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Pro Bono Publico Awards

2017 Recipients

Keynote Speaker:  The Honorable Jonathan Lippman

The Honorable Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of New York and Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, is Of Counsel in the New York office of Latham & Watkins LLP and a member of the firm’s Litigation & Trial Department. He provides strategic counsel to clients on New York Law and appellate matters nationwide, and is a leader of the firm’s pro bono practice.

New York access to justice champion says pro bono is “what being a lawyer is all about"


The Justice Index Team

The Justice Index ("JI") began in 2011 with the simple insight that it's hard to fix a problem when you can't see clearly what is going wrong. We have never had effective ways to understand which states' justice systems struggle the most to assure access to justice and which, despite challenges, are making it easier for vulnerable people in our society to protect their rights.

Thanks to the work of scores of volunteer lawyers, data professionals, state court officials, legal aid lawyers, law students and others, the JI is helping everyone to see the access to justice crisis in America more clearly. The JI is an interactive website that uses data, findings, indicators and indexing to rank the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., on their adoption of selected best policies for assuring access to justice. By promoting self-analysis and making the adoption of best policies highly visible, the JI promotes positive change across the land.

The lack of access to justice ("A2J") is a crisis because it leaves millions of Americans with no place to turn to address some of life's most difficult problems, including: divorce, eviction, custody, foreclosure, debt collection, child support, and domestic violence. If you are unable to afford a lawyer, cannot get one through legal aid (a fact for millions who need help), have limited English language skills or suffer from a disability, you are unlikely to be able to tell your story in a meaningful way to a decision maker with the power to help. That is wrong. The A2J movement is working hard to change it. Many states have done important work in improving A2J. Many have done too little. No one state has done all that must be done.

The JI reflects the vision and dedication of the leadership of the National Center for Access to Justice ("NCAJ"), now at Fordham Law School following its founding at Cardozo Law School, and the long-term, extraordinary commitment of nearly 100 professionals who do the research, analyze the data and build the website.

When we began in 2011, lawyers at Skadden Arps researched A2J policies and programs across the country with the help of students at Penn and Cardozo law schools and in-house lawyers at UBS. Pfizer joined the team in 2012, bringing its legal staff and financial support, and introducing NCAJ to Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory, which joined the team and created the data analytics and web tools the JI relies on to this day. Kirkland & Ellis joined the team in 2013 just months before the JI went live and helped get us through the last moments before launch. The JI would not have been possible without all of these commitments.

In 2014, we began a second round of research and four law firms joined the team to re-canvas the country and provide a new and updated data set. Morgan Lewis Bockius, O'Melveny & Myers, Patterson Belknap, and Simpson Thacher, along with Kirkland, contributed the work of more than 50 lawyers – partners and associates – to the effort. Attorneys from General Electric also joined the team. With the continuing support of Pfizer and Deloitte, we launched the updated site in Spring 2016, alongside the ABA's Equal Justice Conference in Chicago, generating extensive media coverage.

During the project, state court chief justices, chief court administrators, and other court staff, as well as leaders in legal aid organizations all contributed substantially to the JI. While not pro bono partners, they were partners in fact, and the breadth and quality of the information in the JI were enhanced immeasurably by their cooperation.

And the original insight – that making policies and practices clearer would help in pursuing solutions – has proven out. We have seen many JI impacts: two states dedicating employees to innovation to support self-represented litigants; one state writing us to explain how it made its website user-friendly for self-represented litigants; several court officials reaching out for advice to officials in other states with JI best practices in place; several court officials using the JI to train new staff and to refresh senior staff on JI best practices; three A2J commissions inviting NCAJ to talk through JI findings and support local efforts using the JI to set reform goals and improve policy; one state modifying its court rule to prohibit charging litigants for interpreting. JI findings appear in court strategic plans and in federal civil rights enforcement reports, too.

The JI resulted from a very deep and very broad cooperation among volunteers from 13 institutions (six law firms, four corporations, and three law schools) drawing on legal and non-legal expertise to expand access to justice that improves people's lives. NCAJ is honored by the commitment and excited as we gear up for round three.

Erin J. Law | Morgan Stanley Legal and Compliance Division, New York, NY

I am honored to receive the ABA’s prestigious Pro Bono Publico Award. My pro bono work has been among the most rewarding work I have had the privilege to undertake, so this award is especially meaningful to me.

