John A. Scanelli, a 1972 graduate of William & Mary Law School, was honored with the Law School Association's 2012 Citizen-Lawyer Award during the Law School's graduation on May 13. The award, the Association's highest recognition, is given annually to a graduate or friend of the Law School who has made "a lifetime commitment to citizenship and leadership."
Association Board President Fernand A. Lavallee '88, a partner at DLA Piper in Washington, DC, presented the award to Scanelli. "The citizen-lawyer ideal," Lavallee said, "is the history and foundation of our Law School. We ask ourselves during our lives, 'am I making a difference?' This year's recipient makes a difference."
Scanelli took courses in tax and business law preparing to be an Air Force lawyer, but after graduation, with the reduction in American forces in Vietnam, he set his sights on a career in real estate law, working for a firm in Washington, D.C., and Norfolk. He then partnered with law school classmate Rand Shapiro '72 to establish the firm of Scanelli & Shapiro based in Norfolk. In the 1980s and 90s, he branched out into real estate investment. Meanwhile, John and his wife Brenda were developing their own model of the citizen-lawyer philosophy. Despite busy lives and two children, the couple capitalized on opportunities to help their community in multiple ways through the Boy Scouts, Brownies, Little League, and hospital auxiliaries.
The couple's newest venture, one that began with a 2002 trip to St. Kitts/Nevis Federation in the Leeward Islands, has led them to the avocation of a lifetime, one that continues to benefit countless people in the Caribbean. What began with a donation of 500 books to the burned-out library in a local home for abandoned and orphaned children has mushroomed into dozens of shipping containers filled with surplus or lightly-used technical and audio/visual equipment, books, desks, chairs, furniture, appliances, building materials, playground equipment, and much more. They have involved local businesses, both at home and on the islands, and military volunteers from local Norfolk bases for fundraising, in-kind contributions, and pro bono work. More than 30 schools and children's homes have benefitted as a result.
The concept of the citizen lawyer is rooted in Thomas Jefferson's original mission for the law school that he created in 1779 at the College of William & Mary. Jefferson and the man he recruited to establish the school, his mentor George Wythe, wanted students not only to be skilled practitioners of the law, but also leaders for the common good of their communities, states and nation.