Neal Johnston was selected by his peers to serve as the Council's first Steering Committee Chairman. In the first year, the Council attracted more than 500 Associates as members, drawn primarily from large law firms in New York City.
The Council began as a clearinghouse, offering an array of community action projects. The Council sent legal observers to civil rights demonstrations, issued a report on conditions in the Manhattan Detention Complex known as "the Tombs," provided a forum for prominent speakers such as Arthur Goldberg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and recruited lawyers to take on pro bono matters of all kinds.
In 1970, Neal served as the Council's first Executive Director, and the Council began circulating lists of pro bono projects within the City's largest law firms. Two years later, the Council of New York Law Associates Charitable Trust was formed in order to receive tax-deductible contributions.
In the early 1970s, the Council membership quickly rose to over 3,000 members and was active in addressing many of the issues of the day. Committees of the Council led to the formation of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and Court Appointed Special Advocates. Later spin-offs include New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and Volunteers of Legal Services. In addition to public service projects, the Council hosted a range of social and recreational activities, including the Lawyers Basketball League.
Over the next two decades, the Council increasingly emphasized pro bono service for nonprofit and community development organizations that were becoming potent forces for improving the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods. In one of its more prominent projects, many of the first-time homebuyers who transformed the South Bronx from a wasteland of rubble into a vital community were assisted by the Council's volunteers in acquiring those homes.
In 1991, the Council, no longer an organization comprised exclusively of (and for) young Associates, changed its name to Lawyers Alliance for New York. Today, Lawyers Alliance continues the work that reflects Neal's belief that lawyers could and should be a vital force for positive change.
A man of strong conviction, Neal mobilized the best and brightest in the profession on the great issues of the day. His generosity of heart and spirit are remembered by all who knew him. His vision, shared by other founders and early members of the Council, lives on in Lawyers Alliance for New York and we are eternally grateful to him.
Neal was born in Illinois, and graduated from the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School. He was an Associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP before starting his own practice. He was also Deputy Chief of Litigation for the New York State Attorney General; Chief of Staff to the President of the New York City Council; and a fellow of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. His wife Eden Ross Lipson predeceased him. He is survived by his four children, Delari, Tara, Margo and Garth; his two brothers Warner and Scott; and his ex-wife Judy Johnston.