John Ferren

A longtime D.C. Court of Appeals Judge, legal services advocate, and public servant, John Ferren grew up in Evanston, Illinois. He attended Harvard University, where he studied American history, and then proceeded to Harvard Law School.

After graduation in 1962, Ferren joined the Chicago law firm of Kirkland Ellis and quickly gained an interest in public interest law.  While in Chicago, he organized a group of sixteen lawyers to provide legal services to the poor through Legal Advice Clinics.  The first voluntary legal services program of its kind, the group grew to 200 lawyers and was reorganized and expanded as Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. Ferren’s work brought the attention of Harvard Law School faculty, who asked him to direct a new neighborhood legal office program in Cambridge, so that students could provide legal services to the low-income community.

Ferren joined the law firm of Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells) in 1970 to establish the Community Service Department (CSD), a department devoted to full time public interest lawyering. Under Ferren’s leadership, CSD took on significant representations including the Black Panther Party in an action against the D.C. Police, the NAACP which was appealing a large judgment imposed in a case involving a boycott of discriminating Mississippi merchants, and the OEO Community Action Agencies nationwide, which Nixon attempted to dismantle.

President Jimmy Carter nominated Ferren to the D.C. Court of Appeals in 1977.  During Ferren’s tenure on the Court, he continued to advance legal services for the poor. As an active ABA member, he chaired the Committee on Public Interest Practice. Additionally he chaired the D.C. Judicial Conference Committee on Civil Legal Services.

In 1997, Ferren was appointed Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia.  One of his cases sought to provide D.C. citizens the right to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Following his term as Corporation Counsel, Ferren returned to the D.C. Court of Appeals. In 2004, Ferren authored the book Salt of the Earth, Conscience of the Court. The Story of Justice Wiley Rutledge.  He retired in 2023. Enjoy the full version of Ferren’s interesting and extraordinary oral history here.