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PBI Mourns the Passing of Founder Esther F. Lardent

Dear Colleagues:

It is with profound sorrow that the Board of Directors of the Pro Bono Institute marks the passing of our beloved friend and founder Esther F. Lardent. Under Esther’s inspired leadership since its founding 20 years ago, PBI has been a leading voice in the cause of equal access to justice and an important agent in the transformation of pro bono legal services. PBI’s successes stand as a tribute to Esther’s deep personal commitment to the constitutional principle of “equal justice for all” and form a part of her enduring legacy to the legal profession and to American society.

A daughter of Holocaust survivors, Esther’s commitment to civil rights and serving the needs of the poor and underprivileged came early. After completing her undergraduate work at Brown University and receiving her J.D. from the University of Chicago, Esther took her first job in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. From there, she went to the Boston Bar Association and founded the Volunteer Lawyers Project, one of the nation’s first organized pro bono programs. She subsequently served as an independent legal and policy consultant for the Ford Foundation, the American Bar Association, state and local bar associations, public interest and legal services programs, and other clients. As a consultant at the ABA’s then Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, Esther founded the Death Penalty Representation Project.

In 1993, as head of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project, Esther launched the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®, an aspirational peer-to-peer effort to increase the amount of pro bono services to individuals of limited means and organizations serving them. In 1996, Esther established the Pro Bono Institute as a nonprofit organization to administer the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® and to provide supportive informational and consulting services to law firms interested in deepening and expanding their pro bono commitments. In 2000, PBI entered into a partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel to expand and encourage pro bono services in corporate law departments. This effort led, in 2006, to the launching of the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, an effort to get major corporate law departments to embrace pro bono services and to strive to have more than half of all of their legal staff actively engaged in pro bono work every year.

It is no exaggeration to say that Esther’s efforts and tireless energy led to a transformation in pro bono services in both law firms and corporate law departments. There are now 137 law firm signatories to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® and 145 law department signatories to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative. Collectively, law firm signatories have provided over 60 million hours of pro bono services in the 20 years since the launch of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® and corporate law departments have delivered many thousands of hours of pro bono services as well. These services have impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons who, but for the pro bono commitments of the lawyers involved, would have lacked the ability to access or navigate the legal system. It is hard to imagine a more fitting legacy for Esther and her passionate commitment to justice for all.

Esther once said of her position at PBI: “For me, it’s the best job I can imagine.” From our perspective, Esther was clearly the best person for the job that we could imagine. We were privileged to know and work with her for 20 years, and we take comfort from the fact that she has left an enduring legacy from her long life of service to others.

Judith C. Areen Robert E. Juceam
John J. Conroy, Jr. David Williams
Thomas A. Gottschalk Laurie D. Zelon
James W. Jones