Legal Aid Society


LAS Honors Key Partners at 2023 Pro Bono Publico Awards Ceremony

The Legal Aid Society held the 2023 Pro Bono Publico Awards Ceremony at the Prince George Ballroom on Monday, October 30th, honoring individual attorneys and law firms for their outstanding and sustained achievements in pro bono services.

Each year, The Legal Aid Society works with over 100 law firms and national law schools across New York City. The firms recognized were nominated by Legal Aid staff in every borough for their exceptional commitment to ensure that no New Yorker is denied the right to equal justice. The Honorable Rowan Wilson, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, presented the awards to the honorees.

The Honorable Rowan Wilson, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals

The Public Interest Law Leadership Award was presented to Wesley R. Powell of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in recognition of his extraordinary contributions as a volunteer attorney, for his constant support of Legal Aid and its clients, and as a leader of Willkie’s outstanding pro bono program and Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee.

Powell’s work alongside the staff of the Health Law Unit, LGBTQ Law & Policy Initiative and Law Reform Unit has impacted thousands of disempowered New Yorkers. Most recently, Legal Aid and a Willkie team led by Powell won a landmark settlement in Ciaramella v. Zucker, which will provide up to five million New Yorkers access to dental care previously not covered by Medicaid. The lawsuit challenged New York’s restrictions on Medicaid coverage for medically necessary dental care for root canals, crowns, replacement dentures and dental implants.

Powell and Willkie were also co-counsel with Legal Aid and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project on Cruz v. Zucker, a groundbreaking case which in 2016 resulted in the provision of gender affirming care to transgender Medicaid recipients in New York state. Powell has previously been honored with Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Publico Award six times.

Wesley R. Powell of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, Judge Wilson, Legal Aid leadership

The 2023 Honorable Jonathan Lippman New York Pro Bono Publico & Public Service Law Firm Award was presented to Dechert LLP for its exceptional pro bono commitment to Legal Aid and its clients, contributing nearly 7,000 hours of legal services over the past two years. Dechert staff provided critical assistance to clients in every area of Legal Aid Society practice including the preservation of public benefits with the Civil Practice, fighting for the rights of families with the Juvenile Rights Practice and providing outstanding appellate advocacy with the Criminal Defense Practice. Dechert LLP has clearly demonstrated that the firm shares Judge Lippman’s goal of “making equal justice for all not just an ideal, but a reality.”

Mauricio Espana and Mark Thierfelder of Dechert LLP, Judge Wilson, Legal Aid leadership

“Tonight’s honorees were all nominated by Legal Aid staff who worked alongside them. Through individual client representations, projects focused on critical client needs, and groundbreaking affirmative litigation, these pro bono partnerships have led to increased positive outcomes for so many New Yorkers,” said Lou Sartori, Chief Counsel of the Pro Bono Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This event provides us an opportunity to celebrate both the pro bono volunteers and Legal Aid staff whose joint efforts make those outcomes possible.”

Last year, 1,984 volunteers and interns donated 192,061 hours of legal assistance to the clients of The Legal Aid Society. But no metrics can adequately quantify what pro bono assistance means to a family facing homelessness, a client whose rights are violated by unlawful police conduct, or a child in foster care whose educational needs are not being met. For over 145 years, The Legal Aid Society has worked together with the private bar to provide life changing legal assistance and deliver “Justice In Every Borough.”