2022 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award

David Stern, Equal Justice Works Executive Director

Pro Bono Institute was pleased to honor David Stern, Equal Justice Works Executive Director, with the 2022 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award. PBI presented the award at a special event on Wednesday, March 9. This award is presented each year to an individual or organization that has demonstrated exceptional commitment to pro bono legal services.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always been passionate about justice and creating opportunities for law students and lawyers to make an impact in our communities, and our country,” said Stern. “Receiving this award from the Pro Bono Institute is deeply humbling because of our shared commitment and enthusiasm for expanding access to justice for people most in need.”

Stern joined Equal Justice Works, then known as the National Association for Public Interest Law (NAPIL), in 1992 to establish a postgraduate fellowship program, and in 1995, he was promoted to executive director.

During his tenure as executive director, the organization has grown significantly, partnering with more than 90% of ABA-accredited law schools to advance the Equal Justice Works mission to create pathways for lawyers to engage in public interest law. Under his leadership, Equal Justice Works has facilitated more than 2,500 public interest fellowships, with 85% of Fellows continuing to serve the public following their fellowship. Fellows have engaged countless legal professionals from law firms and in-house legal departments nationwide in pro bono legal service.

“It’s only fitting that PBI honor David in this, his year of retirement,” said Eve Runyon, PBI President and CEO. “We are thrilled to celebrate his many contributions to public interest law and a truly illustrious career.”

PBI’s long-standing relationship with Stern and Equal Justice Works dates back to the organization’s infancy, when PBI’s late founder Esther F. Lardent brought NAPIL’s founder, Michael Caudell-Feagan, to a meeting with the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the distribution of cy pres funds in a major class action antitrust case. Judge Ann Claire Williams, who would be dubbed the “Mother of NAPIL,” awarded $2.3 million dollars to launch the organization’s fellowship program.

Lardent subsequently served on the Equal Justice Works Board of Directors for several years, as did Laurie D. Zelon for whom PBI’s award is named.

Stern has been recognized as a “Champion of Change” by the White House, as one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by The National Law Journal, and as one of the “Greatest Washington Lawyers in the Past 30 Years” by The Legal Times. In 2006, he was honored by the Mississippi Center for Justice for bringing national attention to the legal needs of survivors of Hurricane Katrina and for creating Equal Justice Works’ Katrina Initiative, which deployed lawyers to the Gulf Coast region to help thousands of people left without homes, jobs, or social services.

Stern has volunteered on voter protection, election integrity, and advises Fellows and other public interest lawyers on pro bono projects.

He is a member of the Legal Services Corporation’s Leaders Council, which is dedicated to raising public awareness of the crisis in civil legal aid nationwide. Stern has served on the boards of the Center for Responsive Politics the Constitutional Accountability Center, Georgetown Day School, and served on the Advisory Boards of the J. Skelly Wright Fellowship Committee at Yale Law School, and the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership. He serves on the Advisory Committee for Voices for Civil Justice, a nonpartisan communications hub advancing fairness in America’s legal system.

He received his B.A. from Union College and his J.D. from Georgetown University. Following law school, he clerked for two federal judges in Baltimore and worked for a public interest civil rights law firm before joining Equal Justice Works.

PBI applauds David Stern and Equal Justice Works for their continuing dedication to pro bono and access to justice.