Posted December 10, 20202:50 pm
"When you think of pro bono, you think of Ann," says Thompson Hine attorney Frank DeSantis. "She is one of the most recognized and well-respected lawyers in this community and a wonderful voice for Legal Aid."
"Ann began her career at Legal Aid as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow in 1982. In the 80s, Legal Aid had multiple neighborhood offices around Cleveland, and Ann initially worked with older clients in an office located at E. 55th and Woodland. When Legal Aid reorganized in the early 2000s and established a central headquarters in downtown Cleveland, the current Intake Department and Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) was created to centralize intake, facilitate pro bono referrals, and continue this neighborhood-level outreach. Ann became the managing attorney of this new department.
Ann says the most appealing thing about her role was that it allowed her to continue working with clients while also engaging with local attorneys and building awareness about Legal Aid's services.
Ann forged deep and collaborative partnerships with the bench and bar to promote Legal Aid's mission and pro bono opportunities. This was helped, in part, by the leadership of attorney David Kutik who was President of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association from 2004-2005. David's focus for his bar presidency was promoting pro bono work. His promotion, paired with Ann's vision for programming, led to the initial success and sustainability of Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program.
The Volunteer Lawyers Program provides private attorneys the opportunity to give back to the community. Ann always encourages volunteers to look at situations through the eyes of the client, who might find addressing legal issues to be an unknown and scary experience. Legal Aid board member, attorney, and current Chair of the Pro Bono Committee Barbara Roman says Ann has always been a dependable, supportive resource, helping volunteers find answers and pointing them to materials. "She leads with grace and calmness, but she's also a powerhouse," Barbara says.
Under Ann's stewardship, Legal Aid expanded its network of volunteer lawyers by providing the opportunity for late-career and retired attorneys to get involved through the innovative ACT 2 program. Barbara points out that ACT 2 has made an impact not only in Northeast Ohio, but also nationally; it has been replicated at multiple legal aid organizations across the country.
Under Ann's leadership, technology has been leveraged to facilitate and optimize pro bono work. Volunteer Lawyers Program administrative assistant Rachel Riemenschneider highlights that, over the past three years in particular, the use of technology has grown exponentially as a direct result of of Ann's ambition to to modernize and make the volunteer experience a good one. The "Take a Case" portal on Legal Aid's website is an example of how technology has been used to place cases in a more timely and efficient manner; attorneys view an online list of open cases and simply click a button to express interest.
Ann has been honored for her leadership with many awards over the years - the most recent of which is the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation's prestigious Denis J. Murphy Award.
At the end of 2020, Ann will retire with the confidence that she leaves behind a strong team that can take the Volunteer Lawyers Program to the next level. In retirement, Ann is looking forward to spending more time with her family, including her two sons - one who lives with his family and four children in Washington, D.C. and another who was recently married in Cleveland. Legal Aid is forever grateful to Ann for her service, leadership, and friendship. Here's to hoping she comes back soon - perhaps as an ACT 2 volunteer?