The Board and staff of the Australian Pro Bono Centre pay tribute to Esther Lardent, the legendary founder and president of the Pro Bono Institute who passed away on Monday 4 April 2016.
Her contribution to the development of the pro bono movement globally was monumental.
Esther was an exceptional leader who provided inspiration, enthusiasm, support, advice, encouragement, guidance, and so much more, to so many. We will remember her as an incredibly warm person who loved to laugh and who was remarkably generous with her time, knowledge and expertise. She will be sadly missed.
Esther had a great sense of strategy, an acute critical eye and a persistence to develop creative solutions to address the constraints and barriers to pro bono that she would so ably investigate.
One of her skills was a deep understanding of the organisational psychology of law firms and corporate legal teams. This, combined with a current knowledge of the unmet legal need of the indigent and marginalised, and the business trends and prospects of the legal industry, was formidable.
Above all Esther was a leader with a determined vision to get every lawyer on the planet doing pro bono legal work.
Her influence in the development of the pro bono movement in Australia was, and remains, significant. Many of us met her through early friendships, for example with David Hillard and Fiona McLeay, then both at Clayton Utz, and now both leaders of the pro bono movement in Australia.
Many Australian lawyers have now made the pilgrimage to the PBI Annual Conference in Washington DC and despite the arduous journey we always come home with new ideas and inspiration.
Esther has also travelled to Australia on at least two occasions.
In 2003, as a Fulbright Scholar she came to Sydney and gave a paper at the National Pro Bono Conference on the pros and cons of defining and quantifying pro bono, a paper still very relevant today.
In 2010, she was a keynote speaker at the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Brisbane 2010, where she was greeted warmly by fellow keynote speaker and friend, the United States Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey L. Bleich. In her usual tireless way she also gave presentations and workshops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, talking of how now was the time for pro bono to achieve BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).
As a self-described “policy-wonk”, Esther’s way with words was eloquent and persuasive. Never a year seemed to go past when there wasn’t a new trademarked PBI pro bono project or initiative whether it was a Clinic in a Box™ or the Second Acts™ project for transitional and senior lawyers. Perhaps we will see the publication of her collected articles about pro bono in a book.
Esther also made the trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in 2013 to present at the Second Asia Pro Bono Conference despite being quite ill. She had a commitment that never seemed to waver. This included a fundamental commitment to improve access to justice. The growing gap between available legal assistance and the legal needs of the poor, indigent and disadvantaged was always her starting point.
For the Australian Pro Bono Centre which commenced in 2004, Esther’s influence is evident. Australia was influenced by the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge™ when creating its National Pro Bono Aspirational Target. The Target has been a vital part of driving broader participation in pro bono by Australian lawyers.
As Esther said in an interview in 2011,
My goals for my work are three things. I want to make good things happen. I want to make the world a better place even if I’m doing it three steps back from the front lines. I really want to work with really smart, really good people who can teach me and who are a pleasure to work with. And then the final thing is that I don’t want to be bored.
(That was four things, Esther!)
Realising that all of our’s time on this earth is relatively short she added,
If you’re a nasty screamer, who is totally focused on what your draw is going to be this year – very unlikely that I’m going to have much interaction with you, which is great; I don’t want to!
We don’t think there is much doubt that she achieved these aims and has certainly left behind her a legacy that presents an enormous challenge to all of us to honour and continue.
It has been an honour and privilege to have known Esther and to have received so much support from her.
We extend our condolences to all who knew her, particularly the board and staff at the PBI.