2019 Joseph T. Houlihan Lifetime Mentor Award

07/03/2019 -Named for the late Joseph T. Houlihan who was known for his generosity of spirit and legal expertise in and out of the courtroom, the Joseph T. Houlihan Lifetime Mentor Award honors individuals who, during their careers, have consistently demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to successfully mentoring in the Rhode Island legal community. The Award recognizes an attorney who serves as a role model to other lawyers in Rhode Island and who has significantly contributed to the profession and/or the community, and those who, with their excellent counsel, have excelled as mentors and contributed to the ideals of ethics, civility, professionalism and legal skills.


Janet Gilligan, Esq., Deputy Director of Rhode Island Legal Services is honored with the Rhode Island Bar Association 2019 Joseph T. Houlihan Lifetime Mentor Award.  She received a BA from the University of Rhode Island in 1975 and her JD from the University of Maine in 1978. Janet began her legal career as a staff attorney at Rhode Island Legal Services.  Her practice was primarily in the Rhode Island Family Court in both domestic and child welfare cases.  In 1982, she directed a pilot project for the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office that led to the establishment of its Parental Rights Unit.  Janet went on to become a public defender in New Hampshire from 1983 to 1986. While in New Hampshire, she represented defendants in misdemeanor and felony cases before the New Hampshire District and Superior Courts.  She returned to Rhode Island in 1986 and worked as legal counsel for the Rhode Island Department for Children Youth and Families for several years.  She returned to Rhode Island Legal Services in 1990. Most of Janet’s legal work has involved representing victims of domestic violence and families involved in the child welfare system.  She has appeared in the Rhode Island Family and Supreme Courts. Janet frequently presents at Rhode Island Bar Association and Volunteer Lawyer seminars and has been a trainer with the national Center for Legal Aid Education, now the Shriver Center, since 1999.   She has been a trainer at a variety of legal practice trainings in Massachusetts, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Nevada, and the District of Columbia.  Janet is a member of the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Executive Committee and House of Delegates.  She also serves on the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee.  Janet is an adjunct faculty member at the Roger Williams University School of Law where she teaches family law.

According to RI Family Court Associate Justice Lia Stuhlsatz: “Her unwavering commitment to treating the client as a whole person, not just a fact pattern with an issue presented, informed all her advice. She was always available to answer every question, listen to the mock-cross examination, make suggestions and even come right over to the courthouse for any young lawyer who found him or herself in a bind or dilemma. Her endless patience and humor always restored and inspired. I must truly and humbly say that I would not be a judge today without the encouragement and guidance she afforded me. She is a one-of-a kind role model and one of the best and most generous trial lawyers in the state.”

According to RI Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith.: “Janet has unparalleled skill in the courtroom and this is agreed upon by most judges, attorneys and court staff.  She has mentored hundreds of Rule 9 student attorneys and licensed attorneys, and I am thankful to be one of them.  I can remember countless phone calls, texts and meetings where she would advise and counsel me, so I could then provide the best advice and counsel to my client. Even today, she remains as my top choice for advice, guidance and support. The best example of Janet Gilligan's consistent mentorship and service to others is this: an old and faded picture drawn many years ago by her daughter, now a public interest attorney in Brooklyn. It shows Janet at her desk and a line of people (presumably employees of Legal Services) out her door with the caption ‘Help, Janet! Help!’”