Minneapolis (1-11-07): -- Each year, the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) recognizes three attorneys who have made a significant contribution through pro bono service. These awards are presented in recognition of the time, knowledge, and devotion given utilizing legal skills for the good of our community. The Pro Bono Publico awards will be presented at the 27th annual Bar Benefit on Tuesday, March 13, where family, friends, and colleagues are invited to celebrate, honor, and support the ideals of services represented by these individuals. Attorneys Blake Shepard, Jr., Thomas S. Fraser, and the Honorable Thomas L. Johnson will be recognized for their commitment to pro bono service.
Three distinct award categories honor the dedication of volunteer services provided by Hennepin County lawyers. The Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual for career-long volunteer work on behalf of the community and the two Excellence Awards recognize current or recent excellence in service by individuals–one from the private sector and one from the public/judicial sector.
Thomas S. Fraser of Fredrikson & Byron, recipient of The Distinguished Service Award, is “an exemplar of career-long commitment to pro bono service,” says Jeremy Lane of the Legal Aid Society. Fraser’s personal involvement in pro bono work includes extensive case work in two areas of particularly high emotional demand: family law and death penalty representation.
In addition, Fraser has served numerous legal service organizations and in each has risen to leadership roles. Those include the HCBA (where he currently leads a task force of service providers examining ways to implement a central intake system), Volunteer Lawyers Network as both leader and volunteer, and the Fund for the Legal Aid Society where he served on the board for 14 years. From 1996 until 2002, Fraser served as a member of and chair of the Lawyer Trust Account Board that oversees statewide distribution of approximately $2 million in grants annually to legal services providers. He has also served in leadership for the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and currently serves on the board of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota.
Blake Shepard, Jr. of Leonard, Street and Deinard is the recipient of the Private Sector Pro Bono Excellence Award. Since joining the firm in 1988, where he now chairs the firm’s products liability department, Shepard has been an active pro bono volunteer. He always has a case or two from the firm’s pro bono legal clinic in the Phillips neighborhood, and in most years provides in excess of 100 hours of pro bono time.
Shepard concentrates his pro bono efforts on Social Security Insurance appeals, an area in which he has become extremely well-versed. Not only does he take such cases, but trains, coaches, and supervises other firm lawyers willing to handle SSI appeals. He ran two training sessions in 2006 and worked with a summer associate to develop an SSI/SSDI training manual. Most recently the firm has begun taking SSI cases earlier in the process, speeding the path to benefits for needy clients.
In addition to his hands-on services and supervision, Shepard continues to encourage pro bono commitment by other lawyers. He served as a member of the board of directors for the Minnesota Justice Foundation where he helped develop the Law School Public Service Program.
The Honorable Thomas L. Johnson receives the Public/Judicial Sector Pro Bono Excellence Award. Johnson is the chief judge of the Minnesota Workers Compensation Court of Appeals, which he came to in 1992 after being originally appointed to the Office of Administrative Hearings in 1987. He was active in pro bono service during his sixteen years in private practice prior to serving on the Bench.
Judge Johnson has been both a role model for and a great advocate of pro bono work. He served for a number of years on the board of the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN). He served as president of the Hennepin County Bar Foundation in 1999. He chaired a Legal Services Review Task Force for the HCBA, seeking how to most effectively use association resources for service to those in need. From that study grew a new affiliation agreement between the bar association and VLN. Also from that study came an Advisory Board that makes recommendations to the bar association, VLN, and the Hennepin County Bar Foundation in their partnered relationship for legal service. Judge Johnson now serves on the Advisory Board and also serves as an active member of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee.
The HCBA is proud to recognize these members, each highly deserving of honor, as individuals who rise to the call and volunteer their time and knowledge for the benefit of our community. The HCBA also proudly supports legal access for all through a variety of programs as well as through significant grants made to legal service providers by the Hennepin County Bar Foundation.