Stanford Law School Honors Thomas E. Perez and Salena Copeland with Public Service Awards

The John and Terry Levin Center at Stanford Law School honored two exceptional lawyers last night for their extensive commitment to public service.

The Honorable Thomas E. Perez, the 26th United States Secretary of Labor, received the National Public Service Award, while Salena Copeland, JD ’07, executive director of the Legal Aid Association of California, was awarded the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award.

The National Public Service Award honors attorneys whose public service work has had national impact, and the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award recognizes an alumnus/a whose outstanding work has advanced justice and social change in the lives of vulnerable populations on a community, national or international level. In particular, the Rubin Award is intended to highlight sustainable solutions to a societal problem.

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The Honorable Thomas E. Perez, (left) recipient of the National Public Service Award, and Salena Copeland, JD ’07 (right), recipient of the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award. Photograph by Christine Baker-Parrish.

“Each year, our awards dinner highlights the accomplishments of lawyers we hope will inspire our students and provide them with role models,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law. “Secretary Perez’s and Salena Copeland’s careers accomplish both these goals, and easily. They have been steadfast in their pursuit of justice on local, state, and national issues. We are grateful for their work, and what they represent of the profession.”

“Our honorees this year show how different paths and strategies can all be pursued to advance the rights of communities addressing discrimination, poverty, and inequality,” said Diane T. Chin, associate director of public service and public interest law at the law school. “Secretary Perez’s government service and Salena Copeland’s dedication to legal services are of a piece. They show how lawyers in all settings make a difference. We are so pleased to honor their work and service.”

National Public Service Award Recipient: The Honorable Thomas E. Perez

Thomas E. Perez, the nation’s 26th secretary of labor, has dedicated his entire career to making good on the promise of opportunity for all. A civil rights lawyer by training, Secretary Perez has spent his career in public service at all levels.

Secretary Perez served as assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he fought to protect voting rights, ensure that communities have effective and democratically accountable policing, crack down on discriminatory lending and housing, and expand opportunity for marginalized communities. As director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, he helped ensure that people of all backgrounds could access quality, affordable health care. Perez also tackled civil rights, criminal justice and constitutional issues as a special counselor for Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Secretary Perez also served the people of Maryland in a variety of roles. He was the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council, where he served from 2002 to 2006. Later, as secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation from 2007 to 2009, he helped implement the country’s first living wage law and spearheaded a package of reforms to address the foreclosure crisis.

As Secretary, Perez has focused on efforts to raise the minimum wage, expand overtime protections, and being smarter and more strategic in the department’s enforcement of federal law. Secretary Perez has also steered the department in implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to help connect ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

The son of Dominican immigrants, Secretary Perez was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. A graduate of Brown University and Harvard University, Perez has taught law and public health at universities in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award Recipient: Salena Copeland, JD ‘07

Salena Copeland has spent the duration of her legal career helping ensure access to legal aid for all. Copeland is the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) and spends much of her time coordinating statewide legislative and administrative advocacy, while also supervising a small staff who work to support the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) community through trainings, online coordination and resource-sharing, and member discounts. She recently helped lead the effort to increase the Equal Access Fund, a fund that supports nearly 100 California legal nonprofits. Her efforts helped increase the fund by millions of dollars and extend existing funding that was due to sunset.

Copeland is a 2007 graduate of Stanford Law School, a member of the State Bar of California Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, a co-chair of the California Commission on Access to Justice Rural Task Force, a member of the Amicus Committee of the Access Commission, an active member of the Bench Bar Coalition, and the 2010 recipient of the Bench Bar Coalition Legal Services Provider of the Year Award. She also serves on a number of statewide planning committees dedicated to improving access to justice for low and moderate-income Californians, including the Campaign for Justice.

Immediately after graduation, she began her legal career as a OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow running the Justice Bus Project.

 About the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law

The mission of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School is – through courses, research, pro bono projects, public lectures, academic conferences, funding programs and career development – to make public service a pervasive part of every law student’s experience and ultimately help shape the values that students take into their careers. It also engages in programming and research that support development of the public interest legal community to increase access to justice.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.