I graduated from Bard College determined to make a difference and joined a then fledgling program called Teach For America. I was assigned to South Louisiana where I taught special education in an under-resourced rural public school. I fell in love with Louisiana. In addition to learning how to make a fairly passable gumbo, I witnessed incredible teachers -- who had been teaching for decades -- changing the lives of their students. Following Teach For America, I attended Tulane Law School (which was the first law school to require pro bono service of law students).

My pro bono legal “career” took off after I joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in New York as a litigation associate. Weil’s commitment to pro bono is deeply ingrained in its culture, and in addition to helping individual clients, Weil considers it essential to assist groups that work on behalf of the public to address issues of economic and social justice. I always was supported in my pro bono work, notwithstanding my workload as an associate. The matters were varied and rewarding, and it was at Weil that I met Miriam Buhl, Weil’s Pro Bono Counsel, an incredible champion, role model and friend.

The depth of Weil’s commitment to pro bono is reflected by Carey v. Maricopa County, a reproductive rights and free speech case. Alongside the supervising partner and attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights, I led the team that acted on behalf of Dr. Carey, a former head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at a Phoenix-based OB/GYN residency program. Over the course of two years, following extensive discovery (and over 50 depositions), motion practice and on the eve of trial, we obtained a seven-figure settlement for our client. I believe that the settlement sent a cautionary message to local and municipal governments seeking to stifle the free speech rights of public employees.

Assisting non-profits on a pro bono basis gave me a strong foundation for my service on the Board of Directors of the Ali Forney Center, a non-profit that provides services to homeless LGBT youth. I am now privileged to serve as the Chair of the Ali Forney Center’s Board of Directors and am excited about the groundbreaking work we are doing to enable our young people.

After the financial crisis, I joined Morgan Stanley as an in-house lawyer. At Morgan Stanley, one of our core values is “Giving Back” – and the Firm has a strong tradition of community service – but we had no pro bono legal program at the time. It quickly became clear to me that many of my colleagues wanted to “give back” by utilizing their skills as lawyers. Accordingly, after garnering the support of Eric Grossman, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Legal Officer, we launched a pro bono program. We began by participating in a legal clinic to help veterans secure benefits. Obtaining these benefits has changed our clients’ lives in significant ways. One client was able to obtain life-saving medical treatment, and another was able to move across country so that he could live near his family.

Our next initiative was obtaining rent-increase exemptions for low-income seniors that helped keep them in their homes. Other projects include representing New York City children seeking additional educational services, representing undocumented minor children in immigration proceedings, advising pro se litigants in family court, helping survivors of domestic violence obtain U Visas and assisting non-profits on transactional matters. I am proud of the many pro bono hours Morgan Stanley lawyers have contributed to the program and am enthusiastic about its future.

I am grateful for the partnership of the Pro Bono Counsels and attorneys at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Greenberg Traurig, Kramer Levin, O’Melveny & Myers, Sidley Austin, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Skadden and Weil, for the expertise of many incredible legal service providers and non-profits, including New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Sanctuary for Families, Advocates for Children, the City Bar Justice Center, the Safe Passage Project, KIND and the Pro Bono Partnership.

I would like to give my sincere thanks to my clients and colleagues who supported my nomination and especially to Weil and Morgan Stanley for their commitment to pro bono. I am also grateful for the support of my family and partner, Christine. I would like to dedicate this award to my late mother, Nancy Law, who was my first, and best, role model, and to whom I attribute my lifelong commitment to social justice, as well as the idea that it is up to all of us to work to improve access to justice and to speak out against hate, violence and intolerance


Orrick is honored to be receiving the Pro Bono Publico Award for delivering legal services to those who need it most. Our pro bono work is one of the most important ways we measure our professional success. In 2016, over 90 percent of our U.S. lawyers exceeded The American Lawyer’s 20-hour pro bono standard. And we continued to transform the culture surrounding pro bono work in Europe and Asia – 52 percent of our international partners reached that 20-hour standard.

Among the 92,000 pro bono hours our attorneys worked in 2016, we helped immigrants to secure basic constitutional protections – protections that are especially important in this time of uncertainty for those who come to this country for a fresh start. We used innovative financial vehicles to boost Chicago’s nonprofits and stop climate change. And we represented veterans in their quest to obtain benefits and legal rights from the military. These are some of the ways we are making an impact.

For the 30,000 immigrants held in detention each day in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, access to the justice system is paramount. Yet many of these detainees were prevented from reaching their lifeline out – their counsel. Held in remote locations, where in-person visits with counsel were impractical, these detainees had virtually no access to make calls to their lawyers. In Lyon v. ICE, Orrick collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge these restrictions, and the result was dramatic. In March 2016 we secured an unprecedented class-action settlement that forced ICE to change its communications policies at four Northern California detention facilities. The agreement forged a national template that may be applied to facilities throughout the U.S.

