Mary K. Ryan, a passionate and effective advocate for making our courts and
our legal system accessible to poor people, and a litigation partner at Nutter McClennen & Fish, has been
named the recipient of the Boston Bar Association's 2011 Thurgood Marshall
Award. BBA President Lisa C. Goodheart will present the award at the BBA's Annual Meeting
Luncheon on October 13 at the Westin Copley Hotel -- with some 1,200
lawyers and judges in attendance.
"Mary Ryan has been actively engaged in a series of major initiatives to
address the challenge of unrepresented litigants and increase the private bar's
delivery of pro bono legal services," said Goodheart. "Mary's committed advocacy
and persistence are remarkable, given her busy legal practice."
During Ryan's presidency of the Boston Bar Association, from 1997 to 1998,
she convened a task force that performed the first comprehensive study on the
issue of unrepresented litigants in the Massachusetts courts. The ensuing report
brought to light the vast number of unrepresented litigants in both the Probate
and Family and Housing Courts, and their impact on the courts' ability to do
justice for all. Years later, when the Massachusetts courts convened a
conference on the issue of unrepresented litigants, the first document they
handed out was the BBA report.
Also using her presidency as a bully pulpit for urging her colleagues to
increase their individual contributions of pro bono time, Ryan went on to chair
the Pro Bono Committee of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, a post
she held from 1999 to 2011. Under her leadership, the SJC developed the Adams
Pro Bono Publico Awards, an important recognition program highlighting pro bono
contributions of law firms and individuals. Her leadership also resulted in the
Committee proposing adoption of an ethical rule encouraging all Massachusetts
attorneys to do at least 25 hours of pro bono work per year.
Based on Ryan's talent, commitment and experience, she was appointed Co-Chair
of Boston Bar Association Task Force on Civil Right to Counsel in 2006. The report
produced under her leadership, Gideon's New Trumpet: Expanding the Civil Right
to Counsel in Massachusetts, received national attention, calling attention to a
Ryan has also worked via the American Bar Association to advance pro bono and
access to justice. A member of the ABA House of Delegates, she currently
serves on the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.
Aside from her systemic work, Ryan has been generous in providing bono
services in her individual capacity, as co-counsel in Connor B. v.
Patrick, a federal class action filed with the national advocacy group
Children's Rights to seek broad reform on behalf of approximately 8,500 children
in foster care. She has also served as counsel to a number of indigent tenants
under the Volunteer Lawyer's Project's Eviction Defense Project, both assisting
individuals in protecting their tenancies from negligent landlords and
maintaining tenants' public housing vouchers. In addition, she has served as
counsel to a number of immigrants facing deportation in connection with the
Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project.
The BBA's Thurgood Marshall Award was established to recognize private
attorneys in greater Boston for their extraordinary efforts to enhance the human
dignity of others through improving, developing, or delivering civil or criminal
legal services to low-income clients in Massachusetts.