New Orleans Pro Bono Awards Ceremony, January 2013

John G. Levi
Remarks at Pro Bono Reception and Ceremony
Board of Directors
Legal Services Corporation
The Louisian Supreme Court Building
New Orleans, Louisiana
January 24, 2013

Good evening.  I am John Levi, and it is my honor to serve as the 10th chairman of the board of the Legal Services Corporation.
On behalf of LSC's board of directors, let me welcome you to this reception, where we will honor five outstanding lawyers and one law firm for their exemplary pro bono work with clients of LSC programs in Louisiana. 

It has been a longstanding tradition of the LSC Board to hold three of its quarterly meetings each year in the various states.

At these meetings, we have asked each of the local LSC programs to nominate for special recognition those individuals or law firms that have been especially supportive of pro bono. And that is what we are doing here today, celebrating outstanding pro bono efforts by the bar.

The last time we were in Louisiana was 1992, so it is good for the LSC Board to be back with all of you now, and as you can see from that two-decade passage of time between meetings here, the awards we are giving out tonight are very special indeed.

This event will be followed tomorrow morning by two forums with jurists, prominent attorneys and federal officials, the first discussing the importance of equal access to justice to the judiciary in this region,  and the second focusing on the role of Legal Aid in disaster preparedness and relief.

 After these forums, we will hear presentations from LSC's three Louisiana grantees, and then hold our formal, quarterly Board meeting on Friday afternoon and Saturday. 
I am happy to see so many leaders of the local legal community here tonight, and we could not have held this event without your help.
For the use of this wonderful facility, I want to thank the Louisiana Supreme Court and particularly incoming Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, who will be taking part in our first forum tomorrow morning.
I also want to especially thank Judge Madeleine Landrieu of the Louisiana State Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit who played an invaluable role in helping us plan and coordinate this weekend’s events.  

We are very grateful that Judge Landrieu was somehow able to find the time in her extraordinarily  busy schedule to act as our All-Things-New- Orleans Contact. It’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it so well, and we are really looking forward to hearing from her tomorrow.

I also want to acknowledge Paige Sensenbrenner, Judge Landrieu’s husband and an Adams and Reese partner, who you will be hearing from shortly. He also played an invaluable role with respect to these meetings. 

As I am sure all of you in New Orleans already know, they are quite a duo.

And let me also thank the Louisiana State Bar Association for hosting tonight’s reception. 

I would also like to recognize LSC’s outstanding president Jim Sandman, his senior staff, and also take this opportunity to introduce the LSC Board, all of whom, like me, were appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate two and a half years ago:

Martha Minow, our vice chair is the Dean of the Harvard Law School and Jeremiah Smith Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard.

Robert Grey, a partner with Hunton & Williams in Richmond and a former ABA president.

Charles Keckler, of Arlington, Virginia, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Harry Korrell, who specializes in employment law. Harry is a longtime partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle.

Victor Maddox, of Louisville, Kentucky, a partner with firm of Fultz Maddox Hovious & Dickens. Vic has served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Laurie Mikva of Evanston, Illinois, who served for nearly 30 years as a civil legal aid attorney and a public defender in Illinois and Maryland. She is currently a commissioner on the Illinois Court of Claims.

Father Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, a Dominican friar who is engaged in doctoral studies in Rome. In his prior life, he worked for three years at Sidley Austin in Chicago, in the Corporate and Securities practice.

Julie Reiskin, the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, a statewide disability-rights organization run by and for people with disabilities.

Gloria Valencia-Weber, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law and a leading expert on Native American law.

Sharon Browne of Sacramento, a former principal attorney in the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Individual Rights Practice Group, is recuperating from a fall and while she will be taking part in our Board meeting by phone she could not be here tonight.

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal assistance in the nation. Here in Louisiana, LSC provides from a half to two-thirds of the funding for each of our three programs. 

 LSC is also dedicated to expanding pro bono and strengthening our public-private partnerships across the nation.

In fact, our Board spent much of this afternoon meeting with the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, whose chair, Larry McDevitt, will be speaking here in a few minutes.

We are so grateful that they made the time to discuss how we can co-partner with them to implement the recommendations of LSC’s national Pro Bono Task Force, and for scheduling their meeting here in conjunction with ours.
DLA Piper has provided invaluable editorial, administrative and financial support to the Pro Bono Task Force, and I want to recognize the firm’s Pro Bono Partner, Lisa Dewey, and Annie Geraghty Helms, pro bono counsel, who are here tonight.

In recent weeks, we released those Task Force recommendations at events in Washington, Boston, North Carolina and Chicago. 

The Task Force was comprised of more than 60 distinguished members of the legal community under the leadership of board members Martha Minow and Harry Korrell, and it identified ways to expand the number of lawyers who are willing to do pro bono work and improve the ways to match them with the growing unmet need.

LSC has developed a comprehensive plan delineating the tasks and time required to implement the Task Force’s specific recommendations for LSC and requests directed at the judiciary and private bar.  

In the months to come, we will create a professional association specifically for pro bono managers at LSC grantees.

We will also work with Congress and others to create a Pro Bono Incubation fund.

We will also develop a pro bono tool kit that offers strategies for the development of first-rate, sustainable programs.

And working with the larger legal community as a whole, we will find ways to create more fellowships at both the new-lawyer and senior-lawyer levels, and help to create consortiums among law firms, corporate law departments and our grantees to better expand our reach.

We also must acknowledge, however, that pro bono will never be able, by itself, to meet the legal needs of low-income Americans. And pro bono is most effective when supported by robust legal aid programs that screen cases and support volunteer lawyers with training, materials and the expertise of staff attorneys.

Pro bono lawyers working in conjunction with staff lawyers at LSC-funded programs have helped tens of thousands of people across the country and play an essential role in LSC's mission.

In 2007, for example, while volunteering with Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine, pro bono attorney Thomas Cox took a foreclosure case to help Nicolle Bradbury save her home.  Because of his expertise in the foreclosure process, Cox realized very quickly realized that the mortgage company he was suing in court to save a $75,000 house, was mass-producing flawed paperwork to seize people’s homes illegally. This set off what would become known as the robo-mortgage scandal, leading to a $25 billion settlement that forced the nation’s largest banks to halt improper foreclosures.

This kind of vital work, which we are recognizing and celebrating tonight, is essential to our faith in the fairness of our justice system and to our democracy. 

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1974, Congress created the Legal Services Corporation “to provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation” and  “to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel.”

As we struggle to narrow the nation's widening justice gap, we as members of the bar have an obligation to honor these core values that are so essential to our democracy.

It is not enough to have a system of laws if millions of our citizens do not have access, or believe they do not have access, to that system.

Our justice system, perhaps even our democracy, would not long survive such a crisis of confidence, and we have a responsibility to future generations to make sure that the justice system we hand them remains true to our founding values.

As President Obama pointed out in his inaugural address just a few days ago:  “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity….You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but also with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

The lawyers we are about to celebrate tonight understand that equal access to justice in our country is one of those ancient values and enduring ideals essential to the promise of America.

Thank you very much.

It is now my great pleasure to introduce a former ABA president and my esteemed colleague on the LSC Board, the remarkable Robert Grey who will introduce our next two speakers.