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30 November 20209 minute read

DLA Piper announces its 2019-2020 Pro Bono Award winners

DLA Piper’s lawyers and staff across the country and around the world are committed to promoting access to justice by providing their time, talent and energy to those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Recognizing the significant contributions and tremendous impact of this work, DLA Piper is pleased to announce the seven recipients of the firm’s North American Pro Bono Awards.


The winners, who best exemplify the firm's commitment to giving back to its communities, were selected by DLA Piper's North American Pro Bono Committee. The committee considered each nominee's overall pro bono accomplishments, the difficulty of the matters handled, the courage involved in taking the assignment and the positive impact of his or her work.


Rachel Albanese, a partner in the firm’s New York office, maintains a robust and diverse pro bono practice, including issues related to children, bankruptcy and veterans. She serves on the American Bankruptcy Institute Task Force for Veterans & Service Members, and as part of this effort, she and a group of advocates met with Congress members and staff and obtained passage of The Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need (HAVEN) Act, which exempts veterans’ disability benefits from the reach of creditors in bankruptcy.


Mandy Chan, an associate in the San Francisco office, has taken a leadership role in the firm’s national project to assist inmates seeking compassionate release under the First Step Act of 2018. She represents two inmates, a cancer survivor and an individual with stage-three chronic kidney disease, who are susceptible to COVID-19. In addition, she is working with each of the nearly 60 DLA Piper volunteers on their compassionate release matters, answering legal questions, providing guidance on administrative and court procedures, reviewing briefs, and exploring and devising avenues to advocate for the most vulnerable clients.


Ilana Eisenstein, a partner in the Philadelphia office, works to address the opioid crisis and poverty in the criminal justice system. She serves as lead counsel for Safehouse, an organization seeking to open an overdose prevention site in the city. She led a DLA Piper team working alongside co-counsel from AIDS LAW Philadelphia to defeat a US Department of Justice lawsuit, which sought to declare that Safehouse’s proposed services would violate federal drug laws. In an opinion of first impression, the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in Safehouse’s favor. Eisenstein and the DLA Piper team are defending that victory on appeal before the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.


Jennifer Eldridge, an associate in Chicago, made her fourth trip to an immigration detention center to work with detained immigrants filing petitions for release on bond in October 2019. She has also traveled to a detention center to help detained mothers and children seek asylum in the US and is currently on a team representing a mother and daughter from Central America in their asylum proceeding. In addition, Eldridge is part of a team that has brought suit on behalf of every prisoner in a Midwestern state seeking relief from significant overcrowding, as well as increased medical and mental health care.


Ben Gipson, a partner in Los Angeles, focuses his pro bono work on immigration, environmental justice, food security and nonprofits that serve marginalized communities. He currently serves on the Los Angeles chapter board of the Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that uses evidence-based curriculum to cultivate positive, character-building environments through youth sports. Since the start of the pandemic, he has advised food banks in California and Arizona and has been a key member of the team of lawyers across the country who are assisting food banks in this crisis.


Michael Lodato, a litigation case manager in Philadephia, played a critical role in the successful resentencing of a juvenile who was just 16 years old when he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Lodato performed a significant amount of investigative fact-finding in preparation for the resentencing hearing and worked with the client’s psychological and mitigation experts in assembling data and reports. He assisted in formulating a reentry plan, a key component of the resentencing process, and performed extensive research on similar resentencing outcomes for comparison and inclusion in the resentencing memorandum.


Chezelle McDade, a litigation case manager in Washington, DC, worked with a team that co-counseled with the National Women’s Law Center to address Title IX violations against a school district and its administrative staff and helped coordinate a large case team across multiple offices and organizations through deadline management, emergency filings and file organization. The team successfully held the defendants accountable for negligence in dealing with the sexual assault and subsequent harassment of two of its students by other students in the school. She also worked with a team of lawyers who facilitated the compassionate release of an elderly inmate to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement.