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Pro bono reception more than Juan Williams

Juan Williams made the headlines last week speaking at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s pro bono reception. But almost all of what Williams said about the NPR controversy was to reporters after he gave a keynote address that looked at the value of pro bono work through the story of Thurgood Marshall, which Williams himself has told.

Williams talked in his speech about the influence of Charles Hamilton Houston, Marshall’s dean at Howard University’s law school who became a mentor and friend. Two of Houston’s sayings became mantras of sorts for Marshall as he pursued the civil rights cases that made him a household name:

  • All people need good lawyers when their lives are on the line.
  • A lawyer who is not a social architect is nothing but a social parasite.

Karl-Henri Gauvin was honored by MVLS as its volunteer of the year. Gauvin, a Baltimore solo practitioner, has handled 44 pro bono cases since 2008, primarily foreclosures. That Gauvin has so many foreclosure cases to work on in the first place is why he called the honor a “mixed blessing.” But Gauvin described the pro bono cases as a natural extension of his public policy background.

“Once you get your hands dirty, it’s very rewarding,” he said.

Connie Hare and Gary Greenblatt often see the rewards from pro bono cases more clearly than from their regular cases. The husband and wife team, of Mehlman, Greenblatt & Hare LLC in Baltimore, were honored as law firm of the year for taking 15 bankruptcy cases from MVLS this year and 58 total since 1993.

The couple has seen the impact of helping a pro bono client get rid of creditors and end up in a better place financially and mentally.

“They have hope now,” Hare said.

Both described the work as an obligation and “the least you can do” to give back.

MVLS also honored three lawyers – Thomas R. Simpson Jr., Elva E. Tillman and Randy S. Wase – for taking at least one pro bono case in each of the last 10 years.

(Full disclosure: The Daily Record was a media sponsor for the event.)