The Distinguished Service Award was established in 1997 to recognize graduates of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who have distinguished themselves in service to their communities and the school in ways far exceeding traditional business, professional, and civic duties. Through their hard work, passion, and accomplishments, these alumni define Indiana Law's ideals for community service and serve as accomplished role models for our Law School and the greater community.
The Distinguished Service Award
2020 DSA recipients
- Jay Chaudhary, '09
Director, Division of Mental Health and Addictions
Indiana Family and Social Services Administration
- Sonia Miller-Van Oort, '97
Founding Member and the Chief Manager
Sapientia Law Group PLLC
- Lisa A. Powell, '84
- Alonzo Weems, '95
Vice President and Deputy General Counsel
Eli Lilly & Company
Jay Chaudhary, '09
Jay is this year's recipient of the school's Young Alumni Distinguished Service Award. He serves as director for the Division of Mental Health and Addictions with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. Prior to joining the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, he served as managing attorney and director of medical Legal Partnerships for Indiana Legal Services.
During his time with Indiana Legal Services, Jay developed a medical-legal partnership between Indiana Legal Services and Eskenazi Midtown Community Mental Health Center that began on a part-time basis and later turned it into a full-time, multi-lawyer program. For his dedication to this partnership, Jay received the Innovation Award from ARC of Indiana. In 2015, the partnership between Indiana Legal Services and Eskenazi Midtown Community Mental Health Center received the Outstanding Medical Legal Partnership award from the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership. Jay currently serves as a board member for the Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition and the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Commission. His level of engagement with the mental health community and energy that he puts into his work set an example for all of our recent graduates.
Sonia Miller-Van Oort, '97, has spent her legal career in Minneapolis, where she focuses her practice on a variety of litigation cases involving commercial disputes, product liability cases, non-competition matters, breach-of-contract cases, franchise disputes, and more. She began her career at Flynn Gaskins & Bennett and later joined Faegre & Benson, now known as Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath.
In 2011 after more than a decade of working at large law firms, she co-founded Sapientia Law Group where she is currently chief manager. One of the few minority owned and women owned law firms in the Midwest, the firm conducts more than half of its client business with an alternative fee structure. Driven by a desire to make a change in the way law firms work, Sapientia Law is still going strong.
Sonia is well-known for her skill as an attorney and for her service to the community. She was named a “Rising Star” by Minnesota Law and Politics in 2005, 2006, 2008, and a “Super Lawyer” in 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2007–2008, she was elected the 89th president of the Hennepin County Bar Association (one of the 15 largest county bar associations in the country), serving as the Association’s first Hispanic president and the second-youngest president in its history. In 2017 she served as the Minnesota State Bar Association’s first Hispanic bar president. Sonia also has a history of serving the Law School. She was a member of the Alumni Board from 2003–2009 and is a founding member of the Latino Alumni Advisory Board.
Lisa Powell, '84, is a partner at Fisher Broyles in Houston. She is an experienced trial lawyer who represents clients in disputes in all types of settings: state and federal courts; bankruptcy courts; and arbitral tribunals, both domestic and international. She also helps clients mitigate and avoid risk before formal disputes arise. Prior to joining Fisher Broyles, she spent many years with the firm Jackson Walker. Lisa is very involved with the Texas and Houston Bar Foundations and is currently co-chair of the Houston Network of Women. At the Law School, Lisa is the immediate past president of the Law School’s Alumni Board, and now serves on its executive committee, where we continue to benefit from her counsel. During her twelve years on the Alumni Board, we have always been able to count on Lisa to give thoughtful counsel and guidance to students and to provide steady and measured analysis to our board and its activities.
Alonzo Weems, '95, is vice president and deputy general counsel of Eli Lilly and Co., where he oversees Lilly’s corporate legal functions including litigation, human resources, commercial transactions, regulatory and privacy, and serves as general counsel for the company’s global biomedicines business unit. Having spent most of his career with Lilly, he has held several positons within the company including general counsel and corporate secretary for Eli Lilly Canada and director of global workforce diversity among others. In addition to his demanding corporate duties, Alonzo is active in many ways. From 2000-2006, he served as a member of the State Board of Law Examiners, serving as the president from 2005-2006. He is past chair of the Indiana State Bar Association's Diversity Committee and serves on the boards of the International School of Indiana and Early Learning Indiana. In 2018 he was named by Savoy magazine of one of the most influential Black lawyers in the United States.
Alonzo's service to the school has been long-standing and remarkable. He served on the Alumni Board from 1996-1999; is a founding member of the BLSA Alumni Advisory Board where he served from 2003-2005 and rejoined the board in 2015. And in 2019 he joined the Law School’s Board of Visitors. In addition to his time serving on boards, Alonzo also works closely with our development office in the role of corporate solicitor at Lilly. He is also known as a go-to mentor and advisor to all of our students.
- The nature of the service rendered by the nominee may include, but is not limited to: exemplifying the spirit of volunteerism, furthering humanitarian causes; rendering pro bono services in the nominee’s area of expertise; serving with distinction on community-based boards; actively fostering citizenship; or serving his or her community, state, or country in some exceptional and distinctive manner.
- The nominee must have received a degree from the IU Maurer School of Law.
- The nominee must agree to be present at the award ceremony.
- Current officers of the Indiana Law Alumni Board (President, President-Elect, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer) are not eligible for this award.