To help dedicated students afford law school, Miami lawyer Ira Leesfield has provided dozens of scholarships since 1994. Founding partner of Leesfield Scolaro in Miami, Leesfield benefited from scholarships in high school and college, and he felt compelled to give back.
“Without people being generous and concerned about me, I probably wouldn’t have gotten an education,” he said.
He started by repaying the group that gave him his college scholarship, and then he partnered with AAJ to create and endow the Leesfield/American Association for Justice Law Student Scholarship Program in 1994. This scholarship goes to law student members who exemplify a high commitment to trial advocacy and preserving the civil justice system. The scholarship, awarded at AAJ’s Annual Convention, gives recipients exceptional learning opportunities.
In 1997, Leesfield established the Florida Association of Women Lawyers (FAWL) Miami-Dade chapter scholarship fund, which helps exemplary women law students defray tuition and expenses. FAWL is a professional organization that promotes the advancement of women in the legal profession, and its members include lawyers, judges, and professionals in the business community.
The scholarship recipients often stay in touch with Leesfield—he said he still hears from the first AAJ scholarship recipient. “It’s incredibly rewarding, and it certainly makes you feel relevant,” he said. He noted that since both scholarships were established, several other firms have initiated similar scholarship support.
The Leesfield Family Foundation, established in 1990, supports other scholarship funds as well, including the Harold Foster Memorial Scholarship, Shepard Broad Law Center, Nova Southeastern University; the Thomas H. Henderson Jr. Endowed Scholarship, University of Alabama; the Daniel S. Pearson Scholarship and the Eileen G. Breier Scholarship Fund, University of Miami School of Law; and the Florence Griffith Joyner “Flo Jo” Scholarship Fund.
The foundation also contributes to the community in other ways, particularly causes that help the elderly, children, and women. “My mom was a single mom,” Leesfield said. She raised him and his two siblings, and he worked after-school and weekend jobs to help with expenses. Leesfield also said he believes it’s important to support smaller charitable groups, which often get passed over by large foundations.
“It would be inconceivable for me to go through my whole life and prosper as a lawyer and not give others the same opportunity,” Leesfield said. “Trial lawyers have a unique opportunity to work with people who are vulnerable, so it follows that they would have empathy for those in need. If you have more than what you need for a comfortable lifestyle, why wouldn’t you share it?”