Spotlight on ABA YLD Leaders
Young Lawyers Can Make a Difference: An Interview with ABA YLD Disaster Legal Services Director Craig Cannon
By Amy Osteryoung
Amy Osteryoung is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and a principal in the St. Augustine, Florida, firm of Johnson & Osteryoung..
Can a young lawyer really make a difference? If you use Craig Cannon as a model, the answer to that question is easy.
In his day job, Cannon is employed as an in-house attorney for Branch Banking and Trust Company (BB&T) in its Winston-Salem, North Carolina, headquarters. BB&T is one of the largest banks in the United States and has more than 32,000 employees. At BB&T, Cannon manages hundreds of active cases in jurisdictions across the country. Before joining BB&T, Cannon was a member of North Carolina’s largest law firm for eight years and practiced in the firm’s business litigation practice group. In other words, he is and always has been busy.
Despite the busy nature of his private practice, Cannon also has been very active in directly providing and improving the delivery of pro bono legal assistance to disaster victims. Since August 2006, Cannon has served as the Director of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) Disaster Legal Services Program (DLS). The DLS program operates under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the ABA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under the terms of the MOU, the ABA YLD is responsible for coordinating the delivery of pro bono legal assistance to victims of all major presidential disaster declarations.
Since Cannon became the DLS program director in 2006, more than 100,000 disaster victims have received pro bono legal assistance through the program. As DLS Director, Cannon supervises and trains a team of approximately forty volunteer attorneys and ABA YLD staff members. He also serves as the main spokesperson for the program and is tasked with identifying policy changes that could be made to improve the program. In the fall of 2007, Cannon served as the lead drafter of a new MOU between the ABA and FEMA that resulted in a new partnership between the ABA and the Legal Services Corporation and the improved delivery of legal assistance to disaster victims. His team’s latest policy improvement project is to develop an MOU between the ABA and the American Red Cross.
In addition to serving as DLS Director, Cannon was the driving force behind the creation of the “When Duty Calls” veterans assistance project, which is designed to assist military veterans in obtaining service-related disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. During the past two years, “When Duty Calls” clinics have provided pro bono assistance to more than 1,000 military veterans. During this same timeframe, hundreds of attorneys received instruction on how to effectively assist military veterans with filing disability claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In recognition of his pro bono activities, Cannon was nominated by representatives of the Legal Services Corporation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and others to receive the ABA’s Pro Bono Publico Award. The Pro Bono Publico Award program recognizes individuals and institutions that have personally delivered or improved the delivery of pro bono legal assistance to the poor and disadvantaged. At the ABA’s 2008 Annual Meeting, Cannon was named recipient of the Award, marking the first time it has been given to a young lawyer. In addition, at the same Annual Meeting, the ABA YLD named Cannon as a “Star of the Year” recipient.