Orrick is well-recognized for its innovative project finance work on behalf of pro bono clients, illustrated by our path-breaking work in 2015 for the city of Richmond, California in developing social impact bonds to restore a dilapidated neighborhood. In 2016, we continued to think outside the box alongside longtime pro bono client and nonprofit, Calvert Foundation. We helped Calvert create Benefit Chicago, which mobilized $100 million in impact investments for nonprofits and social enterprises in the city. Calvert’s capital helps the city provide low-interest loans and other investments that boost the ability of social networks to address issues ranging from education and child care to affordable housing and job training.

We are the first global law firm to establish an Impact Finance practice, and today we are leaders in the field. An Orrick team helped the Climate Trust execute a milestone contract with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to secure a $5.5 million Program Related Investment (PRI) to seed a first-of-its-kind carbon investment fund for climate change mitigation. The initial fund is focused on supporting U.S.-based carbon offset projects in forestry, grassland conservation and livestock digesters.

It is a special duty and honor to give back to the women and men who have served our country, and Orrick has an established record of fighting for our veterans. This past year, our lawyers took on the case of Cpl. M, a survivor of two sexual assaults at the hands of her fellow Marines. She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and sought to be declared unfit for continued service, which would entitle her to benefits. When the Navy’s informal Physical Evaluation Board found otherwise, our team persuaded the board to overturn its earlier findings. Today she is eligible for retirement and disability benefits.

Our lawyers continue to step forward to help the most vulnerable. In 2016, our lawyers collaborated with civil rights organization Legal Momentum and the Thomson Reuters Foundation to develop a major report on the global scourge of “Sextortion” – online sexual abuse of girls, teens and women. Building on this work, lawyers in our public policy group are now working pro bono to encourage state legislatures to amend existing laws to deal with the issue.

These examples of our pro bono service are just part of our comprehensive efforts to make an impact on our communities. We are working on high-profile pro bono matters that will doubtless make a further impact in the coming year, as our team is leading a constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 66, a law approved by voters last November that would dramatically curtail the appellate rights of the state’s death row inmates.

Our program is led by full-time pro bono counsel Rene Kathawala, and we are fortunate to have strong partnerships with public interest organizations around the world. We especially value our partners who nominated us for this award – City Bar Justice Center, Los Angeles County Bar Association, Kids in Need of Defense, Justice and Diversity Center (SF) and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Without these strong collaborative relationships, we wouldn’t be able to have the meaningful social impact that we do.


Debra Marie Pistorino Parrish | Parrish Law Firm, Pittsburgh, PA

I am honored to receive the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for our work with helping to secure access to medical treatments and technologies for Medicare beneficiaries. I have a small law firm that provides legal services in a few very specialized areas. We have been fortunate to work with many clients whose innovations have significantly improved the lives of individuals suffering from a disease or illness. We advocate for Medicare and private insurance companies to pay for those technologies and treatments through various legal and administrative channels.

Every spring we take on a pro bono case to help a Medicare beneficiary gain access to medical treatments that are reasonable and necessary for their treatment and care. We have represented Medicare beneficiaries seeking access to treatments, tests and devices for various diseases and illnesses including cancer, depression, hypertension and diabetes. I tell my children about these cases because it is important for them to know of the real health care struggles of others, that our system is imperfect for those not in good health, and that the cases are is important not only for the individuals I am helping, but for the overall integrity of our health system.

About four years ago, I was put in touch with a Medicare beneficiary, “Linda”, whose Type 1 diabetes was so profound that she was on disability. Her doctor had prescribed a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to enable her to control her diabetes, but Medicare had denied coverage stating the device was simply precautionary. A CGM is the standard of care for individuals with Type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemic unawareness, and the primary means by which such individuals control their disease.

Linda had run the five-step Medicare administrative process with only the assistance of her boyfriend, and had filed an action in District Court. I thought the case would be my spring case (how hard could it be?) as I was simply arguing for her to receive the standard of care and without it she was going to the ER multiple times a month. The use of CGMs in Type 1 diabetes is supported by numerous published peer-reviewed papers, and more than 95% of the commercial payers cover it. Medicare coverage made economic, scientific and clinical sense. We got the denial set aside and we thought our work was done.

