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Pro Bono Publico Award: Past Winners

Since 2003, NALP and PSJD annually solicits nominations for the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. This prestigious award honors one law student nationwide for their pro bono contributions to society, and recognizes the significant contributions that law students make to underserved populations, the public interest community, and legal education through public service work. PSJD caught up with some of the past recipients to see where their careers have taken them since winning the Pro Bono Publico Award. See their stories below!

2016 Winner - Gabrielle Lucero
Duke University School of Law

Gabrielle Lucero

Gabrielle is dedicated to helping her community directly and by creating infrastructures that will continue to serve clients after she graduates. First, recognizing a need to assist veterans and changes Legal Aid was undergoing in its work with veterans, Gabrielle took up the leadership of the Veterans Assistance Project (VAP). Along with a Legal Aid attorney, she established a structure for students to more easily and regularly complete the needed work. She created documents to be used and replicated, quick references for students on each step of the process, and established connections with local practioners to ensure continuity of service. She identified Military Sexual Trauma (MST) cases as a particular need, and developed a network and training materials to handle these cases. Gabrielle did all this, while volunteering herself assisting clients. Because of her good work, she was hand-picked to take on the first MST case. These cases can present some of the most difficult advocacy issues, both because this area is comparatively new and because of the sensitive subject matter. Not only was Gabrielle successful on behalf of her client, but she produced research and connections with a physician that specializes in MST care that will enable many more successes. Thinking longer term, Gabrielle created connections with UNC School of Law and NC Central University School of Law to broaden the scope of the project's impact.

Additionally, Gabrielle took over the recently inactive student group Coalition Against Gendered Violence (CAGV), and focused in on two major components. Gabrielle created a pro bono project with the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, volunteering to provide assistance to college campus victims of sexual assault during the university adjudication hearings. The second prong of the Coalition's work is addressing the needs of victims and survivors who are part of the Duke Law community. Gabrielle's hard work and dedication were instrumental in creating pro bono opportunities and community assistance that will long outlast her time at the law school. As her nominator stated, "[w]ithout her focused efforts to work with Legal Aid and redesign our VAP program or to redesign our CAGV, we would likely have lost both projects."

Gabrielle summed up her dedication best. "When people ask me why I am so involved in the community and put so much of my time towards service, it is an easy answer: people. While I have a busy schedule of two graduate degrees, Army ROTC, and a number of school and community activities, it never feels overwhelming because of the people."

2015 Winner - Lark Mulligan
DePaul University College of Law

Lark Mulligan (left) and Christina Jackson (right)
Lark Mulligan (left) Christina Jackson (right)

For the past five years, Lark Mulligan has been a leading volunteer with the Transformative Justice Law project of Illinois, a volunteer-run organization that provides free, zealous, holisitc, and gender-affirming legal services to impoverished and low-income transgender people who are criminalized.  In addition to the work she does in overseeing the maintenance and growth of the organization as a Collective Member, she is a leader in the Name Change Mobilization project and the ‘zine publication Hidden Expressions.  Through the Name Change Mobilization, trained volunteers assist transgender and gender non-conforming people file petitions to change their names legally.  One example of her dedication to this population arose when, as part of the name change process, she became aware that some judges were regularly asking inappropriate questions and denying meritorious petitions because they believed transgender petitioners did not have valid reasons for changing their legal names.  In response, Lark drafted a “Transgender 101 for Judges in the Civil Division” document in order to educate judges about the importance of having identity documents that reflect a transgender person’s true self.  The effort has been a success and those judges have stopped creating roadblocks for transgender name change petitioners.  This is just one example of Lark’s tireless commitment to the transgender community and the many hours she has spent helping vulnerable clients navigate a difficult and onerous process.

In her letter of recommendation, Avi Rudnick, Name Change Mobilization Coordinator, described Lark’s contributions this way, “Ms. Mulligan has demonstrated outstanding skills as an advocate while supporting individuals through a significant life changing moment. . . She uses humor and her trans identity to truly connect with our clients, and based on the glowing feedback we have received, I am confident that she has left a lasting impression on each one.”

