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Vol. 34, No. 2

Awards for exemplary programs and professional excellence

The following awards were presented in Chicago at a joint luncheon during the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Bar Executives, the National Conference of Bar Foundations, and the National Conference of Bar Presidents.

ABA Partnership Awards Program

Co-sponsored by the National Native American Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the National Hispanic Bar Association, and the National Bar Association, and implemented by the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services, this award recognizes efforts by bar associations to increase diversity in the legal profession. The recipients of this year’s award were: The Memphis (Tenn.) Bar Association for its High School Summer Law Intern Program; the State Bar of Arizona for its Bar Leadership Institute; and the State Bar of Texas for its Minority Attorneys at the Podium Project.

The Memphis bar’s High School Summer Law Intern Program exposes minority high school students to the real world practice of law, encouraging them to consider a legal career. Participants work a minimum of 15 hours per week for a four-week period in a law office, corporate legal department, or government/nonprofit agency. The interns accompany lawyers to court, sit in on depositions, and attend business negotiations. In 2008, 100 students were selected from 32 area high schools. Interns who successfully completed the program received a $500 stipend and a certificate of achievement.

The Arizona bar’s Bar Leadership Institute is designed to foster professional growth and leadership development among a diverse group of lawyers. The 15 attorneys selected to participate receive up to two years of CLE credit after completing a nine-month program that provides instruction about: leadership, participation in bar work, ethics, and law practice in the public and private sectors and in corporate settings. Participants interact with judges at the federal, state, county, and tribal levels and also meet congressional representatives, lobbyists, and government officials. Upon completion of the program, graduates commit to one year of activity in the state bar, as part of a committee or section, or within another bar association or community organization.

The Texas bar’s Minority Attorneys at the Podium Project is designed to recruit, train, and support minority lawyers interested in becoming speakers, authors, planning committee members, and course directors for the bar’s continuing legal education programs. The bar’s Office of Minority Affairs works with TexasBarCLE to identify diverse lawyers to present topics and write articles for the bar’s CLE courses, and assist course directors and planning committees in diversifying their faculty. Thus, the MAP Project increases the visibility of talented attorneys by providing many opportunities to participate. One of the project’s first steps was to create a speaker database of minority speakers, searchable by topics and areas of expertise. Another component is “Train the Trainer” events, during which new speakers learn tips from some of the bar’s most prominent and successful speakers. More than 100 lawyers registered for a recent training event.

NABE Bolton Award for Outstanding Bar Leadership

The Bolton Award is the highest accolade given by the National Association of Bar Executives and recognizes the exceptional professionalism and achievement of a bar executive. This year’s recipient was Robert S. (Bob) Wells, executive director of the South Carolina Bar.

Wells has been his bar’s chief executive since 1985 and joined NABE that same year. Among many other accomplishments, he guided efforts to adopt judicial merit selection in South Carolina—a goal that took 20 years to achieve. He is also a loyal adviser to the South Carolina Bar Foundation and has been instrumental in the establishment and evolution of its IOLTA program, which is now mandatory.

Wells has served on numerous NABE committees and as a speaker at workshops for NABE and the National Conference of Bar Presidents and at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute. Known for his unparalleled understanding and execution of parliamentary procedure, Wells has served as parliamentarian and more than eight nonconsecutive terms as chair of the NABE Bylaws Committee. He has also served as chair of the NABE Long Range Planning Committee.

NCBF Award for Bar Foundation Excellence in Public Service Programming

Given by the National Conference of Bar Foundations, this award recognizes bar foundations that demonstrate excellence and impact in either programs or grant making awards to their communities. This year’s recipient was the North Carolina Bar Association Foundation for its 4ALL program.

There are many unmet legal needs among North Carolina’s poor; 28 percent of the state’s population qualifies for legal services under federal poverty guidelines. The North Carolina Bar Association’s 4ALL campaign aimed to bolster “justice for all” by encouraging education, legislation, donation, participation, and support for loan repayment assistance programs. Assistance was sought from the entire legal profession: judges, lawyers, law professors, legal services attorneys, paralegals, and law students.

The comprehensive effort included:

an official Web site with links to videos, information for volunteers and the public, and training materials;

live presentations around the state to educate lawyers and the public;

the bar’s first ever Statewide Service Day exclusively for providing pro bono legal services to people around the state, including via a toll-free call-in number; and

establishing the Legal Aid of North Carolina Fund, authorizing a charitable check-off for the special endowment fund on the annual dues invoice, and establishing designated, restricted gifts to support loan repayment assistance for North Carolina law school graduates who agree to work for Legal Aid of North Carolina.

ABA Harrison Tweed Award

This award, presented by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, honors the achievements of state and local bar associations that develop or significantly expand projects or programs to increase civil legal services to poor persons or criminal defense services to indigents. This year’s recipients were the North Carolina Bar Association for its 4ALL program (see description above) and the Philadelphia Bar Association for its Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Project.

The Philadelphia bar was honored for its role in creating, supporting, and sustaining the foreclosure diversion project, which has saved hundreds of low-income homeowners from losing their homes. The project is a collaboration among key stakeholders that include the judiciary, the bar, legal services programs, pro bono programs, city officials, lenders, and borrowers. It includes a hotline that connects housing counselors with homeowners facing foreclosure. In addition, hundreds of lawyers are recruited and trained to represent low-income homeowners in special conciliation conferences held weekly at the courthouse. There, lawyers meet with their clients, housing counselors, and lenders to negotiate loan modification or payment arrangements. Judges and judges pro tem (who are also pro bono volunteers) are on hand as needed to work out a suitable compromise. This project serves as a model and has attracted dozens of visitors from around the country.

ABA E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award

Given by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism, this award recognizes outstanding and replicable programs that increase awareness among lawyers and law students of the importance of professional responsibility, thereby fostering integrity and dedication to the legal profession and the public. This year’s recipients were: The Colorado Bar Association and Denver Bar Association, the Louisiana State Bar Association, and Phoenix School of Law.

The Colorado and Denver bars’ project involved the creation of new professionalism teaching video vignettes, similar to those created by the ABA as part of implementing recommendations of the 1986 report of the Commission on Professionalism. The DVD and teaching materials have been widely distributed and used, providing a simple, functional mechanism for encouraging professionalism and helping to satisfy CLE requirements.

The Louisiana bar’s program focuses on improving efforts related to character and fitness. This is a current focus of the Standing Committee on Professionalism and an important part of the ABA accreditation standards currently under review. The LSBA project successfully brought a complete reconsideration to the character and fitness process for student applicants to the Louisiana bar, thereby raising competency and professionalism.

The Phoenix School of Law created comprehensive teaching modules that reflect the recommendations of recent publications such as the Carnegie Report on Educating Lawyers and represent the type of professionalism legal education plans that the standing committee is attempting to quantify in order to rate law schools’ professionalism efforts. The school’s general practice skills course was designed as the capstone in fulfilling the mission of practical readiness. The course focuses on professionalism and skills that are essential to solving real client problems.