Esther F. Lardent, Esq.
PBI Founder and first President & CEO
In 1996, Esther F. Lardent established PBI to be a leading voice in the cause of equal access to justice and an important agent in the transformation of pro bono legal services. The work of PBI stands as a tribute to Esther’s deep personal commitment to the constitutional principle of “equal justice for all” and forms a part of her enduring legacy to the legal profession and to American society.
Esther passed away in April 2016, after having stepped down as PBI President & CEO in 2015.
In 1993, as head of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project® initiative – a precursor to PBI – Esther launched the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative to increase the amount of pro bono services to individuals of limited means and organizations serving them by major law firms. In 1996, Esther established PBI to administer the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge initiative and to provide supportive informational and consulting services to law firms interested in deepening and expanding their pro bono commitments.
In 2000, PBI expanded its mission to encourage pro bono services in corporate law departments, creating the Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO®) project. This effort led, in 2006, to the launching of the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, an effort to encourage major corporate law departments to embrace pro bono services.
Collectively, signatories to the two PBI Challenge initiatives have provided almost 100 million hours of pro bono services in the last 29 years. It is no exaggeration to say that Esther’s tireless energy and efforts led to a transformation in pro bono services in both law firms and corporate law departments.
A daughter of Holocaust survivors, Esther’s commitment to civil rights and serving the needs of the poor and underprivileged came early. Before founding PBI in 1996, Esther served as an independent legal and policy consultant for the Ford Foundation, the American Bar Association, state and local bar associations, and public interest and legal services programs, among others. From 1977 to 1985, she was the founder and first director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, one of the nation’s first organized pro bono programs, and, in conjunction with that position, administered a nationwide pro bono technical assistance effort from 1981 to 1985. She was a member of the ABA Board of Governors from 1996 to 1999. Esther also served as Co-Chair of DLA Piper (US) LLP’s innovative global pro bono project, New Perimeter, as well as a member of the Global Advisory Committee for Ashoka’s ASE program.
Esther also served in the ABA’s House of Delegates and has served as chair or member of numerous ABA committees and task forces, including the Commission on Immigration, Consortium on Legal Services and the Public, Commission on Domestic Violence, Task Force on Terrorism, and various ABA committees on pro bono and legal services.
Esther received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University, and her J.D. from the University of Chicago. Esther received a number of awards in recognition of her public service contributions, including the Exemplar Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association; the Philadelphia Bar Association Founder Award; the William Reece Smith, Jr. Award from the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators; and the National Association for Public Interest Law’s Public Service Award, and was named one of the 90 greatest lawyers in Washington, D.C. by the Legal Times. In 2013, Esther was named one of The American Lawyer’s top 50 innovators. She received Merck & Co., Inc.’s Kenneth C. Frazier Equal Justice Award (2014); the Western Center on Law & Poverty’s Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award (2015); and The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2015).