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Building a Legacy: David Reber, Goodsill Partner

Dec 31, 2007

by Jennifer M. Young, Goodsill Attorney, Hawai’i Bar Journal

Over the past nine years, David Reber has tirelessly championed the needs and mission of the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i (“Legal Aid”), a non-profit law corporation established in 1950, to serve the low to moderate-income community. Under Reber’s leadership, Legal Aid made tremendous strides in structuring, launching and cultivating programs and campaigns designed to increase pro bono opportunities available to attorneys, improve the judicial system and increase access to legal assistance for Hawai’i’s indigent population, with an emphasis on programs focused on children.

Reber was raised in California and attended Occidental College and Harvard Law School. Following graduation, he taught at the University of Iowa Law School, followed by law firm at Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton, a civil firm in Southern California. In 1975, following the birth of his first child, Emily, Reber and his wife, Jacqueline, relocated to Hawai’i, where he began as a litigator, but went on to establish a successful practice in the area of corporate and securities law at Goodsill Anderson Quinn and Stifel, which he continues to this day.

Reber became involved with Legal Aid in 1998, when he was asked by then-Executive Director, Victor Geminiani, to serve on the Board of Directors. Reber accepted, then continued to become the President of the Board for a six-year tenure, beginning in 2001. Prior to joining Legal Aid, he was involved with other non-profit organizations, such as Enterprise Honolulu, a non-profit organization intended to foster economic development in Honolulu, which he still serves as a member of the Board.

One of David’s primary objectives during his tenure as Legal Aid President was to encourage increased attorney involvement in pro bono activities. To that end, he supported Legal Aid’s development of its Partnership in Pro Bono Project, maximizing participation of volunteer attorneys by structuring a “user friendly” program. Under this Project, Legal Aid provides adequate and expedited training of volunteer lawyers, carefully reviews cases to select the ones most suitable for them, makes available continuous support for the volunteers, and has committed to permit a return of the case to Legal Aid if the workload becomes unmanageable for the attorney or if other unforeseen developments arise.

Another matter of great importance to Reber was the expansion of Legal Aid’s Guardian Ad Litem program. Reber recognized that court-appointed Guardians Ad Litem had excessively high caseloads which limited their ability to work their cases, including spending adequate time with the children they represented. He inspired many attorneys to devote their time to pro bono cases, starting right at home at his firm, where at the launch of the Partnership in Pro Bono campaign, eleven Goodsill attorneys were trained to serve as volunteer Guardians Ad Litem, including Reber’s daughter, Emily Reber Porter. In 2006, volunteer attorney participation resulted in the other completion of 150 cases. Participation in the project continues to grow.

During his tenure, Legal Aid, led by Executive Director Chuck Greenfield, Reber and the Board, tenaciously advocated to modify federal regulations that prevented Legal Aid from providing legal services to Micronesians, attacking the problem on various fronts. Largely as a result of their efforts, the regulation was modified, and the Micronesian community — a significant segment of Hawai’i’s population — now has access to legal services provided by Legal Aid and other federally funded nonprofit legal organizations.

Internally, Reber worked to strengthen Legal Aid’s Board of Directors, increasing the Board’s participation and oversight of the organization as a whole. Utilizing valuable legal skills gained from his corporate practice, Reber redrafted the corporation’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, built a strong Board committee system and provided valuable assistance in the transition of Executive Directors in 2006. Moreover, Reber was active in driving Legal Aid’s Capital Campaign to a conclusion in 2005, which provided the funding for the acquisition of Legal Aid’s permanent headquarters on Bethel Street. Reber did not stop there, but has been active in working with Co-Chairs David Fairbanks, Susan Li, Greenfield, and several law firms to develop Legal Aid’s Private Bar Campaign, to execute a coordinated plan to approach the private bar and obtain a higher level of funding for Legal Aid on an ongoing basis.

Despite his demanding private practice, Reber estimates that he devotes a considerable amount of time every year — “at least a couple hundred hours” — to Legal Aid matters — well above the goal of 50 hours of pro bono service set forth in the Hawai’i Rules of Professional Conduct. Instead, he points out those members of the bar who are truly worthy of praise are those, including several attorneys in his firm, who provide pro bono services directly to low income individuals and families.

When asked how he manages to balance his commitments to the firm, his clients, and his Legal Aid responsibilities with his personal life, Reber admits that he does not have a perfect balance, but states “you do what you feel you need to do,” and credits his family and particularly his wife for the tremendous support he receives. He acknowledges the Goodsill firm for being understanding and supportive of the considerable amount of time he devotes to Legal Aid, its support of pro bono amongst its attorneys generally, and its generous financial support of Legal Aid. Among the activities Reber enjoys in the limited amount of free time he does have, is playing third base for the Goodsill softball team in the lawyers’ league, a position he has played for over 30 years, along with an occasional tennis match or round of golf. Despite the long hours and demands which draw him from other commitments and his personal life, Reber enjoys the service he does for Legal Aid. He describes the work as rewarding, giving him a “sense of personal satisfaction” and a “sense of fulfilling a social and professional responsibility to the community,” which he explains “compensates for a lot.” He enjoys the people with whom he works at Legal Aid, describing them as a “wonderful, dedicated, idealistic group of people with a lot of energy who do important work for low pay.”

Despite his significant efforts and noteworthy strides made for Legal Aid Society and the underprivileged community as a whole, he humbly views his contributions as “nothing extraordinary,” but rather, a “small way of carrying out the responsibilities” required of an attorney. He is first to say that the successes achieved during his tenure were not his, but those of the attorneys, paralegals and others at Legal Aid who work for low pay to provide quality legal services to those most in need in our community.

Although his six-year term as President of Legal Aid drew to a close at the end of June this year, Reber continues as an active member of the Legal Aid Board of Directors and as a member of the Access to Justice Hui, which is committed to achieving the ten steps set forth in its community wide action plan for increasing access to justice by 2010. Through this service, Reber continues to champion the vision he set in motion nine years ago, and the community will surely continue to reap the benefits of his generous commitment for years to come.

Copyright 2007 Hawai’i State Bar Association. With permission, portions are reprinted from the December 2007 issue, Volume 11, Number 12, of the Hawai’i Bar Journal.

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