MISSOULA – University of Montana Professor Hillary Wandler and Adjunct Professor Chuck Willey were honored with prestigious awards Sept. 10 during the State Bar of Montana’s Annual Meeting.
Gov. Steve Bullock awarded Wandler, a law professor, the Neil Haight Pro Bono Award for her pro bono work with veterans in Montana.
Earlier this year, Wandler was cited in the Missoulian newspaper’s “20 Under 40” feature, which highlighted Missoula’s top 20 business professionals under 40 years of age. The Missoulian highlighted her work on behalf of veterans even as she battled breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2012.
“I’m excited that pro bono work for veterans is getting attention,” Wandler said. “The veteran community needs to navigate through the complexities of the Veterans Affairs system. Attorneys are well equipped for that.”
Wandler was nominated for the Pro Bono Award by Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. In his letter, Sen. Tester noted that Wandler developed the law school’s veteran law course and has partnered with the Montana Supreme Court Pro Bono Program to develop Montana Attorneys for Montana Veterans, a pro bono program to help veterans with claims for disability benefits.
Tester, in his nomination letter, cited Wandler’s work as a mentor, noting that through her leadership the state has gone from having three attorneys accredited before the Bureau of Veterans Affairs to having 70.
“Mentor, that feels way too big for me,” Wandler said. “I really like to troubleshoot with people who are having difficult cases. More often than not, it’s just a one-time call.”
Willey also was honored on Sept. 10 with the George L. Bousliman Professionalism Award, which recognizes lawyers or law firms that have established a reputation for and a tradition of professionalism and have demonstrated extraordinary professionalism within two years prior to the nomination.
Willey moved back to Montana from California, where he was serving as president of the Santa Barbara Bar Association and chairman of the Committee on Justice.
For most of the 15 years since he has been back, he has served as an adjunct professor at the UM law school. He also has served for 10 years as the chairman of the Business, Estates, Trusts, Tax & Real Property Law Section; presented at 12 continuing legal education sessions; presented at the Tax Institute four times; and has done legislative work for the bar.
He says it was an accident that he first got into teaching. The UM law school’s business transactions professor at the time had fallen ill and, knowing Willey had expertise in the subject, she asked if he could take over half of her class.
Since then, he said, he has filled in whenever there was a need.
He has taught real estate transactions, property, conflict of laws and business organization. He wrote the only Montana real estate transactions textbook.
He was nominated for the award by Randy Snyder.
“Chuck has always supported the state bar and past age 80 still contributes,” Synder wrote in the nomination letter. “He exemplifies professionalism and deserves our recognition.”
Snyder’s nomination letter can be read online at https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/montanabar.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/AnnlMtg2015/Willey_Nomination_letter.pdf.