ayuda and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. Through this collaboration, volunteer attorneys were able to both serve clients through clinics and identify and address policy issues. Since then, Larry has led Arnold and Porter’s pro bono immigration efforts. One of the most challenging aspects of the work has been coping with deficiencies within the immigration system itself – for example, due to inadequate resources, there are often significant delays in cases being set for hearings. This challenge, however, has also created an opportunity. One of Larry’s most significant projects in recent years involved evaluating the entire U.S. deportation system and providing recommendations for reform. The project, an effort of over fifty Arnold and Porter attorneys, culminated in alengthy report analyzing all aspects of the deportation process and providing sixty policy recommendations for both administrative and legislative action. While Congress has yet to act on the legislative recommendations, a number of administrative changes have been put in place as a result of the report. The policy recommendations themselves, which were endorsed by the ABA, emerged from issues that pro bono attorneys were observing in their cases. The report provided an opportunity to address these issues more systemically. Larry noted that working on pro bono matters as a team helps tremendously in enabling attorneys to balance pro bono work with the rest of their practice – though ultimately, “if you want to do something, you can make time for it.” At Arnold and Porter, for example, two attorneys, along with an associate mentor and a supervising partner, are assigned to each asylum case. This model provides both flexibility and sufficient support to enable new attorneys to feel comfortable getting involved and taking on cases. Larry is an ideal recipient of our inaugural Legacy Award. In addition to his commitment to pro bono work in the DC area, he has been a Washington Council of Lawyers member for over 35 years. Larry served as our president from 1984–85, and has been one of our most trusted advisors, as well as a wonderful mentor to our future leaders. We are pleased to recognize Larry's exceptional contributions to both pro bono work and the Washington Council of Lawyers. Don’t miss our 2013 Awards Reception to learn more about Larry and this year’s other award winners!
by Elise Helgesen Aguilar I was honored to speak with Paul M. Smith, Partner at Jenner & Block LLP, and keynote speaker for our 2013 Awards Ceremony. I asked him to take a look back on his extraordinary career in civil rights and pro bono work. Below are his insights: Lawrence v. Texas Paul has had a remarkable career, from arguing one of the biggest civil rights cases of our time, to receiving numerous professional accolades. He has even served as President of the Washington Council of Lawyers, where he said he was honored to have made so many good friends who continue to “fight the good fight” all across town. When asked to describe his greatest professional accomplishment, Paul said that it was without a doubt arguing and winning the 2003 Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas, because it has had the greatest overall impact. That victory laid the foundation for advancing gay rights and was a necessary predicate for issues like marriage equality. Becoming a lawyer Paul said that his real interest in pursuing a career as a lawyer began in college. That was the era of Watergate, when lawyers became publicly acknowledged for their work in ferreting out corruption and bad dealings. He knew that the law was a profession in which he could make a difference. This eventually led him to the civil rights field as well, where he was inspired by women’s rights, African-American civil rights, and the environmental movement. Career Challenges Paul's greatest challenge has been maintaining a high volume of pro bono work while managing the expectations of working in a law firm. He noted that this requires going above and beyond the expectations of the firm. Judging from Paul's long list of accomplishments, it’s obvious that he has been very successful in overcoming this challenge. Supreme Court I was most excited to hear more from Paul about his experiences arguing before the Supreme Court. He has done so fourteen times. He stated that the first experience was “pretty harrowing,” especially as a thirty-year old. He also said that while he has learned over time how to better prepare, that arguing before the Supreme Court justices never gets any easier; in fact, the Court has become even more aggressive over time toward lawyers. I tried to press Paul on whether he would reveal any particular rituals, superstitions, or lucky articles of clothing that he dons in preparation for the Supreme Court. He said he had none, and that he prepares by memorizing his opening lines so as to not go completely blank when he faces the justices. But it’s clear that he doesn’t need any lucky rabbit’s foot – his hard work and dedication to civil rights and civil liberties are more than enough.
by Sara Safriet Judith Sandalow came to focus on children and the law after being a foster parent of two boys approximately 16 years ago; she later adopted them both. When Judith was approached by Children's Law Center, this experience allowed her to view the world from the perspective of her future clients. Before joining CLC, Judith graduated from Yale Law School and then returned to Washington, DC as a Juvenile Justice Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. After starting a juvenile clinic at DC Law Students in Court, Judith developed a successful criminal-defense practice specializing in representation of juveniles and adults charged with serious crimes. When she joined CLC in 2000, Judith had no previous experience with fundraising, organizational leadership, or recruiting and managing pro-bono attorneys. But her passion – to help the community that she herself was part of – led her to learn these skills. Indeed, her leadership and dedication have helped CLC expand from three people to a staff of over 80. CLC is now the largest nonprofit legal services provider in the District of Columbia. Approximately one-fifth of CLC's 2,000 cases each year are managed by pro-bono attorneys. Judith believes that it is not difficult to engage pro-bono attorneys in the District: many local attorneys have exhibited an extraordinary capacity to give their time, resources, and dedication to important causes. For those interested in or thinking about taking on a pro-bono case, Judith believes that there are many benefits to doing so with CLC: (1) helping the lawyers feel connected to their communities, (2) engaging with a part of the city that one does not often interact with, (3) putting the world in perspective and helping to stop sweating the small stuff in our lives, (4) learning more about a new area of law, and (5) breaking down stereotypes and educating one another – pro bono lawyers have an opportunity to see how smart, tenacious, inventive, and passionate the poorest of the District’s residents can be. We'd also be remiss if we didn't point out that Judith and her colleagues have worked actively with Washington Council of Lawyers. CLC lawyers have served as faculty at our litigation skills trainings, and CLC's current and former pro bono directors are members of our board. Last but not least, Judith has donated her time to the our mentor/mentee program.