Deborah EllisDeborah Ellis ’82, assistant dean for public service, was among four members of the NYU School of Law community honored as Champions of Change at the White House on October 13.

Every week, the Champions of Change program brings to the White House Americans engaged in innovative work that makes an impact on communities. Ellis and 15 other public service Champions took part in a panel discussion, streamed live online, about how lawyers can close the justice gap in America. More than 100 law schools planned to tune in, including NYU Law, which held viewing events at two locations on campus. Representing the Law School on the panel were Ellis; Laura Abel, acting co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Justice Program; Michael Pinard ’94, professor and director of the Clinical Law Program at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; and Jo-Ann Wallace ’84, president and chief executive officer of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Speaking at the event, Attorney General Eric Holder said of the Champions, "Their passion and determination is improving lives and entire communities. And they stand out among the best and most principled legal advocates in this country.... On behalf of President Obama and my colleagues across this administration, I am proud to stand with you, to support your work, and to count each of you as a partner in ensuring that all Americans have access to legal services—and that no one in this country has to enter a courtroom without fair representation."

As the director of NYU Law’s Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program, Ellis, herself a Root alumna, is at the forefront of the Law School’s longstanding efforts to provide the highest standard of training for students pursuing public interest careers. Those endeavors include PILC’s annual Public Interest Legal Career Fair, the nation's largest public interest job fair, which brings 200 employers and almost 2,000 students from 21 law schools to NYU for interviews and information table sessions. PILC also provides grants to all first- and second-year students in public service summer internships, while its Loan Repayment Assistance Program gives financial support to graduates pursuing public service careers.

In her work at NYU Law, Ellis uses her broad public interest experience to advise law students about the best ways to achieve their social justice goals. Through publications and presentations, she has shared her expertise with other public interest career advisors and students in law schools across the country. She developed a series of career handbooks that have been used by more than 100 schools nationwide. Before leading PILC, Ellis served as legal director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund as well as the ACLU of New Jersey, and as a staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

For her leadership in public service and in the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), Ellis was recently honored with a 2011 Award of Distinction for Public Service by NALP. She will receive the award on October 20 in Washington, D.C. Ellis serves on NALP’s Advisory Council to PSLawNet (Public Service Law Network), the Executive Committee of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities, the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee of the New York City Bar, and the Advisory Board of A Better Balance.

Watch the full video of the Champions of Change event (1 hr, 31 min):

Posted on October 14, 2011