Published December 3, 2018
Two members of the University at Buffalo School of Law’s senior administration were honored for their work in support of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, the Erie County Bar Association’s extensive program to provide free legal advice for low-income clients and small not-for-profit groups.
Melinda R. Saran ’86, vice dean for social justice initiatives and a member of the teaching faculty, received the organization’s “VIP” Award, recognizing her “longtime commitment and willingness to help in ways in which few others are willing to.” Bernadette Gargano, vice dean for student affairs and lecturer in law, legal analysis, writing and research, was honored with VLP’s Federal Court Award for her leadership in the Pro Se Assistance Program, in which volunteer attorneys provide no-cost legal assistance to persons involved in U.S. District Court cases.
“These individuals are unbelievably supportive of our programs and our clients,” says Gayle Murphy ’86, pro bono manager for VLP, which has more than 40 employees and 500 active volunteer attorneys in its Buffalo and Batavia offices. “They do so much for our staff and the students at the law school who are involved, and it’s nice to be able to celebrate that.”
The awards were presented Thursday, November 29th in conjunction with VLP’s annual Champions for Justice Bash, held at the Hotel @ The Lafayette in downtown Buffalo. The organization, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary, currently serves about 5,000 clients annually.
Saran’s honor recognized her service since 2004 on VLP’s board of directors, where she represents the School of Law. “She is one of VLP’s most supportive community promoters, she regularly brainstorms ideas to increase volunteers, and is always open to new ventures to increase VLP’s access to justice initiatives,” the organization noted. Saran also has worked with the project on the advisory board of the Say Yes Legal Clinic. In addition, in her School of Law role, Saran works to connect current students, alumni and attorneys with volunteer opportunities at VLP.
For Gargano, the award came in recognition of her work in running the Pro Se Assistance Program in federal court, in collaboration with VLP. The program will celebrate its fifth anniversary in February.
“Working with VLP and its lawyers has been a highlight of my career,” Gargano says. “VLP provides the framework to provide legal services to so many people living in poverty and has championed our unique collaborative program of involving law students, practitioners and the courts.
“This work affords me and so many others with a meaningful way to serve in a pro bono capacity while also providing an outstanding learning experience for UB School of Law students, who learn from both the practical experience of serving clients and from the outstanding lawyers who support the program with their volunteer efforts.”
Other UB Law alumni who received VLP awards this year include Justin J. Andreozzi ’14, Ryan P. Crawford ’06, Michael J. Herberger ’12, Kevin C. Gibbons ’87 (with his firm, Gibbons & Stadler), Siana J. McLean ’10, Joseph W. Stadler ’95 (as part of Gibbons & Stadler) and Bridget C. Steele ’16. In addition, second-year law student Shelby Scibetta received the organization’s Law Student Award.