Bruce B. Blackwell of Orlando received the ABA’s Pro Bono Publico Award for service.
Blackwell of King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth regularly performs more than 500 hours of pro bono work per year, including taking on controversial cases as well as raising money for and lobbying Congress on legal services for the poor.
The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service honored Blackwell, along with four others, at the Pro Bono Publico Awards Assembly Luncheon at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
“Lawyers lead our nation every day in the quest for justice and equality,” said ABA President Laurel G. Bellows, who hosted the awards ceremony.
“These award recipients fulfill this mission through their dedication to pro bono work. They are outstanding examples of how lawyers can have meaningful and lasting effects on their communities.”
The Pro Bono Publico Awards honor individuals or organizations in the legal community that enhance the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor or disadvantaged.
Not only is Blackwell often called upon for tough pro bono cases, many of which involve clients who are abused women or abandoned children, he goes above and beyond just providing legal assistance and transforms the lives of his clients.
The best example, according to the ABA, comes from a simple landlord-tenant case that ended up changing a 17-year-old girl’s life forever. While helping relocate his clients, Blackwell met the teenager, one of his daughter’s classmates, and expressed concern about her situation, in which she was basically functioning as the head of her household by taking care of her brothers, cooking, and cleaning while her mother worked. Blackwell and his family arranged for alternate care for the girl’s siblings and invited the teen to come live with them. They helped her prepare for and raise money to attend college. She became part of the family and now considers Blackwell her father.
Blackwell has used his previous leadership positions as president of the Orange County Bar Association and as a member of The Florida Bar Board of Governors to persuade other lawyers to make a commitment to serving the poor and increasing their pro bono work.
Among his many awards, Blackwell received the ABA’s Grassroots Advocacy Award in 2008 for his efforts in lobbying Congress to increase federal funding for legal services for the poor. He also twice received the President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the Ninth Judicial Circuit from the president of The Florida Bar, most recently in January 2013.
Blackwell received a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in 1968 and later returned to earn his law degree, graduating with honors in 1974.
Other 2013 Pro Bono Publico Award recipients are lawyers Jeffrey Trachtman of New York and Patricia Lee of Las Vegas, law firm Leonard, Street and Deinard of Minneapolis, and Exelon Corp. of Chicago.