D.C. Bar Announces 2019 Award Winners

May 10, 2019

The District of Columbia Bar has announced the winners of its 2019 Annual Awards, who will be honored at its Celebration of Leadership on June 11 at Grand Hyatt Washington. In addition to the Beatrice Rosenberg Award for Excellence in Government Service and the William J. Brennan Jr. Award, the Bar will be presenting the following awards:

Community of the Year
Taxation Community

With approximately 2,000 members, the Taxation Community is one of the largest D.C. Bar Communities, with 10 subcommittees that focus on specialty areas within tax law. In the past year the community contributed 63 programs to Communities’ annual programming. The Taxation Community also hosts an annual tax update, and in January its 2019 Tax Legislative and Regulatory Update Conference, featuring 24 sessions, was attended by more than 200 participants. The Taxation Community persevered through the challenges posed by the government shutdown to host a successful event that covered a wide range of topics.

Voluntary Bar Association of the Year
Greater Washington Area Chapter, Women Lawyers Division, National Bar Association

Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, the Greater Washington Area Chapter, Women Lawyers Division, of the National Bar Association (GWAC) provided a substantial amount of programming with the goal of reaching a wider audience. Its events tackled current issues such as the #MeToo movement, implicit bias in the workplace, and maternal mortality rates among black women. GWAC hosted esteemed legal heavyweights, including Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby of the D.C. Court of Appeals and Avis Buchanan, director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. The organization is committed to continue presenting engaging content going forward.

Laura N. Rinaldi Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year
Matthew N. Robinson, WilmerHale LLP

The D.C. Bar is honoring Matthew N. Robinson, counsel at WilmerHale, for his exemplary dedication to pro bono service, particularly his partnership with legal service provider Tzedek DC. Robinson co-led a team effort by Tzedek and WilmerHale to end District policies that penalized low-income residents with unpaid traffic debts to the D.C. government by suspending their driver’s licenses. Thanks to Robinson’s efforts, several public policy reforms were initiated, leading to two laws passed by the D.C. Council to end four decades of debt-based license suspension practice that has had cascading, damaging effects on working people in the District who have no access to public transportation or who work on shifts when bus service is rare.

Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year (Tie)
Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Sidley Austin LLP

The Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year award will be presented to two firms this year — Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Sidley Austin LLP — for demonstrating true commitment to pro bono service and improving the lives of low-income residents in the District of Columbia. Kirkland & Ellis is being honored for contributing an exceptionally high percentage of its billable hours in 2018 to pro bono work: 26,092 hours of its 355,105 billable hours. Of those pro bono hours, 22,849 hours were completed by attorneys. Sidley Austin also posted an impressive record of pro bono work in 2018, dedicating 33,758 hours of its 502,447 billable hours to pro bono service. The firm also had the highest total pro bono hours completed by attorneys (26,094 hours) across all firm nominees.

D.C. Bar and D.C. Attorney General’s Award for Lifetime Pro Bono Achievement
Blake A. Biles, Arnold & Porter LLP

A retired environmental law partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, Blake Biles has logged more than 20,000 hours of pro bono service helping people at the margins in the District of Columbia. Over his storied career, Biles has dedicated himself to ensuring that low-income tenants stay in their homes. He took on his first landlord–tenant case in D.C. in the mid-1980s and has specialized in that area since 2005. Most notably, Biles worked to protect tenants in Congress Heights Apartments and in Terrace Manor Apartments, both in Ward 8, after property owner Sanford Capital allowed the apartment buildings to fall into extreme state of disrepair. He also worked closely with tenants at another property in Columbia Heights where residents lived for years with vermin infestations, chronic ceiling collapses, and mold contamination. Blake help transition the residents to new apartments as renovation work started at the property.

Frederick B. Abramson Award
Development of the Online Mandatory Course

Since 1994, the D.C. Bar has offered the Mandatory Course on the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct and D.C. Practice for Bar members. Administered by the Bar’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Program, the course was traditionally held in person every month at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. However, recognizing the advances of technology and responding to requests from members, the CLE Program decided to offer an online version of the course, presented simultaneously with the live version. The CLE Program launched the online Mandatory Course in January 2019, with 278 of the 321 attendees participating via webcast and following the required compliance checkpoints. Since the first online offering, the majority of attendees have taken part in online programming, leading to significantly reduced expenses for the Bar and providing a more convenient option for members.