'Queen of pro bono' Esther Lardent dies at age 68

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Esther Lardent, known as the “queen of pro bono,” died Monday. She was 68 years old.

A tireless advocate for volunteer legal work, she founded the Pro Bono Institute in 1996 and served as its president until last year, when her health forced her to step down, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors who emigrated to the U.S., Lardent was driven by their experiences in this country to try to repay the help they received by helping others, she said in a video shown at an institute event last year.

After launching her legal career in Boston, where she worked for a low-income legal clinic and later headed the Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, she moved to Washington, D.C. There, she was chief consultant on the ABA’s Postconviction Death Penalty Representation Project, an initiative that urged major law firms to represent inmates on death row—a legal services model that she then relied on at the Pro Bono Institute, the NLJ recounts.

Lardent’s drive and determination was critical to the concept’s success—she is recalled as a “force of nature” by Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien and “a tremendous hustler, in the best sense of the word,” by Stephen Hanlon, who until 2012 was the leader of Holland & Knight’s pro bono efforts.

“She was never satisfied with the way things were,” O’Brien said. “If a solution to the problem couldn’t be found in the room, then you had to expand to get people outside the room involved.”

Many more details about Lardent’s life are provided in a lengthy oral history (PDF) by the ABA Senior Lawyers Division, as part of a Women Trailblazers in the Law project. The interviews with Lardent were conducted between 2006 and 2012.

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