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Rulli receives Father Robert Drinan Award from Association of American Law Schools

January 03, 2019

On January 3, Louis S. Rulli, Practice Professor of Law and the former Director of the Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, received the prestigious Father Robert Drinan Award of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities in recognition of his long and distinguished career in pro bono legal service. Each year, the award honors a law school staff or faculty member for their work in advancing the ethic of pro bono service through program design or management, or through their own personal service. 

“My Penn Law colleagues and I are so proud of Lou for receiving this tremendous and well-deserved recognition,” said Ted Ruger, Penn Law’s Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law. “The Father Drinan Award is the highest national honor that the AALS could bestow on a law professor who advances the cause of justice through pro bono legal service like Lou has. It is gratifying to see this national organization recognizing what we have seen for decades here in Philadelphia regarding Lou’s transformative dedication to his clients and his students.”

During his time at Penn Law, and throughout his career, Rulli has made a lasting and measurable impact on students, clients, and the public service community at large through his teaching, mentoring, scholarship, and law practice. He joined Penn Law in 1995 as a clinical law professor, and over the years has worked alongside students and guided them in the development of their practice skills and an ethos of public service. Rulli has taught an array of courses at the Law School, including the Civil Practice and Legislative clinics, all unified by his dedication to serving local communities’ needs for legal representation and fostering students’ commitment to pro bono public service.

After taking on the role of Director of Penn Law’s clinical programs in 2008, Rulli successfully expanded clinic and externship programs to provide increasingly robust and varied experiential learning opportunities for students. He has repeatedly been honored for his work, receiving the University-wide Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2006, Penn Law’s Beacon Award for exemplary faculty commitment to pro bono service in 2012, and Villanova University’s Praxis Award in Professional Ethics in 2015.

Outside of the clinical programs, Rulli has collaborated extensively with colleagues in Penn Law’s Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) by helping to shape the Mobile TEAMS (Trained Educators and Advocates Mobilized for Service) program, which sends students to provide pro bono representation in remote and underserved areas of Pennsylvania. He has also advised and mentored Toll Public Interest Scholars and generations of other students interested in public service careers, and has served as the chair of the Faculty Public Service Committee.

“Lou has been an ardent supporter of Penn Law’s expanding Toll Public Interest Center,” said Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Associate Dean & Executive Director of TPIC. “He has been an invaluable advocate and model for students interested in public service careers. There is not a public-interest minded student who goes through his or her three years at Penn Law without extensive interaction and mentoring from him, and his clinics have awakened many others to lawyers’ important role in the pursuit of justice.” 

The scope of Rulli’s impact has extended beyond Penn Law and out into Philadelphia, and throughout the state. He began his legal career at Community Legal Services, Philadelphia’s nationally-recognized legal aid office, starting as a staff attorney and ultimately rising to become the Executive Director. In that role, which he held for nearly ten years, he was responsible for the delivery of legal services to approximately 30,000 clients each year, along with the supervision of 150 employees. Even after stepping away from the position to join the clinical faculty at Penn Law, he remained active as a member of the Board of Trustees of CLS and Philadelphia Legal Assistance, and continues to be a preeminent member of Pennsylvania’s legal services community.

“Lou was a pioneering Executive Director of Community Legal Services, insisting on excellence in legal services for our clients and always putting clients at the center of our work,” said Deborah Freedman, the current Executive Director of CLS.  “Throughout his remarkable career, he has advocated successfully and against the odds for increased funding for legal services, including through IOLTA and Pennsylvania’s Access to Justice Act. In addition, he has been an incredible mentor to generations of legal aid lawyers. He set the standard for what it means to be a legal services lawyer and executive director, and there is no one I admire more.”

Nationally, through his scholarship and advocacy, Rulli has also worked to bring attention to access to justice issues, with a particular focus on the civil Gideon movement and civil asset forfeiture. On both subjects, which concern significant inequities that affect low-income individuals, Rulli has successfully worked to educate attorneys, judges, students, and the wider community, all with the aim of bringing about necessary change. 

“I am deeply humbled to be named as the recipient of a national pro bono award that honors the legacy of Father Robert Drinan, a teacher, scholar, legislator, and activist who was an unequalled force for human rights, social justice, and moral integrity,” said Rulli. “I sincerely thank the AALS and especially my supportive colleagues and former students who so kindly nominated me for this award.”   

Rulli will receive the Drinan Award in New Orleans at the next meeting of the AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities during the AALS Annual Meeting.