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Prepared Remarks of John G. Levi at the Pro Bono Reception in Ann Arbor, Michigan - July 26, 2012

It is my privilege on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation to welcome you all to this reception, where we will honor outstanding lawyers for their significant pro bono contributions to the clients of the LSC programs in Michigan. It is a pleasure to see so many leaders of the Michigan legal community in attendance.

And it is a distinct honor for all of us to be here with our distinguished speakers:

  • The Honorable Denise Page Hood, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, who took part in our first panel today. Judge Hood has a deep commitment to pro bono and now serves as the court’s pro bono committee chair. Judge Hood, we look forward to your remarks.
  • Julie Fershtman, president of the Michigan State Bar. The Michigan Bar has been especially active in promoting pro bono and supporting the efforts of LSC.  Earlier this year, the American Bar Association awarded the Michigan Bar its Grassroots Advocacy Award for its efforts to support adequate funding for LSC. Julie, we appreciate your support and also look forward to your comments.

I also want to acknowledge two other members of Michigan’s legal community who have been here throughout the day: State Bar of Michigan Executive Director Janet Welch, and Michigan's State Court Administrator Chad Schmucker. 

This reception comes at the end of an exciting and productive day highlighted by three forums exploring different aspects of civil legal assistance in America. This program is an outgrowth  of a forum we held at the White House during the spring board meeting, and we intend to hold similar programs in upcoming board meetings as well. I want to thank all of the panelists for taking part.

And,  finally, I would like to recognize LSC president Jim Sandman, his senior staff, and also take this opportunity to introduce the LSC Board, all of whom are performing far beyond what they expected when there were nominated for this post.

  • Martha Minow, our vice chair is the Dean of the Harvard Law School and Jeremiah Smith Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard.
  • Sharon Browne of Sacramento, a former principal attorney in the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Individual Rights Practice Group.
  • Robert Grey, a partner with Hunton & Williams in Richmond and a former ABA president.
  • Charles Keckler, of Arlington, Virginia, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.
  • Victor Maddox, of Louisville, Kentucky, a partner with firm of Fultz Maddox Hovious & Dickens. Vic has served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Laurie Mikva of Evanston, Illinois, who served for nearly 30 years as a civil legal aid attorney and a public defender in Illinois and Maryland. She is currently a commissioner on the Illinois Court of Claims.
  • Father Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, a Dominican friar who is engaged in doctoral studies at the Vatican. In his prior life, he worked for three years at Sidley Austin in Chicago, in the Corporate and Securities practice.
  • Julie Reiskin, the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, a statewide disability-rights organization run by and for people with disabilities.
  • Gloria Valencia-Weber, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law and a leading expert on Native American law.
  • Harry Korrell, a longtime partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, could not attend tonight.

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal assistance in the nation. Here in Michigan LSC provides about 44 percent of the funding for our six programs statewide. It has been a longstanding tradition of the LSC Board to hold three meetings each year in the states. At these meetings, we have asked each of the local LSC programs to nominate for special recognition those individuals or law firms that have been especially supportive of pro bono. And that is what we are doing here today, celebrating outstanding pro bono efforts by the bar.

Clearly, in this time of shrinking legal aid funding and skyrocketing demand, pro bono is more important than ever before. At LSC, we are dedicated to expanding pro bono and strengthening our public-private partnerships. Last year, the LSC Board created a Pro Bono Task Force led by board members Martha Minow and Harry Korrell, with nearly 60 outstanding members of the profession.

Their goal was to come up with innovative recommendations that can help increase pro bono in a measureable way. The task force is in the process of completing its work, and will present proposed recommendations at our board meeting tomorrow. We also must acknowledge, however, that pro bono will never be able, by itself, to meet the legal needs of low-income Americans. And pro bono is most effective when supported by robust legal aid programs that screen cases and support volunteer lawyers with training, materials and the expertise of staff attorneys.

As a nation, we simply cannot turn away from properly funding civil legal assistance and our civil justice system.

As lawyers and citizens, we owe an orderly civil justice system to future generations of Americans.

Just as we have benefited in the profession from what our predecessors gave to us, we in turn have a responsibility to those who will succeed us.

It is now my great privilege to introduce our host, the distinguished Evan Caminker, Dean of the University of Michigan Law School and the Branch Rickey Collegiate Professor of Law.