New York State Bar Association Honors Attorneys for Pro Bono Work and Efforts To Diversify the Legal Profession

By Rebecca Melnitsky

January 11, 2024

New York State Bar Association Honors Attorneys for Pro Bono Work and Efforts To Diversify the Legal Profession


By Rebecca Melnitsky

Russell Franklin, Jonaki Singh, and Tina Foster

The New York State Bar Association honored three outstanding attorneys for their efforts to diversify the legal profession and provide legal services to those who cannot afford it. The ceremony was part of the Constance Baker Motley Symposium on Jan. 17, which is part of the association’s Annual Meeting.

“These three distinguished lawyers are among the best and brightest of our profession,” said Richard Lewis, president of the New York State Bar Association. “All of them have devoted themselves to the ideals of inclusion, fairness, and equality. They are making sure that the next generation of diverse lawyers are supported, and that clients have the representation that they need, regardless of their background or circumstances.”

Russell Franklin, a partner at Morgan Lewis in New York City,  received the John E. Higgins Diversity Trailblazer Award for his mentorship, recruitment, and promotion of lawyers of color. Franklin is a member of the Black BigLaw Pipeline program, in which he helps train and mentor Black associates. In his practice, he counsels companies in complex transactions and mergers and acquisitions.

In accepting his award he shared examples of his struggle and said that people of color often feel that they need to be perfect to be successful.

“I assure you that you are not alone, but know that you are much more capable than you think. You don’t have to be perfect but you have to be resilient. The challenges make you stronger.”

The Higgins Diversity Trailblazer Award is named in honor of John Higgins, a pioneering lawyer and a leader in the New York State Bar Association. The award honors lawyers who have made an exceptional effort to promote the full and equal participation of diverse people in the legal profession.

Tina Foster, the executive director of Just Cause in Rochester, received the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Beacon Award in honor of her pro bono work. An international human rights lawyer, Foster has spent more than two decades fighting for equal access to justice around the world. She directs a network of more than 1,500 volunteer attorneys to provide Rochester’s poorest and most needy residents with legal services.

In accepting her award, she highlighted the wide disparity between city residents in Rochester and wealthy suburban communities in Monroe County, adding that her work closes that gap when it comes to legal representation.

“Doing pro bono work makes all the difference in empowering clients, while also educating lawyers who may be ignorant to what is happening in their own communities.”

The Beacon Award honors attorneys for their outspoken advocacy for those less privileged, as well as their honesty, courage, and boldness.

Jonaki Singh, an associate at Kramer Levin, received the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award for her pro bono representation of refugees and asylum seekers – in addition to her work as a commercial litigator. In one case, she represented a former Eritrean soldier who had been tortured by the military and sought refuge in the United States. An immigration judge initially denied his request for asylum, but Singh successfully obtained a reversal of the decision.

In accepting her award, Singh acknowledges that pro bono work continues to inspire her to use her knowledge to benefit others.

“My value is using my legal knowledge to give my clients a voice and agency in their lives.”

Presented by the association’s Young Lawyers section, the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award honors an attorney who has practiced for less than 10 years and has a distinguished record of public service and professional activities.


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