The tireless benefactor of 3,300 hours of pro bono legal work to Morrison & Foerster’s nonprofit and social enterprise clients, Washington, D.C.-based Linda Arnsbarger is the winner of the ABA Business Law Section’s 2020 National Public Service Award. The Honorable Elizabeth Stong, Co-Chair of the Business Law Section Pro Bono Committee, presented the award to Linda during the Section’s September 2020 meeting, held remotely.
A federal tax lawyer who has been with the firm for more than 30 years, Linda has worked on 482 matters for MoFo’s organizational pro bono clients, which she describes as “companies with big ideas about what they can do to help the world.” She has assisted entities at every level and as diverse as the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association and The Nature Conservancy. The legal advice she donates spans the areas of tax, governance, contracts, and intellectual property, and spans the globe.
Nonprofits that have benefited from her pro bono counsel include an organization that provides conservation programs in the Amazon region, an organization that works to improve maternal health in East Africa, and a group that runs schools for low-income children in Cambodia.
“It’s difficult for these clients to navigate the system that our world imposes on charities,” Linda explains. “Helping them get past the red tape and move forward on their missions has been very rewarding.”
Another area of Linda’s pro bono practice involves helping nonprofits benefit from the increasing popularity of impact investing without sacrificing the tax-exempt status that the U.S. Internal Revenue Code affords to public charities.
As passionate as Linda is about her corporate work for organizational clients, she says she’s especially proud of having collaborated with members of MoFo’s appellate group in the early years of her career to work on special education issues.
“I have a personal interest in special education law and had been following the development of that law for a long time, but there hadn’t really been any pro bono work in the area,” Linda explains.
Fortunately, a then-member of the MoFo litigation group had experience working with organizations that supported children and had also worked for the Department of Education. Because the colleague of Linda’s was so well-informed in that discipline, MoFo was invited to prepare seven amicus briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of groups supporting disability rights including the National Disability Rights Network, The Arc, the Autism Society, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
While amicus briefs can sometimes just reiterate the legal arguments of several other parties, Linda and her team didn’t take that approach.
“It’s not effective,” Linda says. “The important thing is to illustrate how the case and the potential decision will affect a community of people, such as children with epilepsy, children with cerebral palsy, children with autism, and the families involved. We also pulled up hard data that was deeply embedded in Department of Education databases to show that perhaps arguments being made on the other side weren’t correct.”
The MoFo team’s hard work and strategic thinking paid off.
“In at least a couple of those cases, the decision actually cited data we had used in our brief,” recalls Linda, who first joined MoFo as a summer associate. “Knowing that the arguments you’re making are being heard is definitely rewarding.”
Watch Linda’s acceptance speech during the ABA’s 2020 Section Awards Reception, which begins at the 15:33 mark: