Hannah Lieberman, the new executive director of Washington's Neighborhood Legal Services Program, has been on the job since late March, but the local legal services community formally welcomed her last night at an event hosted by Covington & Burling.
Lieberman leads one of the city's largest civil legal services providers for low-income residents. In her remarks last night, she said ongoing budget cuts to legal aid organizations nationwide meant she and her staff will face "very hard choices" about how to use limited resources moving forward.
With a staff of about 20 attorneys and a growing need for free civil legal services, "we see the justice gap daily," Lieberman said. She cited the city's high rates of poverty and unemployment, especially in wards 7 and 8, as well as the demand for assistance for everything from protective orders for domestic violence victims to securing health care for children.
Lieberman said one strategy for coping with shrinking budgets is to encourage staff attorneys to make sure they’re “getting the most” out of cases, meaning that they should be looking for opportunities to tackle the underlying causes of problems facing clients in their day-to-day work.
Speaking earlier in the program, Peter Edelman, chair of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, called Lieberman “the quintessential public interest lawyer,” noting her ties to legal services providers across the country. Lieberman worked for 10 years with the Legal Aid Bureau in Maryland and ran a legal services consulting company from 2008 until she was hired to lead the Neighborhood Legal Services program.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also welcomed Lieberman at last night’s event, speaking about the year he spent as a young lawyer with the program after earning his J.D. in 1971. When Sullivan first joined the bench in 1980 as an associate judge in District of Columbia Superior Court, he said his legal services background helped “set the tone for my sense of justice.”
“You have a challenging, golden opportunity to provide leadership to dedicated and brilliant attorneys,” Sullivan told Lieberman.
As previously reported on this blog, the Legal Services Corp., which provides funding to the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, has faced major budget cuts. In fiscal year 2012, Congress cut LSC’s budget by 14 percent, which resulted in a 17 percent drop in its basic funding to NLSP.
In fiscal year 2011, NLSP received 72 percent of its overall funding from the Legal Services Corp., according to the LSC’s website.
National Law Journal photos by Zoe Tillman. Above, Neighborhood Legal Services Program Executive Director Hannah Lieberman.
From left, Peter Edelman, chair of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission; D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan; and Covington senior counsel Bingham Leverich, co-chair of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program board of directors.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Hannah Lieberman and Covington partner Alan Pemberton, chair of the firm's public service committee.