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Justice & Diversity Center: Legal Services Program

Tanya Neiman - 1949-2006, In Memoriam

 

With profound sadness, The Bar Association of San Francisco announced the death of Tanya Neiman, on February 27, 2006, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Tanya Neiman was a well-known figure in San Francisco's legal community for many years, not just for the debonair figure she cut in her trademark suits and bow ties but also for her nationally recognized vision and drive to improve access to justice for low-income communities. Director of the Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP) for almost twenty-five years, she pioneered the fields of pro bono, holistic legal services and community lawyering. In spite of her small 5 foot frame, Tanya was a giant in her commitment to improving the condition of all people and in her passion for living.

Tanya graduated from UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco in 1974. She began her legal career teaching at UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law and then in 1976 joined the State Public Defender's Office shortly after its creation by then-Governor Jerry Brown.

At the age of 29, Tanya became director of the Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP), then a two-employee organization. In that role since 1982, Tanya transformed VLSP into one of the largest and most innovative legal services programs in the country. She pioneered the development of unique models of delivering services, including holistic advocacy, which forges a multidisciplinary approach to helping clients change their lives. VLSP is now the largest comprehensive provider of civil legal services in San Francisco with volunteers donating over $10 million worth of legal services in 2005.

Under Tanya's direction, VLSP has been honored twice with the Harrison Tweed Award (1985 and 1997), which is presented by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and the American Bar Association for outstanding pro bono projects in the United States.

Tanya herself was awarded NLADA¹s prestigious Kutak-Dodds prize in 1996 and the State Bar of California's Loren Miller Legal Services Award in 1998. In 2005, the ACLU of Northern California awarded Tanya with its On the Frontline Award, established to honor an individual who has done significant and sustained work to protect the rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, transgender people, and people with HIV and AIDS.

On February 10, 2006, Tanya was recognized by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area with its Robert G. Sproul Award, a lifetime achievement award that honors an attorney in recognition of his/her commitment to civil rights and outstanding support of pro bono legal services. This prestigious award is reserved for individuals in a leadership role who have personally provided pro bono legal services and who have influenced others to provide significant pro bono representation to underrepresented groups.

Tanya's ability to bring groups together and to think creatively to address tough problems has been particularly evident in her work to create and support VLSP's partner agencies, including the Eviction Defense Collaborative, the Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic, and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, as well as her tireless work to continue funding of legal services in difficult times.

After a breast cancer diagnosis at the young age of 29, Tanya saw every day as a gift, and celebrated each moment with unbridled love and joy. When she was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer in 1998, Tanya fought with the bravery and courage of an Amazon warrior.

Tanya Neiman inspired generations of attorneys to make personal commitments of time and resources in order to provide legal services to thousands of needy people. The Bar Association of San Francisco is proud to have called Tanya our own and we speak for the entire legal community in saying she will be greatly missed.

Tanya is survived by her beloved partner of 24 years, Brett Mangels; her devoted brother Harry Neiman of Canyon Country, CA; her niece Morgan Neiman of SF; her dearest friend, Marni Shapiro of SF; her adoring goddaughter, Megan Martenyi of SF; and an enormous community of friends, colleagues and family.

The memorial service took place on May 3, 2006 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.