Phil Sieff ’82, 2012 Leadership and Service Award

Philip Sieff, member of the Class of 1982, you have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the legal profession, demonstrated most especially by your pro bono work on the I-35W bridge collapse. Immediately following the disaster, you and Chris Messerly, your partner in the Minneapolis office of the national law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, decided the firm should do whatever possible to help those who survived the collapse and those who lost loved ones—for free. You gave two promises: To secure fair compensation for the victims, and deliver an explanation for the collapse.

View the award presentation and acceptance speech

Phil Sieff '82
Phil Sieff ’82 and Cornell President Jonathan Brand.

You and your partner recruited and oversaw a consortium of 17 law firms that provided legal services, and arranged for your firm to provide totally free legal services and to pay all related costs and expenses. You were in charge of managing the needs of the consortium’s 100+ bridge collapse clients, coordinating the work of the 17 firms, and were the point person for the engineers hired to determine the cause of the collapse.

You dedicated more than 3,500 hours of pro bono legal services. Ultimately, over three years the firm contributed more than 20,000 hours in free legal services, and the consortium secured more than $77 million in total compensation. The attorneys donated $1.5 million for a memorial honoring those who died, and helped secure an unprecedented legislatively created $37 million compensation fund for the bridge collapse victims.

For this work, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi received The National Law Journal’s 2011 Pro Bono Award and was selected as a Pro Bono Firm of 2010 by Law360.

The dedication and determination to achieve just compensation for your clients has earned you numerous awards and accolades, including the Distinguished Alumni Award by Hamline University School of Law in 2011, the Arthur von Briesen Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in 2010, and the Pro Bono Award from the American Association for Justice in 2009.

Since graduation, you have contributed personal funds to Cornell as well as through the Sieff Family Foundation. Attending Cornell is a family tradition: Your father is John Sieff, Class of ’50. Your cousin Cheryl Johnson Mahin ’74, niece Kelly Knowles ’95, and nephew John Clogg ’08, are also Cornellians.

Phil, through your distinguished legal career you embody the mission of Cornell to empower its graduates for social responsibility. We are honored to present you the Alumni Leadership and Service Award.

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