Five lawyers honored with 2022 Pro Bono Awards
Sophia Bond, Jennifer Hargis, Kate Nolen, Scott Pierson, and Howard Smotkin were recently honored with The Missouri Bar’s 2022 Pro Bono Award for their commitment to serving their communities and dedication to ensuring equal access to justice for all.
A lawyer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7, Bond volunteers as guardian ad litem with the Jackson County CASA Pro Bono Attorney Program, representing the best interest of children who have experienced abuse and neglect in their families. In this role, she visits with each child she represents monthly and advocates for them in court cases.
“When I fulfilled my dream of becoming a lawyer, I happily accepted the responsibility of promoting justice and making justice equally accessible through my commitment to public service and pro bono work,” Bond said. “I encourage others to do the same – if not for themselves, for the sake of the public good.”
Hargis is a lawyer with Rooney McBride & Smith LLC in Springfield. She is also a board member of CASA of Southwest Missouri, striving to ensure children have a voice in court proceedings. As a volunteer with the Missouri Veterans Commission’s Legal Assistance Team, Hargis helps veterans and their spouses receive free legal documents like wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.
Being a lawyer is a “special privilege,” Hargis said, one that comes with responsibilities for not only clients, but the whole community.
“Our ethics rules instruct us to provide pro bono services, in recognition of the special place that lawyers hold in our society and our obligation to our fellow citizens and human beings,” Hargis said. “My pro bono work has provided me with the opportunity to meet and understand different people, and to learn new areas of law. The personal growth and fulfillment that doing pro bono work has given me keeps me motivated to continue.”
Nolen is pro bono counsel at Lathrop GPM and helps coordinate the firm’s pro bono practice across offices nationwide. She has volunteered with Jackson County CASA and helped represent families and children in the 16th Circuit’s Juvenile Court.
“When I’m coordinating pro bono at the firm or just working on my own pro bono matters with Jackson County CASA, I’m reminded how meaningful pro bono work can be,” she said. “I’m pretty sure we all get more from doing pro bono than we give most of the time – whether that’s learning a new skill or gaining perspective – and it’s a fun way to get out of your comfort zone.”
A partner at Twibell Pierson in Springfield, Pierson has become well-known in Missouri for his experience with expungement law, voluntarily helping hundreds of residents through clinics hosted by the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Foundation, Legal Services of Southern Missouri, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City over the last four years. Pierson also trained dozens of volunteer lawyers on the intricacies of expungement law.
Pierson said he believes expungements should be “available at no cost to people.”
“It has been a pleasure working with great lawyers in order to provide expungement services to the individuals who can benefit the most from a fresh start,” he said. “I am excited about future improvements in the expungement law and continuing to work with Clean Slate Clinic serving the Springfield area. In my practice there is nothing as satisfying as being able to expunge someone's criminal record and remove the stigma attached with old criminal history.”
Smotkin received this year’s Pro Bono Award posthumously, after dying Aug. 9 following a nine-month battle with cancer. He worked at Stone, Leyton and Gershman and was a pro bono lawyer for Meds & Food for Kids, an organization that addresses malnutrition in Haiti. When the organization was founded, Smotkin voluntarily handled the legal work in setting up the nonprofit, getting its tax-exempt status, overseeing construction contracts, advising on employment issues at both the St. Louis and Haiti facilities, and more.
Smotkin was the “voice of common sense and reason” for Meds & Food for Kids for nearly 20 years and was instrumental in building it from the ground up, said Hon. Michael W. Wolff, who nominated Smotkin for the award. Wolff is a retired Supreme Court of Missouri judge and professor emeritus and former dean of Saint Louis University School of Law.
“This remarkable organization in large part owes its existence and its ability to render its services to Howard Smotkin, who truly has been the organization’s unpaid and essential ‘wise man.’” Wolff said. “He has been for this Meds & Food for Kids organization – as he has for many of his regular clients – a true hero, a great model for the kind of servant-leaders and generous professionals that we want lawyers to be.”