FBC Foundation Celebrates 50th Anniversary
By Margie Berman
The majestic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House was the glorious site of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Federal Bar Foundation and the inaugural presentation of the Justice Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service. Designed by Cass Gilbert, who later designed the U.S. Supreme Court, the Custom House, built between 1902 and 1907, is a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and provided a stately backdrop to the evening’s events. Close to 300 Council members enjoyed a fact-filled tour of the interior, delightful delicacies, striking strings, and compelling comments. The evening’s program, “Celebrating Access to the Court of the Second Circuit,” surveyed the many projects of the Foundation that have expanded access to the court.
Council President-Elect Vilia Hayes opened the presentation with a brief history of the Foundation’s many good works in support of the Council, noting programs such as cutting-edge continuing legal education programs, funding for student interns at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Courts Visits Program, in which middle school and high school students observe the court in action. She praised the work of the Public Service Committee, whose work Hayes first learned of in connection with its representation of families of first responders following September 11th. She went on to describe new programs, including a Limited Representation project that matches pro bono lawyers (who get deposition experience) with Section 1983 plaintiffs who need representation. She also noted the formation of the Asylum Representation Project where lawyers screen and provide representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation.
Tom Bezanson, president of the Federal Bar Foundation, followed Hayes focusing on additional programs that promote access to the courts. He proudly announced that the Council, with support from the Foundation, will be funding a two-year Immigrant Justice Corps Fellowship. The Immigrant Justice Corps began this year at the initiative and under the leadership of Chief Judge Robert Katzmann. Its purpose is to train recent law school graduates to provide critically needed representation to non-citizen immigrants so as to prevent deportation and to find a path to citizenship. In the words of Judge Katzmann, in the area of immigration, “competent counsel can make the difference between staying in this country and pursuing the American dream, or facing deportation.”
Pro Bono Award
The evening’s highlight was the presentation of the first annual Justice Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service to Alan Schoenfeld, counsel at Wilmer Hale. Lewis Liman, chair of the Public Service Committee, explained that the award was created to honor attorneys in private practice who demonstrate exemplary commitment to pro bono legal services, and who provide or facilitate the provision of pro bono services in federal courts or agencies within the Second Circuit. “Competition was stiff,” Liman reported, with many nominees considered for the honor. After much deliberation, however, Schoenfeld was an obvious candidate, Liman explained. Noting specifically Schoenfeld’s work in the area of immigration rights, LGBT rights, special education, and federal Indian law, Liman presented Schoenfeld with the much deserved award.
Pay It Away
Schoenfeld humbly accepted the award, recognizing the privileges with which he has been blessed, and the need to give back. Sharing the words of Emerson to “beware of too much good staying in your hand … pay it away quickly in some sort,” Schoenfeld’s pro bono work is his means to “pay it away.” Grateful for the opportunities to represent people in need, Schoenfeld described justice as follows:
Our pro bono clients each have a story to tell in the service of some ultimate goal in the law. Those stories are uplifting and terrifying and complicated and frustrating and sad. But told well and powerfully, and told patiently to judges and juries who can be made to understand the challenges and indignities that face people in need, those stories can become new chapters in our clients’ lives, and in the law, and make a fairer and more just society.
The celebration and recognition of Schoenfeld’s work was an inspiring conclusion to an evening celebrating justice and access to the courts.
The 50th anniversary celebration was organized by Bob Anello, Lewis Liman, and Tom Bezanson with the able assistance of FBC Executive Director Joan Salzman and her staff, including Donna-Jean Plante Plante and Lorraine Letizia.