The legal and lobbying communities are mourning the death Jan. 16 of Robert Evans, the longtime government affairs director for the American Bar Association who is credited with a major role in the preservation of the Legal Services Corp. Evans, who retired in 2007, succumbed to lymphoma. He was 65. The Washington Post published an obituary today.
Unassuming and soft-spoken, Evans did not fit the stereotypical image of a Washington lobbyist. He was a familiar and friendly, but never overbearing, figure at ABA conventions and events. In spite of, or because of, those characteristics, he was an effective advocate in the halls of Congress for the legal profession, which is often an easy target for legislators.
Without a political action committee, Evans relied on a combination of briefing papers, testimony at hearings, as well as annual visits to members of Congress by lawyers from their districts to get the profession's point of view across on professional and economic issues and on policy positions on the rule of law and access to legal services. He described his approach in a interview on the ABA Web site in 2007.
"It has been rightly said that without Sargent Shriver there would be no Legal Services Corp. It is equally true that without Bob Evans, the Legal Services Corp. would not have survived," said Esther Lardent, a longtime ABA colleague who is now president and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute. "It was a stroke of luck that Bob Evans was an ABA lobbyist in 1981 when the Reagan administration announced the defunding of the Legal Services Corporation." That year, Lardent recalled, Evans helped mount an ABA "march on Washington" that succeeded in saving the agency. For the next 25 years, Evans helped stave off other efforts in Congress to cut the corporation's budget. Lardent described Evans as "the key strategist and moral compass for the organized bar and legal services."
Thomas Susman, the current ABA government affairs director, also had high praise for Evans."Bob had a keen understanding of both his constituency--the American legal profession--and how to advance its interests effectively in Washington. He was singularly responsible for the tremendous growth of the ABA's Washington office and left an indelible footprint on the lobbying landscape here."
At its midyear meeting in Atlanta next week, the ABA's board of governors will vote on a resolution honoring Evans' memory for "providing strong leadership on many important issues, including access to justice, adequate funding and preservation of the Legal Services Corporation, enactment of the independent counsel statute, judicial independence and compensation, the PATRIOT Act and numerous anticrime and antiterrorism bills." The resolution also states, "He fulfilled the highest ideals and goals of the legal profession through his professionalism, integrity, expertise and dedication to justice and the rule of law."
A memorial service for Evans was held on Saturday Jan. 29 in Bethesda, Md. His family is suggesting contributions in his name to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.