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In an awards ceremony last week that drew U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye was the culmination of a personal and professional crusade for the honoree Nora von Stange, a commercial litigation associate at Philadelphia-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Von Stange was honored with this year’s Abely Award, co-sponsored by Columbia Law School and New York’s Davis, Polk & Wardwell and presented for distinguished pro bono work on behalf of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, a division of Sanctuaries for Families. The child custody case von Stange argued in Bronx Family Court was a complex jurisdictional matter involving sometimes conflicting laws of New York and Kentucky and federal statutes covering military households. The case took more than a year to win for her client, a woman who fled from a man that Judge Tandra Dawson ultimately found culpable for child sexual misconduct and spousal abuse. Toward the end of the long struggle, von Stange was diagnosed with breast cancer. “But she saw [the case] through to its conclusion,” said John M. Vassos, a partner in Morgan Lewis’ litigation practice group. “I’m not sure most people could have.” “I was just so sure that if we just kept plugging away at it we’d win,” von Stange said in an interview. “I never missed a [court] session, even through chemotherapy and radiation. One battle sort of energized the other.” She added, “I would have gone into court on a stretcher if I’d had to.” Von Stange made a successful recovery. The award she received Thursday was named for the late Maryellen Abely, a young Davis Polk associate and Columbia Law alumnus who died in 1995 after a long bout with cancer. Earlier this year, von Stange was honored by her own firm, as first recipient of Morgan Lewis’ Maris Rogdon Pro Bono Services Award. The late Ms. Rogdon, much involved in the firm’s pro bono program, died unexpectedly in late 2001. LATECOMER TO THE LAW Von Stange, 52, and her husband Gary, 46, became lawyers relatively late in life. In 1991, the couple were living with their two children in Killington, Vt. “I was a stay-at-home mom, and Gary was basically a musician, but he taught school, too, and was involved in real estate,” said von Stange. One of those real estate deals netted the couple a $200,000 nest egg. Von Stange said, “Things were going maybe too smoothly.” That was certainly her husband’s view. Mr. von Stange was determined to become a lawyer after his experiences drafting real estate documents, and successfully representing himself in a Vermont traffic court in the matter of a hefty speeding ticket. He thought his wife should become a lawyer, too, and suggested they blow the nest egg on schooling. “She was worried about the money,” said Mr. von Stange, clerk for Judge Cecelia Morris of the Southern District Bankruptcy Court. “So I drew up spreadsheets to show the financial impact of us both coming out of law school under three scenarios — good, average and below average. We went to a Chinese restaurant, spreadsheets and all, and talked it over.” FORTUNE COOKIE But it was the fortune cookie at the end of the meal that decided the course of the future for Ms. von Stange, the cookie her husband swore he did not arrange — the one that read, “You would make a good lawyer.” The family left Vermont and lived rent-free for three years in a guest cottage at the Huntington, L.I., home of Mr. von Stange’s parents. During their three years of law school at Hofstra, Ms. von Stange gave birth to a son. Mr. von Stange said of his wife, “Nora runs marathons, you know. She runs very slowly, but she always finishes.”

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