The American Bar Association honored four individuals and a law firm Wednesday, Aug. 4, for demonstrating outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged at a virtual program during the opening day of the 2021 ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting.
The 2021 Pro Bono Publico Awards were presented 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. The Annual Meeting ends with the two-day House of Delegates session on Aug. 9-10.
During the presentation, a trio of ABA leaders praised the award recipients. ABA President Patricia Lee Refo thanked the awardees for their “impressive pro bono contributions.” David Bienvenu, chair of the standing committee, praised the awardees for “exemplifying pro bono leadership.”
And in a keynote address, Bernice Donald, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, saluted the awardees for demonstrating the “highest standards” of the legal profession. She also discussed the need for lawyers to meet, if not exceed, the model rule under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct seeking that each lawyer commit to a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono work annually.
“Working poor have substantial needs” that are unmet with the current legal services environment, Donald said. “These unmet legal needs can affect the life trajectory…We have to fix it because we are the guardians of the legal system,” she added.
Individual recipients of the 2021 Pro Bono Publico Awards are:
- Cynthia Chandler – director, Bay Area Legal Incubator, Oakland, California
Since 2015, Chandler has grown the incubator, which coaches diverse attorneys to build successful, affordable law practices serving low and middle-income clients throughout California. Designed to promote diversity in the legal profession while increasing access to justice, the incubator is a project of the Alameda County Bar Association and Legal Access Alameda. Previously, she helped build a movement to challenge state violence and imprisonment, co-founding several groups influencing the Black Lives Matter network. Her decades long work empowering women in prison to challenge forced sterilization is featured in the Peabody-nominated documentary film “Belly of the Beast.”
- TerryAnn Howell – Nelson Mullins, Miami
Upon her departure from public service work in 2019 to “big law,” Howell went right back to assisting low-income individuals in need when she began volunteering in the Tenants’ Equal Justice Clinic (TEJC), a project of Legal Services of Greater Miami, and urged other Nelson Mullins attorneys to get involved with the project. Howell also facilitated a Nelson Mullins and Legal Services collaboration to run a statewide COVID-19 Small Business and Nonprofit Clinic through Lawyers for Good Government, growing the collaboration into a three-state Nelson Mullins initiative with 22 firm attorneys volunteering in Florida alone. The effort has been bolstered by the participation of attorneys in other firms.
- Neal Manne – Susman Godfrey LLP, Houston
A managing partner of Susman Godfrey, Manne has shown a 40-year commitment to high-impact pro bono work. He has been honored repeatedly for his pro bono leadership, including by the American College of Trial Lawyers, of which he is a fellow. In 2017, Manne’s pro bono work led the publication Texas Lawyer to name him Attorney of the Year. Earlier in his practice, the National Women’s Political Caucus named him a national “Good Guy of the Year” for his successful representation of Planned Parenthood. More recently, Manne won historic reform of Houston’s money bail system and represented two death row exonerees.
- Rebecca Rapp – Ascendium Education Group, Madison, Wisconsin
General counsel/chief privacy officer of Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit committed to improving access and success to education and meaningful employment for vulnerable cohorts, Rapp has had a career of inspiring others to provide pro bono service. She is known for using technology and innovation to increase the reach of pro bono and is involved with a project to provide legal help to technical colleges around Wisconsin, including in rural areas that have been coined “legal deserts” due to their lack of attorneys. Rapp has testified before the Wisconsin Supreme Court to remove limitations on pro bono services. She directly assists clients at legal clinics and serves on committees or boards of several access-to-justice organizations.
The sole legal entity recipient is:
- Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP – California, Washington, D.C., New York City
The firm moved quickly after the death of George Floyd to launch the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) project with Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program. The ABLE Project grew out of an initiative to teach officers how to become active bystanders and intervene to prevent misconduct in the New Orleans Police Department. Its aim is to create a culture of active bystandership, in which officers effectively intervene to prevent officer misconduct, avoid mistakes and promote wellness. The firm successfully litigated cases across California to obtain disclosure of records of police misconduct; executed a plan to manufacture and distribute face shields to frontline workers in Los Angeles; and litigated for voting rights for people with disabilities in two states.
The ABA Pro Publico Awards began in 1984. Past recipients can be found here.