Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
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Photo courtesy of the SJC.

Ninth Annual Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards presented

Recipients recognized for outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services

In recognition of outstanding commitment to providing volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services presented the ninth annual Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards to the Boston law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP with special recognition to partners Melissa Nott Davis and Edward P. Leibensperger; Attorney Kathleen McGrath of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Boston; and Attorney Alfred C. Phillips, a volunteer with MetroWest Legal Services.

Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina, who presented the awards to the recipients at a ceremony in the Seven-Justice Courtroom in the John Adams Courthouse, said, "As citizens of the commonwealth continue to face challenging economic circumstances, the need for pro bono legal services has exploded. This year, the diverse projects undertaken by our award recipients reflect a multitude of innovative ways of helping those most in need of representation, and we hope that these award recipients will serve as outstanding examples to others in the legal community of the limitless possibilities for pro bono work."

The Boston law office of McDermott Will & Emery was recognized for its excellent pro bono initiatives, particularly for work on Dwayne B. v. Granholm, a case brought on behalf of 19,000 children in Michigan's foster care system, the collaboration with the Medical Legal Partnership/Boston and the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts. In 2009, 84 percent of the attorneys in the Boston office performed pro bono legal work with more than half of its attorneys contributing more than 20 hours in free legal services. The Boston office donated over 6,500 hours to working on pro bono matters ranging from civil rights litigation to assisting non-profits with organizational issues.  

Melissa Nott Davis, a trial partner, who was singled out by McDermott Will & Emery for demonstrating strong leadership and commitment to pro bono causes, is recognized for the manner in which she has led large teams of attorneys on high-impact projects affecting systemic change for the benefit of children in Massachusetts. She serves as co-chair of the Boston Pro Bono Committee and enjoys an active role on the firm's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee. During her eight years with McDermott, Nott Davis, of Somerville, has personally contributed over 1,800 hours to pro bono and community service work.

Trial partner Edward (Ned) Leibensperger, who was also recognized by McDermott Will & Emery, is awarded for his exemplary leadership and pro bono work, particularly on the case, Dwayne B. v. Granholm, in partnership with Children's Rights, a non-profit advocacy organization. The federal class action suit involved charges against the state of Michigan for violating the constitutional rights of approximately 19,000 children in its foster care by failing to protect their safety and well-being and to find them permanent homes. Leibensperger led the team of lawyers and staff to obtain a settlement that mandated top-to-bottom reform and federal court oversight of Michigan's child welfare system and resolved the constitutional due process and federal statutory claims in the lawsuit. A resident of Waban, Leibensperger, who has been practicing in Boston for more than thirty years, personally devoted more than 600 hours to the case.

Senior Corporate Counsel Kathleen McGrath, who has worked at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company since 1995, spearheads the Legal Department's multi-faceted pro bono program. She is recognized for her passion and commitment to pro bono work with unrepresented litigants in Boston Housing Court cases as part of the Attorney-for-the-Day program. In one typical pro bono case, she wholeheartedly volunteered as co-counsel in a jury trial and spent countless hours to prevent a mentally ill woman from becoming homeless again. She continued to work on the case until affordable housing was secured for the disabled woman. McGrath has also served on the board of the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) since 1996, and from 2007 to the present, has been chair of the board. McGrath is known as a vocal advocate for the work of VLP and is constantly striving to improve client services and to increase the involvement of the private bar in pro bono legal work. McGrath, of Haverhill, is a 1988 graduate of Boston College Law School and served as a law clerk at the Supreme Judicial Court in that same year.  

Attorney Alfred Phillips, of Wayland, has been a volunteer working on bankruptcy matters for clients at MetroWest Legal Services since 2005. After being employed for forty years as labor and pension counsel at Raytheon Corporation, Mr. Phillips was eager to engage in pro bono legal work in his retirement years. He handled his first bankruptcy case in September 2005 at MetroWest and since then has represented 106 clients, donating over 3,300 hours of pro bono time. He works on bankruptcy screenings, prepares petitions, and represents clients with skill and precision. Known as a consummate professional with a genteel and courteous manner, Phillips is being honored for his dedication and sensitivity to clients' needs and his thorough commitment to pro bono legal service. Phillips received his undergraduate degree at Yale University in 1952 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1957.

Now in its ninth year, the Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards program seeks to identify and honor individual lawyers, small and large law firms, government attorney offices, corporate law departments and other institutions in the legal profession that have enhanced the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to our commonwealth's poor and disadvantaged.

The Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards ceremony is one of many events and activities celebrating and building support for pro bono legal work in Massachusetts. October has been proclaimed as Pro Bono Month by Governor Deval Patrick for the second consecutive year. The American Bar Association has declared October 24-30, 2010 as Pro Bono Week.

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