2019 – Steven F. Pflaum

“He just makes everything better.” That’s how one person described the impact of Steve Pflaum’s pro bono service over the last three decades. As a partner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, Steve co-chairs the firm’s Litigation Department and chairs its Pro Bono Committee. He has also chaired the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee, the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professional Responsibility, and most recently, the Illinois Statutory Court Fees Task Force. Between his pro bono service and his committee activities, Steve has volunteered over 3600 hours over the past nine years alone.

Steve is dedicated to pro bono service and to cultivating a culture that supports pro bono and access to justice in Illinois. He has worked to create new rules that increase the pool of attorneys in Illinois who can provide pro bono service and expand the use of limited scope representation to help pro bono and legal aid organizations serve clients more efficiently. These efforts have fundamentally transformed the pro bono and legal aid landscape in Illinois and helped countless people receive much-needed legal help. More recently, Steve played a lead role in groundbreaking Illinois legislation to overhaul the system of statutory court fees and fines to reduce the financial burden of litigants and to improve access to the courts.

Steve has advocated for a wide array of pro bono clients ranging from nonprofit organizations like the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) to incarcerated litigants who were forced to work off the cost of their incarceration. Under his leadership, his firm has seen a significant increase in both the number of pro bono hours (recently topping an average of more than 70 hours per year for every firm lawyer) and the percentage of attorneys doing pro bono work.

It is impossible to describe all the ways Steve has inspired lawyers and protected vulnerable people under the law. However, a recent pro bono client—a retired widow whose life savings were stolen by a now disbarred attorney—nicely summed up Steve’s impressive commitment: “Mr. Pflaum and the entire NGE team showed me that there are compassionate, decent lawyers who truly care about their clients and serving people, like me, who are unable to afford representation.”