We started hearing from numerous Medicare beneficiaries who were asking for help because their monitors also had been denied on the basis that they were precautionary. It’s important to add that CGMs can protect patients from unexpected fatal glucose lows that increase with age. These patients are the brave, diligent, and lucky ones – most of their contemporaries with Type 1 diabetes did not make it to Medicare age. Medicare’s coverage decision scared and offended me. I could not comprehend why a healthcare system most of us will age into would make such a decision. I hope it scares and offends everyone.

I talked to the other members of our firm, and we believed we had to use our knowledge of Medicare and help. Everyone in our firm has worked on these cases while meeting family and client demands. We won numerous administrative hearings in which the majority of Medicare’s judges agreed the CGM and its supplies should be covered, a policy challenge, and were involved in other District Court cases. Finally, in January of this year, Medicare agreed to limited coverage for CGMs for part of each month. Although this is certainly progress, much more work needs to be done for patients to secure full coverage for these often life-saving devices.

I hope the foregoing example will show the need for our profession to give a voice to Medicare beneficiaries. Although many with chronic illness become quite skilled navigating our healthcare system, Medicare is such a complex system that few are able to navigate its administrative processes without assistance. We are engaged in a great national debate about healthcare. Individuals can disagree on how to fix our healthcare system, what the best system looks like, and the role of the Federal government; however, I hope all of us can agree that any healthcare system should make thoughtful, intelligent coverage decisions.

Each pro bono case I have taken has allowed me to meet some of the brightest, hardest working physicians who expend great personal capital on behalf of their patients. I have met some incredible people, who although battling a terrible disease or illness, want to be contributing members of our society and fight not only for themselves, but for others in similar situations. Although I am honored and humbled to receive this award, my greatest honor has been to serve with and for those individuals.


William A. Waddell, Jr. | Friday, Elredge & Clark, Little Rock, AR

Commitment to place, building community, and developing long-term relationships are not often associated with pro bono work. Yet they are all associated with the work I am privileged to be a part of at the Mid-Delta Health Clinic Medical-Legal Partnership.

As wonderful as all of my pro bono experiences have been over the years, working with the staff and volunteers of the Mid-Delta Clinic has been my most fulfilling pro bono work. That fulfillment is the direct result of our commitment to both the medical-legal partnership clinic and the town of Clarendon where it is located. Because of that commitment, we have built long-term relationships and are able to help those in need more completely. Therefore, I share this recognition with the remarkable persons who work in the medical-legal partnership.

I would not be among the honorees today if it were not for some special people who have joined in this work. Lee Richardson of Legal Aid of Arkansas has created a compelling culture of providing legal aid that attracted Kevin De Liban from Seattle to rural Arkansas. My law partner at Friday, Eldredge Clark, Harry Light, and I became friends with Kevin and joined him after he pioneered the first rural medical-legal partnerships in Arkansas. Kevin has been the driving force and selfless guide to this work. Harry and I recognize that it has been our good fortune to work alongside the staff of the Mid-Delta Clinic, particularly Dr. Charles Field, Susan Capleaner, Al Sliger, and Mary Scemons. Our partnership at the clinic has even extended to the courthouse where Circuit Clerk Alice Smith, County Clerk Tina Wofford, and Assessor Renee Neal are always willing to offer assistance to us and our clients. As I leave Clarendon each time I work in the clinic, I realize again how the world is often blind to the plight of the people we serve there, and I am grateful for a renewed perspective on the dignity and goodness of people and the unique privilege that I have as a lawyer to be a part of their community.

The framework of pro bono legal service in Arkansas has been shaped by many, but none more important than Amy Johnson, the executive director of Arkansas Access to Justice. Amy's vision and tireless efforts have not only resulted in important innovations in how we join together to provide legal aid but also how we represent hope to those who need our services. .

My wife, Patty, and I are products of the Arkansas Delta, where we learned about cultural values that call us to live justly in community with everyone. Because she and our three daughters live out these values each day, I wrote the children’s story, Palindromic Pledge, as a way of telling them I love them for their dedication to children and social justice. Using the Pledge of Allegiance, palindromes, and institutions that help children, including a medical-legal partnership, I also hoped that children and their parents might use the story to begin discussing how we all are a part of making “justice for all” a reality. The story is a vision of what community might look like if we are all committed to access to justice.

In the end, increased access to justice is crucial. Individuals in need, particularly women and children, often have nowhere to turn but legal aid, and their unmet problems, which can often be resolved with minimal assistance, result in a loss of community. Without meaningful legal assistance to address these problems, respect for the rule of law erodes and we lawyers begin to lose our relevance. I celebrate all of you who understand the vital role of pro bono service and who have dedicated yourselves to the cause of access to justice.