2014 Winner - Alex Dutton
Temple University Beasley School of Law

Alex Dutton

In 2012, as a 1L, Alex volunteered to assist with Philadelphia's first Youth Court, located at Strawberry Mansion High School - the only high school on the Philadelphia School District's list of "persistently dangerous schools". Youth Court initiatives are an exercise in restorative justice, using positive peer pressure to reshape student behavior and interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by providing an alternative to suspension for students who commit minor offenses. In order to reach students overtly distrustful of anyone associated with the criminal justice system, he convinced his supervisor to set aside the Court manual temporarily and meet with students in small groups so the students could take the lead and educate the program staff and volunteers about their lives and their values. Alex's involvement continued throughout his law school career, and he has successfully attracted other law students from all six Philadelphia region law schools to support the city's burgeoning Youth Court programs.

In his letter of recommendation, Greg Volz, summarized best the impact of Alex's contribution to the Youth Court program and to the Philadelphia community: "Alex['s] efforts have sparked a potential paradigm shift in law school pro bono activity and shown how youth courts help disadvantaged youth help themselves."

2013 Winner - J. Martin Blunt
Emory University School of Law

J. Martin Blunt

Martin, from Emory University School of Law, won the 2013 Pro Bono Publico Award. As a 2L, Martin started the Volunteer Clinic for Veterans (VCV) from scratch, pulling together the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Bar of Georgia, a number of Atlanta attorneys, and the dedicated students at Emory. Through Martin's leadership, in less than a year, a new clinic, complete with a retired law firm partner and decorated veteran as the hands-on supervisor of the cases, and a professor as a co-director was up and running.

Martin was dedicated to making the lives of the men and women who serve better. He said quote, "When they come home, I believe it is our turn to serve them. I will continue to dedicate my life to the VCV knowing that I am serving those who have sacrificed so much to serve me".

2012 Winner - Elizabeth Gutierrez
St. Mary's University School of Law

Elizabeth Gutierrex

Elizabeth graduated from St. Mary's University School of Law in May 2013 with both a J.D. and M.B.A. In addition to winning the 2012 Pro Bono Publico Award, she was granted the Chief Justice Alma Lopez Woman in Leadership Award, the Commitment to Pro Bono and Community Service Award, and the San Antonio Bar Foundation Pro Bono Award. She also received the Hispanic Law Alumni Foundation Scholarship and the Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation Scholarship.

Elizabeth has just finished taking the bar and is awaiting results in San Francisco, California. She is still very interested in pro bono and public interest legal work, specifically in the field of immigration law. Her advice to current law students: "If you really love public interest and pro bono work, it's important to begin now, in law school. If you truly enjoy the work and aid you are providing people, it doesn't become another 'stress' or 'commitment'. It becomes the highlight of your day or week."

2011 Winner - Felicia Cantrell
Arizona State University College of Law

Felicia Cantrell graduated from Arizona State University College of Law in 2012. Since winning the award in 2011, Cantrell went on to serve as a Family Justice Specialist for the Support, Education, Empowerment & Directions (SEEDs) program for the National Advocacy & Training Network.

Cantrell is currently an attorney with the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice at Arizona State University College of Law, where she specializes in handling high-conflict divorce and custody cases for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and sex trafficking. She also volunteers for ASU Law's Medical Legal Partnership free legal clinics once or twice a month, and occasionally at free legal clinics at local domestic violence shelters.

2010 Winner - Vanessa Coe
NOVA Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center

After graduating from NOVA Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center in 2011, Coe went on to serve as an Equal Justice Works Fellow for Florida Legal Services in Lake Worth, Florida. As a Fellow, she represents H-2B workers facing various employment law violations, working to protect them from exploitation.

Coe is one of few Florida attorneys working on the issue. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and twice in the Palm Beach Post concerning employer abuse and J-1 student visas. Because her work is so time-consuming, Coe's only extracurricular activity is taking care of her newborn baby!

