Legal Profession Loses Pro Bono Visionary: Esther F. Lardent

April 5, 2016

WASHINGTON – Esther F. Lardent will be remembered as a tireless champion for equal access to justice, Legal Services Corporation President James J. Sandman said today.

“Esther did more to increase pro bono work by big law firms and corporate legal departments than any other person in the history of American law,” Sandman stated. “She helped transform the pro bono sector and inspired countless lawyers and law firms to take an active role in expanding legal services to disadvantaged groups.” 

Lardent founded the Pro Bono Institute (PBI) in 1996, leading the organization for 19 years until transitioning to a strategic advisory role last summer. Under her leadership, PBI became a powerful force for change, expanding and deepening the pro bono engagement of law firms and corporate legal departments. Lardent believed that leveraging the talents and resources of these organizations could have an enormous impact on improving access to justice for low-income Americans.

Lardent’s commitment to expanding access to justice was long standing. She served as an independent legal and policy consultant for the Ford Foundation, the American Bar Association, state and local bar associations, and public interest and legal services programs. She was the founder and initial director of one of the nation's first organized bar pro bono programs, the Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project. During that time, she also administered a nationwide pro bono technical assistance effort. She received her B.A. from Brown University and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.

Throughout her life, Lardent was a powerful advocate for the value of pro bono service. She was able to make attorneys understand the business case for engaging in pro bono work and spoke compellingly on its personal rewards. During her tenure at PBI, she helped convince 137 top-tier law firms and 145 corporate legal departments to increase their commitment to pro bono services. She also expanded pro bono work internationally and was looked to around the world as a leading resource on effective pro bono programs.

Her leadership and achievements were widely recognized. In 2013, The American Lawyer named her one of its top 50 innovators. In 2015, she was honored with The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Esther galvanized the entire legal profession through her vision of a society in which everyone receives equal treatment under the law,” LSC Board Chair John G. Levi said. “She was a hero to us all, and such a powerful and persuasive advocate in making the case for why pro bono service matters. Her role in expanding access to justice cannot be overstated and her leadership and voice will be greatly missed. It is up to all of us to carry on her life’s work.”