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Akron Law faculty member receives Professionalism Award

Akron Law Clinical Professor Joann Sahl, who serves as director of the school’s reentry and civil practice clinics received the Akron Bar Association’s Bradford “Buck” M. Gearinger Professionalism Award on Oct. 11 at the Crown Point Ecology Center. (Photo courtesy of the Akron Bar Association).

Legal News Reporter

Published: December 2, 2022

When Joann Sahl became a member of the legal profession in 1986, she said she had one goal in mind, providing access to justice to low-income individuals.
It’s an objective she’s carried out in various capacities over the years, initially as a public defender and then as a legal aid attorney and currently as a faculty member at The University of Akron School of Law.
A clinical professor of law and director of the Akron Law Reentry and Civil Practice clinics, Sahl focuses on training students to provide legal services to underserved residents, while supervising the school’s participation in Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Expedited Pardon Project.
Her efforts at the law school earned the clinics’ recognition for its innovative programming and played a key role in her selection as the 2022 recipient of the Akron Bar Association’s Bradford “Buck” M. Gearinger Professionalism Award.
Established by the Akron Bar Association Board of Trustees in 1996, the annual award is given to a member of the legal profession who has gone above and beyond to uphold its standards by demonstrating integrity and concern in the community.
The name was changed to the Bradford “Buck” M. Gearinger Professionalism Award in 2018 in memory of the late attorney, who was a past bar president and award recipient.
“I was very surprised to learn I had been chosen and extremely humbled and excited when I received it,” said Sahl, who was presented with the accolade on Oct. 11 during a dinner ceremony at the Crown Point Ecology Center. “I consider it to be a significant achievement of my career.”
Akron Bar Association Professionalism Award Committee Chair Don Hicks said there’s never been a recipient like Sahl.
“I believe Joann Sahl is the first academic to ever receive this award,” said Hicks, a sole practitioner in Akron, who focuses on criminal defense matters. “Joann has a very unique history as an attorney. She has dedicated herself to the betterment of humanity and upholds the highest principles of justice and the foremost ideals of the bar.
“During her time as a public defender, she served as chief appellate counsel in the death penalty section of the Ohio Public Defender Commission,” said Hicks. “As a member of the faculty at the law school, she has labored with hundreds of volunteer law students in clinical settings to provide the homeless, victims of human trafficking, inmates on death row and untold others in the community with valuable and necessary legal services.”
Akron Law Dean Emily Janoski-Haehlen said there is no one “more deserving” of the award than Sahl.
“She is the very definition of a professional in legal practice and education,” said Janoski-Haehlen. “Her integrity, work ethic and concern for the students, her clients and the legal community make her the perfect recipient of this award.
“She is also committed to passing along her knowledge to students at Akron Law by training them to be professional, ethical, hard working and great attorneys,” said Janoski-Haehlen. “Frankly, she is just an all-around great attorney, colleague, professor, friend and person, and we are lucky to have her on the faculty at Akron Law.”
Sahl’s husband Joseph G. Miller Professor of Law Jack Sahl, who serves as Akron Law’s director of the Joseph G. Miller and William C. Becker Center for Professional Responsibility, said he was “absolutely delighted,” but not surprised about his wife’s selection.
“Joann is always involved in bar-related and public-spirited projects,” said Jack. “She devotes much time and energy to the law school, its clinics and our law students.
“She is a real role model for our law students and a great example for our children,” said Jack. “I’m very proud of her.”
Born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, Sahl received her bachelor’s degree in political science from The Ohio State University and her juris doctorate from Akron Law.
“I went to law school to help people because that’s what I thought lawyers did,” said Sahl. “My work has always involved providing legal assistance to underserved clients to help them achieve justice.”
Sahl began her legal career as an assistant state public defender at the Ohio Public Defender Commission.
In March 1990, she was promoted to chief appellate counsel in the death penalty section of the public defender commission, where among other things she supervised attorneys and law clerks handling direct appeals of capital cases in Ohio courts.
From Oct. 1992 to Aug. 1993, Sahl served as interim supervisor of the section. She then returned to her previous role as chief appellate counsel for the remainder of her time at the commission.
Afterward, she moved to Colorado, where she did contract work for a year.
Prior to joining Akron Law in Oct. 2008 as an assistant clinical professor of law and assistant director of the legal clinic, Sahl was a staff attorney in the housing units of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus and Community Legal Aid Services Inc. respectively.
In 2020, Sahl was awarded a C. Blake McDowell Professorship and promoted to clinical professor of law.
In her current roles as director of the reentry and civil practice clinics, Sahl oversees law students who represent low-income clients seeking pardons under the Ohio Expedited Pardon Project, certificates of qualification for employment, criminal conviction sealings and expungements as well as those with housing issues.
She previously taught appellate practice and procedure and currently serves as the community and pro bono public service co-coordinator at the law school, where she is responsible for ensuring that students meet their pro bono and volunteer graduation requirements.
From 2009 to 2015, Sahl was the site supervisor of the school’s Law and Leadership Institute, a statewide pipeline program that encourages minority and disadvantaged students to attend college and law school.
A longtime member of the Akron and Ohio State bar associations, Sahl served on the Akron Bar’s Board of Trustees and is currently the secretary of the Akron Bar Foundation Board of Governors.
In 2015, the Akron Bar Association presented her with its Liberty Bell Award.
She is also a former member and chair of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Appointment of Counsel in Capital Cases.
Sahl has been on numerous committees at the law school and is a current member of The University of Akron Institutional Review Board.
In 2019 she received Akron’s Law Outstanding Alumni Award and the previous year she was presented with the Law and Leadership Institute Award.
“I was not initially planning on working in academia, but I’m very thankful that is where I ended up,” said Sahl. “I find the work very satisfying and I’m so fortunate to be able to work with the law students and help train them. They teach me as much as I teach them and challenge me to be a better lawyer every day.”