Kathi. For anyone working at a pro bono legal services organization the name refers to only one person, Kathi Pugh. During the 23 years before Pugh’s retirement this past August, she championed the cause of the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC). Together we’ve harnessed the power and bright minds of big firms and their attorneys in answering the call to justice.
It was 1990 when Morrison & Forester (MoFo) hired a new associate and The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) welcomed a new and dynamic member, Kathi Pugh. Pugh quickly became an active member of the Barristers Club board and chaired the Barristers Club’s Pro Bono Committee. She also served on the BASF board and chaired BASF’s Equality Committee on Disability Rights from 1993 to 1996 and 2004 to 2008.
As MoFo’s Pro Bono Counsel, Pugh partnered with the leaders of the Volunteer Legal Services Program, now known as the Justice & Diversity Center’s Legal Services Programs. She has been an invaluable advisor who often provided initial feedback on project design and developing recruitment strategies. Pugh has always led by example as she took on many pro bono matters from JDC and was persistent in recruiting others to do the same. Understanding that attorneys have different needs and aspirations for their pro bono work, Pugh was relentless in finding the appropriate pro bono project for each attorney. Any JDC project that had the power of Pugh and MoFo behind it was certain to thrive. It was not unusual for Pugh to recruit and then join MoFo attorneys volunteering at San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect or JDC’s Housing Negotiation Project. Often she or another MoFo attorney would go beyond the brief service commitment and take on a case for full scope representation knowing that their involvement could result in life changing results, such as a $30,000 workers compensation settlement for a homeless man or preventing the eviction of a low-income person.
Cristina Rubke of Shartsis Friese and current co-chair of the Equality Committee on Disability Rights, notes that Pugh’s success as an advocate for access to legal services and disability rights relates to the intersection of the many facets of her life. As a person with a disability working at a large law firm, she effectively balanced her two roles and intimately understood the needs of those who are disenfranchised. Pugh and the Committee on Disability Rights were instrumental in the development of the American Bar Association and BASF conferences focused on employing lawyers with disabilities. Rubke recalls as a young attorney seeing Pugh out in the community, including state bar conferences, law firm and law school events, pro bono conferences, and rallies. “It was inspiring to see another attorney with a disability who was a real person who really enjoys life in a visible way.”
Kathi, on behalf of the thousands of clients you, your colleagues, and those you’ve inspired have served, we thank you for your vision, tenacity, and passion. We wish you well in your retirement and hope you don’t mind if we call on you every now and again.
About the author:
Mairi McKeever is the director of the pro bono legal services program of the Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco