Mark Aaronson, emeritus Professor of Law at UC Hastings, is a superbly talented professional who made the personal choice to advance the cause of justice for the poor and underprivileged in lieu of a law practice that would have provided him with substantial financial rewards. His career as a civil rights lawyer, anti-poverty lawyer and advocate for legal services for the disenfranchised is exemplary and worthy of emulation.
It is for these reasons that I have nominated Mark to receive the University of Chicago Alumni Association’s Professional Achievement Award. I ask that all lawyers who have supported the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the alumni of UC Hastings and the University of Chicago Law School to join with me in support of this nomination.
After graduating from The Law School in 1969, Mark earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley.
Shortly afterward he became the Executive Director of the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Urban Affairs (now the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area).
Over thirteen years, from 1977 to 1990, Mark built an award-winning anti-poverty and civil rights organization, which employs staff to develop and coordinate pro bono attorney participation and serve as co-counsel with volunteer attorneys on cases impacting public policy.
When Mark began as Executive Director the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights was operating on a shoestring. There was a secretary and no other attorneys on staff. When he left, the Lawyers’ Committee consisted of seven attorneys, two legal fellows, and six support staff, and had an annual budget in excess of $850,000.
During his tenure, the Committee created the Child Care Law Center and the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. Both of these projects were the result of Mark’s foresight, long before those needs had achieved the level of public recognition and concern that they have today.
In addition to his management and supervisory responsibilities, Mark actively participated in the Lawyers’ Committee major cases, plus writing amici briefs and arguing in appellate courts. In the U.S. Supreme Court, he appeared and argued as lead counsel on behalf of the working poor in a nationally consequential class action case affecting the calculation of federal statutory benefits due them.
As a result of Mark’s leadership, the Lawyers’ Committee annually generated volunteer legal services valued at over $10.5 million. Financial support for the Committee’s broad range of activities came from charitable donations, foundation grants, attorneys’ fees awards and the State Bar of California’s Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Program).
Mark was instrumental in starting the IOLTA Program for The State Bar of California, which has been a substantial force in providing funding for valued community legal services. For years the income earned by attorney trust accounts benefited the banks holding the funds. IOLTA changed that and across California today the program generates interest on the order of $30 million a year for justice grants in the state.
Mark has been a stunning addition to the faculty of the University of California Hastings College of Law, which he joined in 1992. He was hired to found and initially manage and supervise the law school’s in-house clinical program. His professorial responsibilities have included classroom teaching, directly supervising students who have lead responsibility for handling actual client cases, and scholarly research and writing. As now an emeritus but still active member of the Hastings faculty, Mark holds a designated chair honoring Raymond L. Sullivan, a former California Supreme Court Justice and Hastings professor.
For 16 years he served as the Director of the Hastings Civil Justice Clinic (now the Community Justice Clinics). During his tenure as Director, he was responsible for its overall management and leading an academic and professional staff consisting of up to seven tenure-track, long-term contract, and fellowship instructors.
His Hastings teaching has included the Community Economic Development Clinic, where students for an entire academic year work on community-impact transactional matters affecting the Tenderloin, a mainly low-income neighborhood adjacent to the law school.
Mark also created “Problem Solving and Professional Judgment in Practice,” an inter- disciplinary simulation course on lawyer decision-making, which draws on writings from cognitive and social psychology, economics, and philosophy and utilizes expanded case hypotheticals and role-playing to further student learning and understanding.
Mark has written articles on practical judgment in lawyering, civility, legal education, social welfare policy and a book on representing the poor based on his first-hand experience. See the attached list. His publications, like his professional career, focus on serving the poor and improving the delivery of legal services for them.
Mark Aaronson’s career of public service and commitment to advancing the cause of the least powerful in our society has been exemplary. His lifelong commitment to the poor and underprivileged merits our grateful thanks, respect, and applause.
Please join my nomination of Mark Aaronson for the University of Chicago’s Professional Achievement Award by writing or emailing your support to:
Margaret Mueller, President
University of Chicago Alumni Board
The University of Chicago
5801 South Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637