Legal Aid is excited to announce that Josephine (Jo) M. Bahn, an associate at Cozen O’Connor, will receive the Klepper Prize for Volunteer Excellence at the 2023 Servant of Justice Awards Dinner. In 2018, Jo began working with Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Program in her personal capacity while she was employed as a government attorney with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Over the past five years, she has zealously represented several clients in pro bono matters ranging from eviction defense to child custody to public benefits. She partners with a variety of legal services providers and represents pro bono clients in both DC and Maryland.
In the first case Jo took from Legal Aid, she spent over a year advocating for her client who was being sued by a former landlord for alleged unpaid rent. The client had moved out of the apartment more than three years prior to the landlord filing suit and had paid all rent due shortly thereafter. Over the course of a year, the case proceeded through mediation and discovery, and five hearings were held. During this time, Jo pressed the landlord to acknowledge the alleged debt had already been paid, only to be stonewalled. Moreover, the landlord did not respond to Jo’s discovery requests. As the scheduled trial date approached, Jo planned to request that the court dismiss the case due to the landlord’s failure to participate in discovery. Finally, on the eve of trial, the landlord agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice.
“Jo’s commitment to her individual clients and pro bono more generally is truly inspiring,” says Sylvia Soltis, Senior Staff Attorney with Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Program. “She never shies away from a new challenge.”
In 2020, Jo set the ambitious goal of completing 1,000 hours of pro bono work during the year – a goal she not only met but exceeded. In December 2020, Jo was presented with the Washington Council of Lawyers’ Government Pro Bono Award which “highlights the important (and often overlooked) pro bono contributions made by government attorneys.” In receiving the award, Jo was recognized not only for her own pro bono achievements but also for her leadership and generosity in mentoring other federal government attorneys who take on pro bono cases, thereby multiplying the impact of her work and further enhancing access to justice for Legal Aid’s client community.
More recently, in 2022 shortly after joining Cozen O’Connor Jo took on four new pro bono cases from Legal Aid – three criminal record sealing matters and one Social Security disability appeal. She reached out to Legal Aid requesting these cases in late Spring with the intention of working on the cases with her firm’s summer associates to instill in them a commitment to pro bono work as they prepare for their careers.
“Lawyers are helpers – pro bono bridges the gap and gives access to folks that would otherwise go without legal services they desperately need,” Jo said. “As lawyers, it’s our professional responsibility to engage in pro bono work.”
Jo’s leadership in encouraging and inspiring others to do pro bono work goes well beyond mentoring her colleagues and engaging summer associates. She regularly speaks at events designed to raise awareness about the need for more attorneys to do pro bono work, including events organized by Legal Aid. She also pens a column for the Washington Lawyer in which she often discusses her pro bono practice and encourages others to overcome their trepidation and get started with pro bono work.
Jo is active in the DC Bar, the Maryland Bar, and the American Bar Association (ABA). She currently serves as the DC Bar’s Under 36 Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates and she previously was chair of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia’s Young Lawyers Section. She also chairs the ABA Young Lawyers Division – the largest organization of young lawyers in the world – and is a member of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Board of Governors. At Cozen O’Connor, Jo’s commercial practice involves complex litigation and construction law.
The Klepper Prize for Volunteer Excellence recognizes attorneys who have demonstrated outstanding volunteer commitment to Legal Aid early in their career. Jo will be recognized at the Servant of Justice Awards Dinner at the JW Marriott in Washington on April 19, along with our two Servant of Justice Award honorees, Karl Racine and David Dantzic. Individual tickets are available online, and you can learn about sponsorship opportunities by contacting Rob Pergament at firstname.lastname@example.org.