By Meredith S. Auten, President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation
As I have written many times in this column, Philadelphia has an incredibly robust public interest and pro bono community. The work done by attorneys at legal aid agencies across the city and by private attorneys fulfilling their civic duty through pro bono work has improved the lives of countless Philadelphians each year.
One of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s core functions is engaging the community in support of legal aid. Our annual awards are one of the many ways we do that; by recognizing attorneys doing outstanding legal work in support of legal aid. We have two annual awards:
The Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award recognizes a public interest attorney who is dedicating his//her/their life to promoting equal access to justice for all by working in the nonprofit legal services community.
The Pro Bono Award of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation honors a Philadelphia law firm or corporate legal department that performs outstanding volunteer efforts in providing legal services to those in need.
Since we started these awards nearly two decades ago, we have had the privilege of learning about and honoring many incredible individuals and practice groups. Here are some of our recent award recipients:
- Linda Peyton, Executive Director at Legal Clinic for the Disabled, was the 2019 recipient of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award. Linda spent 20 years at the Philadelphia Public Defender Association and since then, has been at LCD. She started as a Staff Attorney and in 2008, she became Executive Director. Throughout her legal career, Linda has devoted herself to equal access to justice for all.
- The 2019 Pro Bono Award recognized Hausfeld LLP’s commitment to the development and delivery of pro bono legal services in Philadelphia and to access to justice in our community. Hausfeld’s commitment to pro bono legal services is central to its identity, with its attorneys volunteering hundreds of hours of pro bono work each year.
- In 2020, we honored two exceptional attorneys with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award: Kelly J. Gastley, Esq. and David Keller Trevaskis, Esq. Kelly is the managing attorney at Philadelphia VIP securing representation for individuals, families, and organizations in need, including developing VIP’s Tangled Title Project to stem the tide of Philadelphia’s affordable housing crisis. David is a champion of access to justice, pro bono service, and public interest work. The first and only full time Pro Bono Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Bar Association since he was hired in 2001, David coordinates civil legal aid services and clinics for thousands of Pennsylvanians in need each year.
- Comcast NBC Universal’s law department and Dechert LLP each received the 2020 Pro Bono Award. Comcast NBCUniversal's law department has made exceptional contributions to the Philadelphia community through its Pro Bono Program. Launched in 2016, the program connects the company's in-house legal department with a variety of nonprofits in Philadelphia. Each year, Comcast attorneys log hundreds of hours of pro bono service. Dechert LLP has a longstanding history of pro bono legal service, which is evidenced in their significant contributions to protecting civil rights and civil liberties of marginalized residents in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania, with firm attorneys participating in at least 25 hours of mandatory pro bono service each year. Dechert has been nationally and internationally ranked for their pro bono service.
- Nilam A. Sanghvi, Esq., Legal Director and Interim Executive Director at the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and a former Trustee of the Bar Foundation, was the 2021 recipient of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Award. Each year, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project reviews hundreds of cases through their rigorous four-stage case review process. Nilam and the Project have helped secure the exoneration of twenty individuals and have secured the release of three individuals as they continue to fight for exoneration. The Project also provides robust reentry support for their clients.
- The 2021 Pro Bono Award was presented to White and Williams LLP for their over 30 years of pro bono work in Philadelphia. White and Williams has long-standing partnerships with a number of legal aid nonprofits in Philadelphia, providing legal assistance and other support to various underserved communities.
I strongly encourage you to nominate individuals or groups who you believe deserve recognition for their efforts to support equal access to justice. Nominations for these two awards are due May 16, 2022. We will be honoring this year’s award recipients at our Access to Justice Awards Benefit that will be held this fall. I hope you will join us to celebrate our award recipients. If you are looking for further inspiration, please check out our past award events, including last year’s Access to Justice Awards Benefit with remarks from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. You can find last year’s event livestream, nomination forms, and more information on our website philabarfoundation.org