2019 Recipient

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Where presented : 
NLADA Annual Conference
Recipient(s) name: 
Deborah Perluss
Recipient title: 
Deputy Director
Recipient organization: 
Northwest Justice Project
Recipient organization city: 
Recipient organization state: 
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

Deborah Perluss is currently the deputy director of Northwest Justice Project (NJP), the statewide legal aid provider in Washington. Until April of 2019, she served for 23 years in the dual role as NJP’s director of advocacy/general counsel, leading NJP’s strategic advocacy and systemic focus work. Before that, she served for 10 years as litigation, advocacy, and training coordinator for Evergreen Legal Services and for four years as a staff attorney at Spokane Legal Services, where she began her Washington legal aid career in 1978.

She received her J.D. from University of California Hastings College of Law and an LL.M. degree, with distinction, from University of London, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Her vision for what a legal aid lawyer should be was formed early on as a law student working at California Rural Legal Assistance. As a bar leader, she served as a Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) delegate to the ABA House of Delegates for seven years, and for three years she was a member of the ABA’s Commission on Disability Rights.

Ms. Perluss was a special consultant to the ABA Presidential Task Force on Access to Justice (2006), which initiated the ABA’s resolution in support of a civil right to counsel for basic needs cases. She has been a leader in the right to counsel movement and was one of the creators of the National Coalition on the Civil Right to Counsel.

She is a member of NLADA’s Civil Council’s Regulations Committee. As a bar leader, Ms. Perluss served on the WSBA’s Special Committee to Review the Rules of Professional Conduct, chairing the Conflicts Sub-Committee. Her work has led to the adoption of several statewide court rules, including a special conflicts rule enabling statewide hotlines to conduct intakes and provide limited assistance overcoming key structural conflicts barriers to accessing legal aid; established a right to counsel for persons with disabilities in need of reasonable accommodation to access courts; and a statewide indigent fee waiver rule.

While at Evergreen Legal Services, she headed a pilot project that ultimately led to the creation of the statewide Courthouse Facilitator program, an early self-help model that has been institutionalized at courthouses throughout the state. She has served on or chaired several other WSBA and Access to Justice Board committees.

In 2014, she received WSBA’s Public Service Award, and, in 2015, she received the King County Washington Women Lawyers’ Award for Special Contribution to the Judiciary. Ms. Perluss is honored to be the recipient of NLADA’s Charles Dorsey Award.