2009 Winner - Todd Belcore
Northwestern University School of Law

Belcore graduated from Northwestern University School of Law and went on to serve as a 2010 Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. That year, he was also chosen to receive the Northwestern University School of Law’s Wigmore Key, which is given to the graduating student who has done the most to preserve the traditions of the law school. 2011 was a busy year for Belcore – he was chosen as a White House Champions of Change honoree for his work as a legal community leader dedicated to closing the justice gap in America. He was one of the 25 men and women recognized nationwide as an "Opportunity Leader" for his unwavering commitment to expanding the economic mobility of communities nationwide. Belcore received the 2011 Kimball and Karen Anderson Public Interest Fellowship award, which honors one attorney for their commitment to public interest work, academic achievement in law school, and their outstanding character and integrity. He was also honored as the 2011 "Legal Hero" by N'Digo newspaper in their October 20 issue.

Currently, Belcore is a full-time staff attorney at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, advocating on behalf of individuals with criminal records through litigation and lobbying, and ensuring that ex-offenders are not unjustly denied employment or occupational licenses. He has written about the economic hardships facing those with criminal convictions for the Huffington Post Politics blog, and has also contributed leadership development tips to the PSJD Blog’s Expert Opinion series. Todd is also the co-founder and co-director of the Chicago International Social Change Festival (CISCFF). CISCFF is a new vehicle for social change that funds and provides a forum for films and art that showcase untold stories that promote social change and cultivates a network from which direct action can be taken to address the issues showcased.

2008 Winner - Tom Fritzsche
New York University School of Law

Fritzsche graduated from New York University School of Law in 2009. In addition to the Pro Bono Publico Award, he received the 2009 John Sexton Prize for Public Service from NYU. He went on to serve as a Skadden Fellow/Staff Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Project in Atlanta, Georgia. At SPLC, he is involved in all stages of the cases, from intial community outreach to litigation. His work involves problems like minimum wage violation, sexual harassment, race-based discrimination, health and safety violations, and retaliation against workers who speak out about those problems. Recently, his work has been focused in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Fritzsche also volunteers with Freedom University, a group of students and faculty holding college-level classes for Georgia high school graduates regardless of immigration status. Freedom University was founded in direct response to the Georgia Board of Regents' decision to exclude undocumented immigrant high school graduates from any of the top five public universities in the state. He also sits on their Board of Advisors.

2007 Winner - Parag Khandar
American University, Washington College of Law

Khandhar graduated from American University's Washington College of Law in 2008. He then worked for the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC) until 2011, representing poor and moderate income Asian immigrant tenants, seniors, and workers in a variety of matters. He also supported community organizing efforts, particularly in subsidized housing. With the APALRC, Khandhar helped organize a tenants' association in D.C.'s Chinatown.

In 2011, Khandhar was accepted as a clinical teaching fellow, where is he is currently wrapping up his first semester of co-teaching the clinic, supervising student attorneys who are working on a variety of matters including emerging nonprofit formalization, startup small and micro-businesses, community assocations and neighborhood groups in Baltimore, and the growing worker-owned cooperative movement in the area. Khandhar is also the president of the Asian American Literary Review, a space for writers who consider the designation “Asian American” a fruitful starting point for artistic vision and community.

2006 Winner - Morgan Williams
Tulane University Law School

Morgan, from Tulane University Law School, won the 2006 Pro Bono Publico Award in recognition of his efforts in founding the Student Hurricane Network.

2005 Winners - Kathryn Neilson and Adrienne Lyles-Chockley
Fordham University School of Law and University of Notre Dame Law School, respectively

Kathryn, from Fordham University School of Law and Adrienne, from the University of Notre Dame Law School, won the 2005 Pro Bono Publico Award.

2004 Winners - Alina Das and Kelly Barrett
New York University Law School and American University, Washington College of Law, respectively

Alina, from New York University Law School and Kelly, from American University - Washington College of Law, won the 2004 Pro Bono Publico Award.

2003 Winner - Sudha Shetty
University of Bombay, India

Sudha, from the University of Bombay - India, won the 2003 Pro Bono Publico Award.