Norman Metzger, retired executive director of Indiana Legal Services, is receiving national recognition for his work and dedication to providing legal assistance for the poor.
Metzger is being honored with the 2015 Dorsey Award from the American Bar Association. He is the first Hoosier to receive the award since it was established in 1996.
“We’re all just so proud Norman has been given this award and is being recognized for his work,” said Indiana Legal Services immediate past president Mary Fondrisi.
The award, named after the late Charles H. Dorsey Jr., longtime executive director of Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau Inc., recognizes outstanding service by a public defender or legal aid attorney. Twenty-three attorneys from around the country have received the award.
In a letter notifying Metzger of his honor, Greg Brooker, chair of the ABA Awards Committee, wrote that among the many worthy nominations submitted this year, his nomination stood out as exceptional.
“I am sure that Charles Dorsey would have agreed that you are a most deserving recipient of an award recognizing the highest ideals of the legal profession,” Brooker wrote. “Your work ethic and dedication to serving those in need is truly an inspiration.”
Metzger stepped into the leadership role when Indiana Legal Services was formed in 1970 and held the position for 45 years until he retired at the end of March 2015. During his tenure he marshaled his staff attorneys to file class-action lawsuits aimed at reforming Indiana law and he navigated the agency through deep cuts in federal funding.
When his successor, Jon Laramore, took over as ILS executive director, Metzger advised him to always hire good people and then turn them loose. Many lawyers he brought on are still with the organization – recently four celebrated their 36th anniversary with ILS – while others have gone on to distinguished careers in the public and private sectors.
Metzger assigned his staff attorneys to tackle cases involving desegregation, homelessness, prison conditions, immigration and military veterans. He also launched several programs, like the Migrant Farmworker Project and the HIV Legal Project, to ensure access to justice.
Before taking charge of the agency, Laramore was able to work closely with Metzger for about two months. Laramore, a former partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, quickly realized being executive director required broad skills over a variety of areas from providing overall direction to ensuring the bookkeeping met auditing standards.
Laramore especially remembered Metzger reiterating what could have been his guiding philosophy during his years leading ILS.
“He found a lot of ways to make sure I understood the importance of maintaining the highest standards of legal work and legal representation,” Laramore said. “He wanted to make sure I didn’t forget that.”
Metzger will receive the Dorsey Award at a special ceremony July 31 at the ABA’s annual meeting in Chicago. A contingent of former colleagues and ILS officials are planning to attend.
Fondrisi nominated Metzger for the award. She credited him with teaching her how to work with other legal aid providers as well as helping her see things from the clients’ point of view.
“Norman was the face of ILS for so many years,” Fondrisi said. “(This award) just validates what ILS has been able to do. Now under Jon Laramore, it’s just going to continue to grow.”