In 1968, Fred Nicholas was president of the Beverly Hills Bar Association and Chairman of a Committee on the Future of the Bar. That year, he attended a speech by a young lawyer and activist named Ralph Nader, who spoke about the responsibilities of lawyers to the community. He criticized the legal profession for “not giving back.”
This message hit a nerve with Nicholas. He suggested to members of his Committee that the Beverly Hills Bar Association sponsor a pro bono law firm to provide free legal services to people experiencing poverty and households with lower incomes. After two years of debate, the Beverly Hills Bar Association authorized the formation of a pro bono law firm under the name of Beverly Hills Bar Association Law Foundation and donated $5000 to its formation.
In 1970, in a tiny one-room office on Beverly Drive, the organization opened with Fred Nicholas as the first president, Stanley Levy as its director, and Ann Dominique Snyder as an assistant. The fledgling organization survived on a donation of $20,000 from Nicholas and small gifts from the large Beverly Hills law firms. In 1975, the L.A. County Bar Association joined the Beverly Hills Bar Association to co-sponsor the organization, and it changed its name to Public Counsel.
Today, Public Counsel is the largest provider of pro bono legal services in the nation, with over 140 staff annually working with thousands of volunteers to provide free legal services to tens of thousands of people, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.