Leecia Welch, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, has been awarded the 2007 Child Advocacy Award by the ABA Young Lawyers Division. The national award is intended to “honor lawyers for distinguished service on behalf of children” and celebrate “the often unheralded services” child advocates bring to the legal profession. Each year, the ABA Young Lawyer’s Division bestows the honor on two attorneys. Leecia, who specializes in foster care reform, was chosen from among young lawyers (36 or younger) for the award. Gail Chang Bohr, executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, received the award among lawyers older than 36. Both attorneys will be presented with their awards on August 11 at ABA’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA.
“Leecia works tirelessly for the benefit of foster children across the country. I am amazed at what she has accomplished on behalf of children in her relatively young career,” said NCYL Director John O’Toole. “We at NCYL feel so fortunate to have her on our staff.”
Leecia joined NCYL in 2004, acting as lead counsel in David C. v. Huntsman, a class action to reform Utah’s foster care system. On June 28, the US District Court in Salt Lake City approved an agreement to end the case after 14 years, with all parties agreeing that the state’s child welfare system is among the best in the nation. It is viewed as a national model by child welfare experts across the country.
“Tens of thousands of abused and neglected children in Utah are better off now because of Leecia’s relentless and effective advocacy. It is a huge accomplishment,” O’Toole said.
Leecia is also on NCYL’s litigation team in Clark K. v. Guinn, a class action to reform the foster care system in Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada; and Katie A. v. Bonta, which seeks to improve mental health services for foster youth in California.
Leecia oversees several projects to improve the education of foster youth, including the training of law students at UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law to become educational surrogates for foster youth in Alameda County schools, and also teaches a class at Boalt on child welfare reform through impact litigation.
Prior to joining NCYL, Leecia was an associate in the litigation department at San Fancisco’s Morrison & Foerster LLP, focusing for more than three years on Williams v. State of California, a class action that reformed aspects of California’s troubled public school system.
“Leecia’s work reflected the best values of lawyering … the word tireless does not do justice to her role on the case,” said Morrison & Foerster partner Jack Londen, who supervised Leecia’s work on Williams.
Leecia earned her J.D. Magna Cum Laude from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1996. She was an editor of the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal and the Children’s Legal Rights Journal, and was in the first class of CIVITAS ChildLaw fellows. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University Phi Beta Kappa.
The daughter of a social worker in Florida’s foster care system, Leecia had frequent contact with children in care as a child, and has always had a keen interest in foster care issues. She is particularly interested in the systemic barriers faced by youth in care to receiving a quality education.
“It is such an honor to receive this award from the ABA Young Lawyer’s Division,” Leecia said. “I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to pursue a career that I truly love, with clients who never cease to amaze and inspire me.”