Remarks by LSC Board Chair John G. Levi | Pro Bono Awards Reception

LSC Board of Directors Meeting | July 2016 | Burlington, Vermont
July 18, 2016

Good evening, and as many of you already know, I am John Levi, the 10th Chair of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation, and it is my pleasure on behalf of the Board to welcome you to this reception.

Tonight, we recognize three distinguished Vermont lawyers and a leading law firm for their important pro bono contributions to LSC’s grantee in the state, Legal Services Law Line of Vermont.

We will also be privileged to hear remarks from Therese Corsones, the executive director of the Vermont Bar Association and the President of the Vermont Bar Foundation.

Before we begin, however, let me take a moment to recognize Tom Garrett, the Director of Law Line, who is retiring August 15th after 18 years at the helm.

Under Tom’s leadership, Law Line’s staff has helped thousands of low-income Vermonters by providing legal information, self-help materials, and representation. Law Line has worked with other organizations throughout Vermont to provide access to justice in even the most remote reaches of the state.

Please join me in a round of applause for Tom.

I also want to mention how much we have missed the presence of LSC’s remarkable President Jim Sandman, who joined us five years ago after an exceptional career during which he was managing partner of the Arnold & Porter firm and President of the DC Bar.

Just a few days ago, Jim’s outstanding father passed away at age 96. Jim is with his family and very much in our thoughts.

Many of our Board members are with us tonight, and I am so very proud of them.

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

Charles Keckler, a Presidential Scholar at George Mason University.

Victor Maddox, of Louisville’s Fultz Maddox Dickens.

Laurie Mikva, an Assistant Clinical Professor at Northwestern Law School.

Father Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, a Dominican friar engaged in doctoral studies in Rome, who in a former life worked for three years as Corporate and Securities associate at my firm Sidley Austin in Chicago.

Julie Reiskin, the Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.

Gloria Valencia-Weber, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Martha Minow, our Vice Chair and Dean of the Harvard Law School, and Harry Korrell, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, have been taking part in our meetings by phone but have been unable to attend.

We have been so fortunate to receive the additional support of non-director members of our Board committees, three of whom are here tonight: Frank Strickland, former LSC Board Chair and a partner with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP; Allan Tanenbaum of Atlanta, who practices with Taylor English’s Corporate and Business group; Herb Garten, of Baltimore’s Fedder and Garten and a former LSC Board member.

It is the LSC Board’s tradition to travel to most every state before returning to one where we have already held a meeting and since we hold only three such meetings a year, the LSC Board will not likely be back in Vermont very soon, and that makes the awards we are giving this evening very special indeed.

In fact, according to LSC records, this is the very first Board meeting we have held in Vermont during our 42-year history.

These awards reflect LSC’s significant commitment to pro bono service, evidenced by LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force, and most recently, by our Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grants program, first funded by Congress in 2014 for $2.5 million and increased to $4 million this year.

LSC awarded this year’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants to 15 legal aid organizations across the country to support projects that develop replicable innovations in pro bono services for low-income clients. In 2014, we made 11 such awards.

Many of the projects will use technology to connect low-income populations to resources and services, while others aim to increase efficiency and effectiveness through partnerships with law schools, community organizations, and in-house corporate attorneys. Some projects will address issues affecting specific populations such as seniors, veterans, and low-income students.

As we — and you — work hard to promote pro bono, however, we all know that pro bono is most effective when supported by properly funded and structured legal aid programs that screen cases and provide essential support to volunteer lawyers with training, materials, and the expertise of staff attorneys.

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

This is the first presentation of these awards since the pro bono community lost a visionary leader, Esther Lardent, founder of the Pro Bono Institute, who died in April.

If, as George Herbert Walker Bush put it, volunteers are like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky, then Esther was among the brightest stars in the pro bono constellation, her work transforming the pro bono sector and inspiring thousands of lawyers to volunteer their services on behalf of the disadvantaged.

But Esther never rested on her — or anyone else's laurels — constantly reminding us of the task that remains.

"The situation has become so dire, we simply cannot tweak what we’ve been doing," she said. "We need profound changes in our system if we are going to address this issue of access to justice."

Esther’s legacy continues to illuminate the best in our profession through the pro bono efforts of thousands of lawyers like the ones we are privileged to honor here tonight. 

It is now my pleasure to introduce my remarkable colleague and friend LSC Board member Vic Maddox, who will introduce our next speaker.