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July 17, 2016

Alexander S. Corey
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Dozens of local attorneys are taking on pro bono cases to honor a former colleague whose life was cut short in a May hiking accident.

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Dozens of local attorneys are taking on pro bono cases to honor a former colleague whose life was cut short in a May hiking accident.

Melanie Kushnir, who served as director of a local pro bono project for five years, died May 28 at age 42 in a tragic accident at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

“It’s been incredibly touching,” said Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. “People have contributed funds and labor.”

Friends and colleagues described Kushnir as an unwavering advocate for access to justice for the needy with a knack for innovation.

Kushnir worked to recruit attorneys to take on pro bono cases for people that couldn’t otherwise afford representation. One of Kushnir’s successful ideas, said Buckley, was to pair attorneys working pro bono with a Legal Aid Center mentor that specialized in the practice area of a case. Kushnir’s team also assembled packets and sample forms to make it easier for attorneys working outside of their regular area of law.

Under Kushnir’s leadership, the Children’s Attorneys Project was able to grow from representing 441 children in 2013, to 888 children in 2015.

IN HER HONOR

Buckley said she remembers interviewing Kushnir for the job and being impressed by her background working in public interest law, at a law school and with the American Bar Association Center for pro bono.

Buckley said the interviewers first thought was that she was perfect. Their next thought, Buckley said, was that she wouldn’t leave a prestigious Chicago job to work in Southern Nevada.

But she did.

“She wanted to run a program,” said Buckley.

To commemorate Kushnir, the center has also established the Melanie Kushnir Access to Justice fellowship. About $18,000 has been raised for the fellowship, which will be open to law students with an interest in pro bono issues nationwide.

Kushnir’s innovative spirit will continue through the paid summer fellowship. Applicants will be asked to submit a proposal to improve access to justice in Southern Nevada or increase pro bono participation. The fellow would work on policy issues and learn how to recruit pro bono lawyers.

Buckley said the pro bono program currently represents about 888 foster children. Hundreds of people are helped each month with quick consultations, Buckley added.

“We’re interviewing for a new pro bono director, and it’s hard because you’re dealing with your grief,” Buckley said..