Thomas McNeill Will Receive Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award Sept. 17 in Grand Rapids


Thomas G. McNeill doesn't do anything just halfway. In fact, he's not even satisfied with simply getting the job done. McNeill goes all way, and then he goes even further.

That was certainly the case when the Eastern District came calling, asking him for help in meeting the court's growing need for pro bono volunteers to assist pro se litigants in civil cases. As president of the Eastern District of Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, McNeill could have simply gotten the word out, and probably moved the needle fairly significantly. But that wasn't enough. He saw this as an opportunity to create a model system that would last.

His response—a whole new system—became the Eastern District of Michigan Pro Bono Council, comprised of 8 bar associations, 32 law firms, an ADR organization, a litigation services firm, and dozens of individual attorneys from the southeastern Michigan legal community.

Right out of the gate the group pledged to handle 115 pro bono cases and assignments for the court. His nominators said this represents a substantial increase in the number of pro se litigants represented by pro bono counsel, "which levels the playing field, improves the orderly and expeditious procedural advancement of a case before the court, and further ensures a fair and just result."

Of course, this alone wasn't enough for McNeill. He wanted to make sure that not only was the system good, but also that it would last. As such, he and the committee solicited experts in consumers' rights, employment law, real estate foreclosure, and section 1983/prisoners' civil rights to prepare materials that would serve as guides to the pro bono lawyers. He also worked to secure funding for the program through sponsorships, and he helped assemble a panel of pro bono mediators to help resolve pro bono cases early on.

Needless to say, the initiative has been a big success, and the court is pleased. His nominators said his work serves as a "quintessential 'professional accomplishment that benefits' this state and the community," and that he "embodies the oath that we as lawyers take to 'never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.'" In typical fashion, McNeill went above and beyond, leaving a lasting mark on pro bono that won't soon be forgotten.

"Tom's work with the Pro Bono Council will endure for years to come, and this court, as well as this community, should be enormously grateful for his contributions."

Story by Lynn Ingram


Thomas G. McNeill

Click the caption below Thomas McNeill's photo to download a high resolution version. Read about all SBM Award winners. More information about the Annual Meeting can be found in the SBM Annual Meeting Media Kit.