Without the people who dedicate themselves to the fight every day, pursuing our mission to deliver equal justice would not be possible. The Legal Aid Society’s Marden Awards celebrate our hardworking staff and honor their commitment and achievements.
The Legal Aid Society established the Orison S. Marden Awards in 1976, our centennial year, to recognize the excellence and dedication of our staff. The awards honor the memory of Orison S. Marden, a leader of the organized bar, a partner at White & Case LLP, and a former Chair of our Board of Directors. For over 40 years, Mr. Marden was a dedicated supporter of The Legal Aid Society, often traveling to the Harlem Neighborhood Office to volunteer as a pro bono attorney.
Each year, the awards are presented at our Annual Meeting. A diverse committee of managers, exempt, and union representatives select award recipients from nominations submitted by staff.
Whether on the front lines providing direct client services or working on critical office operations, this year’s recipients demonstrated efforts that went above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of our clients. Marden Awards are given to attorneys, managers, and core staff, including paralegals, social workers, investigators, and support staff.
Below are the dedicated staff members honored with our 2021 Marden Awards.
The Legal Aid Society suffered a terrible loss on July 1, 2016, when our beloved Chief Financial Officer Sandra Scott lost her valiant struggle against cancer. Her courage, integrity, and dedication serve as her legacy. The Sandra Scott Memorial Award for Excellence recognizes the dedication and outstanding achievement of a member of our non-lawyer central administrative staff.
Each year nearly 3,000 volunteers from the private bar, corporate legal departments, and law schools throughout the country generously partner with the staff of The Legal Aid Society on behalf of vulnerable New Yorkers. Their advocacy helped ensure family stability, protect safe and affordable housing, and defend the rights of the accused. They fought tirelessly in demanding racial, social, and economic justice for the clients and communities we serve.
The Legal Aid Society is proud to recognize Milbank LLP for its exceptional pro bono commitment to our organization and clients. Under the leadership of Managing Partner and Legal Aid Board Member Scott Edelman, Pro Bono Counsel Anthony Perez Cassino, and Deputy Pro Bono Counsel Rebecca Heller, the attorneys, legal assistants, and administrative staff at Milbank have been committed partners with our team in meeting the legal needs of the less fortunate in New York City.
No firm has made more of an impact on the clients and communities served by The Legal Aid Society in the past year. Advocating on behalf of young immigrants, homeless students, and people experiencing the scourge of unlawful police behavior, the attorneys at Milbank achieved outstanding results that improved the circumstances of Legal Aid clients and thousands of New Yorkers in every borough.
As students in New York City’s shelter system struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Milbank made WiFi access a reality. Together with the Education Law Unit and Homeless Rights Project, Milbank filed E.G. v. City of New York, a federal class action demanding a resolution to the ongoing systemic problems with remote learning for students in shelters due to lack of WiFi. As a result of that suit, 240 shelters housing more than 11,000 school-aged children have been wired.
In 2020, The Legal Aid Society and our police reform partners won a substantial legislative victory in repealing Civil Rights Law 50-a, which hid police disciplinary records from public view. This past year, the Police Benevolent Association tried to stop the City from posting misconduct records (UFOA v. de Blasio). At the request of the Criminal Defense Practice Special Litigation Unit, Milbank lawyers submitted an amicus in opposition to the suit in less than seven days. The turnaround illustrates Milbank’s commitment to Legal Aid and the communities we serve. They are an ally we rely on when swift action is essential. Their brief helped lead to the ultimate dismissal of the case. Increased transparency and greater accountability of officers who betray the public trust are critical components toward reforming the New York City Police Department.
The Legal Aid Society Immigration Law Unit, Public Counsel in Los Angeles, and Catholic Legal Immigration Network in Minneapolis joined Milbank as co-counsels challenging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s final rule regarding special immigrant juveniles (SIJS). SIJS allows abandoned, abused, and neglected immigrant children to seek lawful permanent resident status and creates a pathway to U.S. citizenship. Over 6,500 immigrant youth were granted SIJS status and set on the path toward citizenship due to our legal advocacy.
Jennifer Cowan is recognized for her outstanding achievement overseeing the Debevoise & Plimpton pro bono program and her constant support of The Legal Aid Society and its clients.
Each year, Debevoise volunteers handle more than 800 pro bono matters for low-income clients across the country. Thanks to Jennifer’s efforts, an average of 100 Debevoise attorneys and professional staff have contributed more than 4,000 hours each year to the clients of The Legal Aid Society since 2018. Debevoise has provided critical assistance to clients in areas as diverse as immigration defense, disability advocacy, civil rights litigation, criminal appeals, and the preservation of affordable housing, and Jennifer is actively involved in many of those cases. Despite the many challenges of practicing law during a global pandemic, Jennifer and her colleagues have continued to meaningfully engage in pro bono work on behalf of our clients, including as co-counsel with Legal Aid in Douglas v. City of New York, an action to ensure police officers comply with a new law requiring tickets, not arrests, for low-level offenses.
In addition to her responsibilities as Pro Bono Counsel at the firm, Jennifer is a Fellow in the Sterling Network NYC, which tackles issues of economic mobility in New York City. She is also a member of the Board of the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House; an active member of the Pro Bono and Public Service Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York; a member of the Public Service Committee of the Federal Bar Council; and a member of the Government Relations Committee of Nonprofit New York.
Volunteers from the following firms have been nominated by the staff of The Legal Aid Society for providing outstanding pro bono assistance to the clients and communities we serve.
Every day, The Legal Aid Society changes the lives of our clients with the help of our generous supporters. Stand with us.