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In Memoriam: Neal W. Johnston (1939-2010)

Neal Johnston, a founder of Lawyers Alliance for New York, passed away on May 24, 2010. He was celebrated for his warmth, wit, and irrepressible heart at a memorial service held at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on Friday, October 1, 2010 and in the remembrances below.

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In 1969, a group of law firm associates met while working on John Lindsay's 1968 mayoral re-election campaign ("Lawyers for Lindsay"). As young lawyers, they felt inadequately integrated into the profession, lacked outlets for public service work, and needed a forum to share these interests with others. Out of these concerns, the Council of New York Law Associates was born. (collapse)

Neal Johnston was selected by his peers to serve as the Council's first Steering Committee Chairman. In the first year, the Council attracted more than 500 Associates as members, drawn primarily from large law firms in New York City.

The Council began as a clearinghouse, offering an array of community action projects. The Council sent legal observers to civil rights demonstrations, issued a report on conditions in the Manhattan Detention Complex known as "the Tombs," provided a forum for prominent speakers such as Arthur Goldberg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and recruited lawyers to take on pro bono matters of all kinds.

In 1970, Neal served as the Council's first Executive Director, and the Council began circulating lists of pro bono projects within the City's largest law firms. Two years later, the Council of New York Law Associates Charitable Trust was formed in order to receive tax-deductible contributions.

In the early 1970s, the Council membership quickly rose to over 3,000 members and was active in addressing many of the issues of the day. Committees of the Council led to the formation of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and Court Appointed Special Advocates. Later spin-offs include New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and Volunteers of Legal Services. In addition to public service projects, the Council hosted a range of social and recreational activities, including the Lawyers Basketball League.


Photo taken at the Lawyers Alliance Open House at 171 Madison Avenue in November 2009. (Left) Randal "Bob" R. Craft, Jr. of Holland & Knight LLP; (center) Neal W. Johnston of Johnston & Johnston LLP; and (right) Edward "Ed" F. Greene of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.
 
Bob, Neal, and Ed were the first three Chairmen of Steering Committee for the Council of New York Law Associates and Ed is currently the Chair of the Board of Advisors of Lawyers Alliance for New York.

Over the next two decades, the Council increasingly emphasized pro bono service for nonprofit and community development organizations that were becoming potent forces for improving the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods. In one of its more prominent projects, many of the first-time homebuyers who transformed the South Bronx from a wasteland of rubble into a vital community were assisted by the Council's volunteers in acquiring those homes.

In 1991, the Council, no longer an organization comprised exclusively of (and for) young Associates, changed its name to Lawyers Alliance for New York. Today, Lawyers Alliance continues the work that reflects Neal's belief that lawyers could and should be a vital force for positive change.

A man of strong conviction, Neal mobilized the best and brightest in the profession on the great issues of the day. His generosity of heart and spirit are remembered by all who knew him. His vision, shared by other founders and early members of the Council, lives on in Lawyers Alliance for New York and we are eternally grateful to him.

Neal was born in Illinois, and graduated from the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School. He was an Associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP before starting his own practice. He was also Deputy Chief of Litigation for the New York State Attorney General; Chief of Staff to the President of the New York City Council; and a fellow of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. His wife Eden Ross Lipson predeceased him. He is survived by his four children, Delari, Tara, Margo and Garth; his two brothers Warner and Scott; and his ex-wife Judy Johnston.

Remembrances of Neal and the Early Days
of the Council of New York Law Associates

"Mr. Johnston and his associates are to be complimented and congratulated on their concern for the public welfare and for organizing themselves in an effective manner to deal with community problems. Older members of the Bar ... ought to be proud that the younger generation of lawyers is demonstrating such selfless interest in the welfare of their community. Certainly the New York law firms stand to gain from this demonstration that the practice of law in New York does not require the forgoing of opportunities for stimulating work and contributions outside the law office."

    – Excerpted from an editorial in the American Bar Association Journal, September 1970

 

"This was a man who was truly dedicated and put his heart and soul into everything he did. He was one of the true leaders, and the Council of New York Law Associates would not have existed without him. It's also important to remember that he was a great family man as well."

    – Carol Bellamy, Chair, International Baccalaureate Board of Governors
       Former Steering Committee Member, Council of New York Law Associates and
       Current Board of Advisors Member, Lawyers Alliance for New York

 

"The Council of New York Law Associates would never have been started if he hadn't done it; the rest of us would never have done it."

    – Randal R. Craft, Jr., Partner, Holland & Knight LLP
       Former Steering Committee Member, Council of New York Law Associates

 

"Neal was the driving force behind the founding of the Council of New York Law Associates. He was indefatigable and inspiring and helped each of us convince our law firms that what we were setting out to do would help them fulfill their pro bono obligations to the New York community and that the community would benefit from our engagement...We were a disparate group at the beginning, each of whom went off in different directions in the 70s, but all of us greatly admired and have fond memories of Neal. He was a distinctive personality and he will be missed. He helped create an organization of which all of us who were involved are extremely proud."

    – Edward F. Greene, Senior Counsel, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
       Former Steering Committee Member, Council of New York Law Associates and
       Current Chair of the Board of Advisors of Lawyers Alliance for New York

 

 

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