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2020 Recipients

The American Bar Association presented awards to three individual lawyers and two law firms for demonstrating outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged at its Annual Meeting.

The Pro Bono Publico Awards are the top honors given by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, which over the years has spotlighted pro bono efforts of individual lawyers and small and large law firms, government attorney offices, corporate law departments and other institutions in the legal profession.

This year the awards were presented virtually. 

View the entire awards event

Leah Godesky, O’Melveny & Myers LLP

A litigation partner based in New York, Godesky leads the firm’s pro bono efforts for women’s reproductive rights and has won landmark victories against several states seeking to severely restrict access to abortion. She serves as co-counsel with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights. In addition, Godesky co-chairs O’Melveny’s New York Women’s Employee Network, an office-wide committee focused on creating opportunities for women to motivate one another and advance their careers. Under her leadership, O’Melveny recently hosted in New York its third Career Ready Workshop for underserved, high-achieving ninth graders.

Neil Steiner, Dechert LLP

New York litigator Steiner has protected the rights of marginalized individuals to exercise one of their most basic freedoms — the right to vote. For nearly 15 years, Steiner, a partner in Dechert’s Trial, Investigations & Securities group and a trustee of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has led pro bono teams at Dechert in challenging voting rights restrictions in 10 states, ranging from the failure to offer voter registration at public assistance agencies to the imposition of voter identification and documentary proof of citizenship. He is now working to ensure safe access to the ballot in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also has nurtured dozens of young lawyers at Dechert.

G. Allan Van Fleet, G. Allan Van Fleet, P.C.

Winner of the ABA Antitrust Law Section’s inaugural pro bono award, Van Fleet’s pro bono work dates to 1976 while he was a student at Columbia Law School. Now based in Houston and Galveston, Texas, Van Fleet worked with the legendary Jack Greenberg at Columbia, mainly assisting on briefs in death-penalty cases. His pro bono work has continued for nearly 45 years, and his section colleagues praise him for making extraordinary positive change for individual and institutional clients as well as whole communities. His legal work has been in indigent defendants’ rights, children’s rights, bail reform, immigrant rights, civil rights, and death penalty and wrongful conviction.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Over the past 15 years, Manatt has dedicated more than 375,000 hours to pro bono matters on behalf of compelling and deserving clients, including disabled veterans, foster care children, immigrants and survivors of domestic abuse. The firm has also fought successfully for civil rights guaranteed under law, including last year’s landmark California Census case and a class action on behalf of abused, neglected and abandoned immigrant youth in California. Manatt is proud to work with a network of well-respected legal aid and civil rights partner organizations to help address the justice gap that exists for low-income communities.

American Express General Counsel’s Organization (GCO)

Four years ago, after a long history and commitment to pro bono, AmEx’s GCO refreshed and relaunched its pro bono program with the establishment of a committee to create meaningful opportunities for AmEx GCO attorneys. The committee sought to expand its pro bono program through partnerships with both outside counsel and legal services organizations to enable broader participation across the GCO. The program has since grown rapidly, and last year alone more than 50 volunteers from AmEx GCO provided more than 100 hours of pro bono legal services to 28 low-income entrepreneurs through their legal services partner Start Small Think Big.