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

Nashville, Tennessee
January 22, 2018

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.

Today, we recognize three distinguished Tennessee lawyers and a leading law firm for their important pro bono contributions to LSC’s outstanding grantees in the state — Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Memphis Area Legal Services, and West Tennessee Legal Services.

I want to thank Bass Berry & Sims for their generosity in hosting this event in this beautiful facility.

 Tonight’s pro bono reception will be followed tomorrow with our annual breakfast meeting with the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, currently chaired by the remarkable Buck Lewis, a Baker Donelson shareholder here in Tennessee.

We will be privileged to hear shortly remarks from Buck and from the President-Elect of the Tennessee Bar Association, Jason M. Pannu.

All of our LSC Board members were here in Nashville and I would like to acknowledge them:

Martha Minow, our Vice Chair and Harvard Law School professor and former dean.

Robert Grey, Senior Counsel at Hunton & Williams in Richmond, and a former ABA President, President of the Leadership Counsel.

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 professor of Canon Law at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, 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, five of whom were with us for these meetings and one of whom is with us this evening:  Abby Kuzma, formerly an Assistant Attorney General in Indiana and founder and Executive Director of a faith based legal aid organization in Indiana.

It is our LSC Board’s long-standing practice 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 Tennessee very soon (and Memphis or Knoxville would likely get the next visit), and that makes the awards we are giving this evening very special.

These awards reflect LSC’s ongoing 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 ever since. 

The Pro Bono Innovation Fund has up to now invested $14.5 million in 52 different pro bono projects in 28 states.  These projects have involved collaborations with nearly a hundred partners, including bar-sponsored volunteer lawyers’ programs, other legal aid organizations, health care providers, law firms, corporations, technology providers, and law schools.

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 every year and play an essential role in LSC's mission to help ensure equal access to justice.

That mission reflects a fundamental responsibility of our 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.”

Last week, we observed The Martin Luther King holiday and took note of the statement he made so famous that goes to the core of the volunteer service we are celebrating tonight . . . “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

By working to ensure equal access to our judicial system, pro bono lawyers are bolstering this movement toward justice because there can be no justice without equal access, as Justice Antonin Scalia noted at LSC’s 40th Anniversary commemoration:

“The American ideal is not for some justice, it is as the Pledge of Allegiance says, ‘liberty and justice for all,’ or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, ‘equal justice.’  I’ve always thought that’s somewhat redundant.  Can there be justice if it is not equal?  Can there be a just society when some do not have justice?  Equality, equal treatment, is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice.”

Tonight, we recognize and honor lawyers who are keeping faith with this core American value through their remarkable pro bono service here in Tennessee.