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June 30, 2023

ABA honors 2023 public service award recipients

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2023 — Developing alternatives to prosecution, creating a mobile legal services program to better reach survivors of natural disasters, and a commitment to improving the legal profession are some of the accomplishments recognized by the American Bar Association Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division through its 2023 Dorsey, Hodson and Nelson awards. 

The Dorsey Award honors an outstanding public defender or legal aid lawyer. The Hodson Award recognizes an exceptional government or public sector law office. The Nelson Award recognizes superior, sustained contributions to the ABA by an individual public lawyer.

“Every day public lawyers work to improve our communities, advance the rule of law and provide legal representation for those in need,” said Wendy Muchman, chair of the ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division. “GPSLD is pleased to celebrate these award winners while also helping the community at large gain a better understanding and appreciation of their exceptional achievements.”

This year’s honorees are:

The  Dorsey Award

Lisa Schreibersdorf, the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, has worked throughout her career to develop alternatives to prosecution; address racial inequities in the legal system; and advocate for reforms in bail, discovery and sentencing. She established a walk-in community office to provide information and referrals, advice and counsel, and know-your-rights workshops. During COVID, she created a Client Essentials Program to provide clients with items such as food, cell phones and warm clothing. Most recently, Schreibersdorf has fought for increased funding for public defenders.

The Hodson Award

To serve its clients more effectively, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas created several programs. The Disaster Legal Services Unit provides mobile legal assistance to survivors of natural disasters; the Home Preservation Project addresses eviction and rental assistance; and the Pro Se Assistance Program helps those who do not have legal representation. LANWT also created multiple medical/legal partnerships that embed lawyers in health care settings. When issues such as illegal eviction are detected by clinical staff, patients are referred directly for legal services.

The Nelson Award

ABA President-elect Mary Smith, the first Native American woman to serve at the highest level of the association’s leadership, is an independent board member and former head of the Indian Health Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Previously she served on the senior team of the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and was general counsel at the Illinois Department of Insurance. Earlier in her career, Smith served in the White House as associate counsel to the president and associate director of policy planning. She was secretary of the ABA from 2018-2020 and served on the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. She has held leadership positions in both the Section of Litigation and the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Smith is a member of the House of Delegates and also served as an ABA representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

The awards will be presented at the Grand Hyatt Denver on Aug. 4 at 3:30 p.m. MDT during the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver. Winners are selected on the basis of their professional accomplishments and their role in ensuring access to justice.

The ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division provides programs, publications and online resources specifically designed for government, public sector and military lawyers, as well as interested law students.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promote programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredit law schools, provide continuing legal education, and build public understanding around the world about the importance of the rule of law.