Cleveland attorney receives OSBA award for volunteer service (+video)

Deborah A. ColemanCleveland attorney Deborah A. Coleman received the 2013 John C. and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award from Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor at the Ohio State Bar Association Annual Convention in Cleveland. The award recognizes and encourages outstanding pro bono legal work in the state of Ohio.

Coleman, a partner at Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP, was nominated by OSBA member Ann McGowan Porath, Esq., of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, who said this: “Deborah Coleman embodies the spirit of the John C. and Ginny Elam Award with her inspiring dedication to pro bono legal work in the state of Ohio. Receipt of the 2013 Elam Award acknowledges Deborah’s storied legal career at Hahn Loeser in Cleveland as well as her significant pro bono contributions to the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.”

Coleman’s commitment to pro bono work for Legal Aid is holistic. She is a regular participant in Cleveland Legal Aid’s Brief Advice and Referral Clinics, which are held in various Northeast Ohio neighborhoods. In addition, she accepts individual cases pro bono for clients of Cleveland Legal Aid and recruits and trains other Cleveland Legal Aid volunteers, as well as providing ethics training for Cleveland Legal Aid lawyers. As chair of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s ADR Section, Coleman led an effort to evaluate how its foreclosure mediation program could be improved and additional volunteers could be recruited.

Legal Aid’s Brief Advice and Referral Clinics provide opportunities for low-income and vulnerable people in the community to seek advice from attorney volunteers about their civil legal needs. Successful clinics at Legal Aid are dependent on attorney volunteers, and Coleman is one of Legal Aid’s most frequent volunteers, regularly staffing multiple clinics each year. Often biking to the clinic, she arrives with bicycle helmet in hand ready to lead the charge of helping clients at these clinics. Coleman’s commitment to cycling includes biking to work, and enjoying long bike rides for pleasure and to support worthy charitable causes. 

Her commitment to pro bono work extends beyond her contribution of time as she strives to humanize interactions between attorneys and their clients. Clients, especially first-timers, are often fearful at these clinics, since they may perceive that speaking with an attorney or about their legal issue may have frightening consequences.

Porath said, “Coleman works tirelessly to ensure that each client she sees is comfortable and understands the process. And she has an infectiously fierce determination, whole-heartedly seeking positive resolutions for each client she assists.”

Those who attend the Brief Advice clinics usually receive only the assistance that a participating lawyer can provide at the clinic itself, but Coleman often goes above and beyond and agrees to represent these individuals pro bono. She meets these clients at their homes or in libraries or community centers in their own neighborhoods, and provides practical advice and legal advocacy.

Beyond helping individual Legal Aid clients, Coleman seeks systemic solutions and, further, defines her role in the improvement of Legal Aid services for all clients. For example, she was a member of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force on the Rules of Professional Conduct, which recommended the adoption of two new rules that expand the opportunities for individuals of meager means to obtain legal services. Although her title is “volunteer,” her contributions extend much deeper, making her an integral part of the work of Legal Aid.

Coleman was the first woman partner at Hahn Loeser, admitted to the partnership in 1984. She has been listed in Crain’s Cleveland Business as one of Crain’s Women of Influence, and has been named to Who’s Who in American Law. She is regularly listed in The Best Lawyers in America and Ohio Super Lawyers Magazine, and has been recognized in both publications for 2013. Her law practice focuses on complex commercial litigation, particularly with regard to antitrust and intellectual property issues. She is also a strong advocate of Hahn Loeser’s pro bono efforts.

Coleman frequently serves as a mediator and arbitrator for complex business disputes throughout the country. She is a member of the American Arbitration Association’s Commercial, Technology and Large Complex Case panels; she is also available as a regional panel member through the CPR International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.  Her skill and knowledge as an arbitrator were recently recognized by her acceptance to the College of Commercial Arbitrators as its first Ohio fellow. A former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, she provides counsel on issues involving professional ethics and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs on ethics, litigation, intellectual property and antitrust issues. She has also served as chair of Cleveland’s Judicial Candidates Rating Coalition and has been an active member of the OSBA Antitrust Section. 

According to Porath, Coleman “plays a critical role in providing justice for all, rather than justice for those who can afford it.” Porath went on to say, “Her commitment to pro bono and volunteer service is of the highest standard—one that all members of the private bar should aspire to achieve. She makes a difference in the lives of many individuals whose basic needs are protected only by having access to the justice system.”

The John C. and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award was named in memory of John C. Elam, who exhibited an abiding interest in encouraging lawyers and law firms to engage in pro bono activities, and generously donated his own time and talents to many activities promoting the common good and helping to ensure that the justice system is available to all. To honor his memory, his wife, Ginny Elam, established the award to encourage such activities by recognizing exceptional pro bono legal work in the state of Ohio.

In addition to receiving a plaque, Coleman also earns the right to designate an organization to receive a $5,000 grant for service that furthers the intent of the Elam award. Coleman has selected the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to receive the $5,000 from the John C. and Ginny Elam Family Fund of the Columbus Bar Foundation.

Coleman her husband, Judge Dan Polster, reside in Shaker Heights

 OSBA Convention: Elam Award

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