2016 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Winner & Merit Distinction Recipients Announced!

We are very pleased to announce the 2016 Pro Bono Publico Award Winner: Gabrielle Lucero.  This year we selected 10 finalists and chose a winner from the largest pool of candidates we’ve had in recent memory.  We’ve also selected two Merit Distinction recipients.  All three will be guest bloggers for the PSJD Blog.

In addition, we will be presenting Gabrielle with her award (and her $1,000) at Duke University School of Law in Durham, NC.  I look forward to meeting her, her family, and all those who helped her advance the work of the Veteran’s Assistance Project and Coalition Against Gendered Violence.

Here is the full announcement, with all the great finalists.  We are so grateful to them for their incredible work!!!

22nd Annual PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award

This prestigious award honors one law student nationwide for their pro bono contributions to society, and recognizes the significant contributions that law students make to underserved populations, the public interest community, and legal education through public service work.


Gabrielle Lucero

Duke University School of Law


Gabrielle is dedicated to helping her community directly and by creating infrastructures that will continue to serve clients after she graduates. First, recognizing a need to assist veterans and changes Legal Aid was undergoing in its work with veterans, Gabrielle took up the leadership of the Veterans Assistance Project (VAP). Along with a Legal Aid attorney, she established a structure for students to more easily and regularly complete the needed work. She created documents to be used and replicated, quick references for students on each step of the process, and established connections with local practioners to ensure continuity of service. She identified Military Sexual Trauma (MST) cases as a particular need, and developed a network and training materials to handle these cases. Gabrielle did all this, while volunteering herself assisting clients.  Because of her good work, she was hand-picked to take on the first MST case. These cases can present some of the most difficult advocacy issues, both because this area is comparatively new and because of the sensitive subject matter.  Not only was Gabrielle successful on behalf of her client, but she produced research and connections with a physician that specializes in MST care that will enable many more successes. Thinking longer term, Gabrielle created connections with UNC School of Law and NC Central University School of Law to broaden the scope of the project’s impact.

Additionally, Gabrielle took over the recently inactive student group Coalition Against Gendered Violence (CAGV), and focused in on two major components. Gabrielle created a pro bono project with the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, volunteering to provide assistance to college campus victims of sexual assault during the university adjudication hearings. The second prong of the Coalition’s work is addressing the needs of victims and survivors who are part of the Duke Law community.  Gabrielle’s hard work and dedication were instrumental in creating pro bono opportunities and community assistance that will long outlast her time at the law school.  As her nominator stated, “[w]ithout her focused efforts to work with Legal Aid and redesign our VAP program or to redesign our CAGV, we would likely have lost both projects.”

Gabrielle summed up her dedication best. “When people ask me why I am so involved in the community and put so much of my time towards service, it is an easy answer: people. While I have a busy schedule of two graduate degrees, Army ROTC, and a number of school and community activities, it never feels overwhelming because of the people.”


Derek Mergele

Texas Tech University School of Law


Derek is committed to solving LGBT issues.  As a 2L, he became president of Lavender Law, and used this platform to create an environment where students, faculty, lecturers and the community come together to discuss and advance the LGBT community.  His most significant contribution began with listening to the needs of this population. Since March, Derek has been working to establish a Gender Marker and Name Change Clinic at the law school. During his 2L year, members of the University’s Gay Straight Alliance approached Derek regarding several transgender student who needed help changing their identification documents. Derek was moved to create a service for his community that would help transgender individuals change their identification documents to match their gender identities. The Gender Marker Clinic was born, and in May had its first successful gender marker change. Derek is not only part of this community, but he is part of creating positive change for those around him.

One of Derek’s recommenders aptly summed him up this way: “In addition to a passion for service, Derek has true courage. He continually speaks out for the voiceless and champions the rights of the vulnerable. He never compromises his principles, but works to ensure that all individuals involved in a situation are heard and respected.”

Lilah Thompson

Temple University Beasley School of Law


The highlight of Lilah’s career at Temple Law was her creation, single-handedly, of a participatory workshop that simulates life as a refugee.  This community education event, called Between Borders: A Refugee Simulation, was held in March. Lilah, who recruited twenty-four volunteers to run the project under her direction, sought to change the narrative about how we view “the other.” Between Borders depicted five stages of the refugee experience: persecution, fleeing to and living in a refugee camp, the resettlement process, life in the Unites States, and becoming a U.S. citizen. Nearly sixty participants placed themselves in “the shoes of a refugee” in order to gain understanding of the refugee experience.  In the discussions afterward, many people were already beginning to talk about creative solutions to the problem of stigmatization, and explore other ways they could provide help to their refugee community.

One of Lilah’s collaborators explained the impact this way: “This exceptionally comprehensive, thorough, and impactful program was a feat of organization. Given the state of public discourse around refugees, it was also a crucial intervention both for participants and for other Philadelphia residents who learned about the simulation from news coverage. Lilah worked tirelessly to ensure that every detail of the simulation was as compelling and accurate as possible, and succeeded at creating a model workshop.”


Sahar MoazamiFordham University School of Law

In just two years devoted more than 1,000 hours to volunteering and creating pro bono opportunities for others.

Nadia Anguiano-Wehde, University of Minnesota Law School

Developed an alternate spring break trip to Texas to the Dilley family detention center.

Sean Brucker, Maurice A. Dean School of Law at Hofstra University 

Served the Korean American community through grassroots organizing, education and advocacy that addresses immigration policies.

John BruningUniversity of Minnesota Law School

Created an alternate spring break trip to the Dilley family detention center and launched the Law School’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Tristen Edwards, New York University School of Law

Worked tirelessly to combat systems of excessive punishments and to seek alternatives.

Michael Ludvik, Texas Tech University School of Law

Worked with veterans, children, and the homeless, and creating and implementing Paul’s Project.

Monica Valencia, University of San Francisco School of Law

Assisted the immigrant community, especially through her volunteer project with Justice Now.

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