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

Atlanta, Georgia
January 26, 2017

Good evening, 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.

We are so happy to be here in the hometown of our predecessor LSC Board’s Chair, Frank Strickland.

This evening, we recognize five distinguished Georgia  lawyers, a leading law firm, and the legal department of a prominent Atlanta corporation for their important pro bono contributions to LSC’s outstanding grantees in the state, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Georgia Legal Services Program and these programs are led by two tremendous Executive Directors (who I know you all know), Steve Gottlieb and Phyllis Holman.

I would like to thank State Bar of Georgia President Patrick O’Connor for hosting us here at the State Bar.

We will be privileged to hear remarks from him shortly as well as from Georgia’s former governor and a leader in the pro bono community in this state, Roy Barnes.

Before I introduce our Board, I want to thank Home Depot.

Most of our LSC Board is with us tonight, and I am so very proud of them.

     Martha Minow, our Vice Chair and Dean of the Harvard Law School.

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

     Charles Keckler, a Presidential Scholar at George Mason University.

     Harry Korrell, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle.

     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 a 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.

We have been so fortunate to receive the additional support of non-director members of our Board committees, three of whom are with us tonight:  Frank Strickland, former LSC Board Chair and a partner with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP; another Atlantan, Allan Tanenbaum, who practices with Taylor English’s Corporate and Business group; [Herb Garten, of Baltimore’s Fedder and Garten and a former LSC Board member, Tom Smegal, LSC’s longest-serving Board member and a practitioner in San Francisco] and our newest non-director committee member, Abby Kuzma, a former Assistant Attorney General of Indiana, who founded and ran her own legal aid clinic in Indianapolis for 15 years.  Welcome, Abby!

We continue a recent tradition we established a few years ago, an ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.  Its wonderful Chair is here from Tennessee, Brick Lewis.

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 Georgia very soon, and that makes the awards we are giving this evening very special indeed.

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 the last two years

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

Atlanta Legal Aid Society was awarded one of these — a $421,000 grant to centralize and coordinate its web-based resources for its numerous pro bono efforts.  The goal is not only to enhance pro bono in Atlanta, but also to provide a model of effectiveness and efficiency for legal service organizations across the country.

Georgia Legal Services Program won a PBIF grant last year of nearly $200,000 to create a pro bono learning lab for recent graduates within a freestanding nonprofit incubator program to develop and coordinate pro bono activities through training, mentoring programs, and case tracking.

As we — and you — work hard to promote pro bono, we know that pro bono really must be 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 every year 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.

Pro bono is part of who we are as a profession, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently observed:

“Lawyers have a license to practice law, a monopoly on certain services.  But for that privilege and status, lawyers have an obligation to provide legal services to those without the wherewithal to pay, to respond to needs outside themselves, to help repair tears in their communities.”

At a Georgia Legal Services Program event in Savannah just two years ago, then Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugh Thompson, lamenting the unjust results that can occur when litigants are forced to represent themselves, lauded the work of volunteer lawyers and legal aid providers as both necessary and non-partisan: 

“Equality before the law in a true democracy is a matter of right,” he said quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge.  “It cannot be a matter of charity or of favor or of grace or of discretion. “

As officers of the court, and citizens of this democracy, we must do all that we can to defend this right.

* * * * *

It is now my pleasure to introduce Patrick T. O'Connor, President of the Georgia State Bar and Managing Partner of Oliver Maner in Savannah.

Mr. O'Connor has previously held leadership positions with the Georgia State Bar, including Treasurer and a member of the Georgia Commission on Continuing Lawyer Competency.  He has also been appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court to serve as a mentor in the State Bar of Georgia's Transition Into Law Practice Program.

Mr. O'Connor is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.  He has been listed in "The Best Lawyers in America" for more than 10 years and in Atlanta Magazine's "Top 100 Super Lawyers."  

He is also a mediator and arbitrator and a founding member of the Georgia Academy of Mediators and Arbitrators.

He received his undergraduate degree from Auburn University and his law degree from the University of Georgia Law School.  It is my privilege to introduce our host Patrick O’Connor.