Andrea L. Johnson 12 Receives Newly Created Super Lawyers Pro Bono Award
Johnson Recognized for Organizing a Project Providing Pro Bono Legal Services to Native Americans in Rural Wisconsin
New York, Feb. 28, 2012—Andrea L. Johnson’12 is a recipient of the newly created Super Lawyers Pro Bono Award for her work with Native Americans in Wisconsin. Johnson was one of eight recipients of the award, which recognizes individuals and groups that offer volunteer legal services to the poor, disadvantaged, or exploited.
In 2011, Johnson founded a new spring break initiative, a pro bono “Care-A-Van” that brought 11 Columbia Law School students to five Wisconsin tribal reservations to provide legal services. The students, in partnership with a local organization, hosted wills clinics where they met individually with tribal members to discuss the importance of estate planning and to draft wills. In four days, the students drafted 75 wills—more than the host organization could have drafted in a year and a half on its own. Wills of Native Americans must comply with unique Indian estate planning laws.
Johnson called organizing and participating in the Care-A-Van an “exciting and humbling” experience.
“As a Minnesotan,” she said, “I was thrilled to bring students to do meaningful legal work in the Midwest, a region often overlooked by East Coast law schools. As a growing advocate for Native American rights, I was humbled by the willingness of tribal members to open up about their often difficult family and economic situations. Native Americans are one of the most legally underserved populations, so I was overjoyed that we were able to provide tangible help to so many individuals—something that it is difficult for many caravans to do in only one week.”
David Armstrong, a staff attorney in the Indian Law Office of Wisconsin Judicare, the sponsoring organization, cited Andrea’s interpersonal skills as a key to her success.
“My greatest concern as a full-time Indian law attorney was that students from the city that never sleeps would not be able to relate to and work with tribal members here in rural Wisconsin,” Armstrong wrote in his letter of nomination for Johnson. “What I saw in a week of intensely supervising and traveling with Andrea is a truly rare ability to relate easily to tribal members, despite having few shared experiences, and a sincere respect for her clients as individuals, their culture, and their choices, without judgment.”
As a result of Johnson’s work in organizing the project, several other law schools in the Midwest are now planning similar activities. Columbia Law School will send another group of students to Wisconsin next month during spring break, and will expand pro bono work with the Native American community through a caravan to the Navajo Nation, organized by the Native American Law Students Association.
Johnson currently serves as executive managing director of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Law Review, which will publish her note on human trafficking of American Indian women and girls this spring. Her extensive pro bono experience includes her work for the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic in fall 2011 and spring 2012, when she collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union on model legislation extending parental rights to same-sex and nontraditional families.
Super Lawyers, a division of Thomson Reuters, produces ratings of lawyers. The recipients of the award were chosen based on factors including legal effort, personal contribution, impact to the law, innovation, community outreach, and leadership, according to Reuters. Johnson received one of six honorable mentions.