BY MIKE WISER
In what is becoming a Law School tradition, over 80 students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered in the Ropes Gray room Monday to honor this year’s winners of the second annual Gary Bellow Public Service Award. Taking home the student-organized award this year were Matthew Colangelo ‘02 for his work on civil rights and the death penalty and University of Texas Professor Sarah Buel ‘90 for her work with domestic violence victims.
The two-year-old award was created as a student initiative to encourage students and alumni to make a commitment to public service and to honor the late Professor Gary Bellow, the founder of Harvard’s Clinical Program. Colangelo and Buel were selected by a student body vote from a slate of five student finalists and five alumni finalists last spring.
“It’s humbling and surprising to see one’s name on the same page as people like Gary Bellow,” Colangelo told the audience.
Ronald Tabak ‘74, the coordinator of the pro bono program at Skadden, Arps and the evening’s keynote speaker, cited Colangelo for his work with Professors Carol Steiker and Charles Ogletree on the death penalty. With Steiker, Colangelo traveled to a University of Texas conference on the death penalty to discuss his research on international treatment of capital punishment. Similarly, Colangelo’s work with Ogletree led him to a conference at the University of Oregon to discuss the role of race in the death penalty. Colangelo also published an article in the Law Review on the death penalty and the Eighth Amendment.
For Buel, receiving the Bellow Award had personal significance. “I can’t think of anyone else in the universe I would want an award named after,” she said. She added, “It’s going in the middle of my wall.”
Buel said she first met Bellow at a Massachusetts conference for Legal Aid Bureau workers, when she was a paralegal at a Boston bureau. She had been trying to convince her coworkers that the agency should try to serve all of a client’s legal needs rather than focusing only on the problem they came in with. When Bellow, who had long advocated that approach, made a speech making Buel’s point, Buel said she was amazed that she had such august company.
Working full time during the day and attending classes at night, Buel attained an undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1987 and later a J.D. from the Law School.
“This place seemed like a mountain top,” she told the audience of her time at the Law School. It was at HLS that Buel had a chance to work with Bellow, who she described as funny, motivated and demanding.
“Gary was also a tremendous support,” Buel said.
After graduation Buel continued her work with victims of domestic violence. Following in Bellow’s footsteps, Buel took a position as a Clinical Professor at the University of Texas School of Law after working as a prosecutor and Snow serves as co-director of UT’s
Buel was hardly the only fan of Professor Bellow at Monday’s event. Tabak, the keynote speaker, told the audience that he still considered himself a student of Bellow.
Following Bellow’s lead, Tabak told the students, “You can do public interest work!”
Even at large law firms, he said, students have the chance to do pro bono work. The problem, he said, was not that lawyers did not want to do pro bono work, but that they did not know what the opportunities were and that they are afraid of doing an inadequate job.
Tabak — the pro bono coordinator at Skadden, Arps — criticized Dean Robert Clark for misjudging the enthusiasm of students for public interest. Tabak claimed that Clark had said a few years ago, “Look at what a low percentage of our graduates actually got public interests jobs. That proves they are not interested.”
“That was absolutely preposterous. And it is still preposterous. The fact is that before our [Skadden public interest] fellowships started, virtually no [public interest] jobs were available to people right out of law school,” Tabak said.
Tabak told students not to be daunted if their firm did not have a strong public interest program.
“You can help get law firms to be more supportive of pro bono,” he said.
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