Attorneys of Mercy

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Trial Lawyers Care launched on September 24, 2001, with a commitment to represent potentially thousands of victims. It required a great deal of hard work in a very short time.

Trial lawyers—whom MSNBC called “attorneys of mercy” in its coverage of the project—have always performed best in times of crisis, and the TLC effort proved this yet again.

As AAJ organized its resources, it tapped me to head up the effort. We knew that several state trial lawyer associations—most notably those in New York and New Jersey—were considering similar programs. We contacted their leaders, who agreed that resources should be joined in a single coordinated project. Shortly thereafter, the trial lawyer associations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia joined the effort.

Moving Quickly

On October 3, TLC was incorporated, with bar leaders from the states most affected by the terrorist attacks constituting the majority of its board. I was elected president.

TLC had no offices, policies, budget or staff. None of the officers or board members had ever run a pro bono program. The U.S. Department of Justice was beginning to formulate regulations to govern the compensation fund’s operation. Thousands of families were mired in overwhelming shock and grief, and some lawyers were beginning to solicit for-fee clients, claiming that victims who chose free legal services would “get what they pay for.” Given these challenges, TLC’s organizers knew that complete success was the only option.

TLC’s officers and board met frequently in the early months. Temporary space was allocated at AAJ headquarters, a preliminary working budget of $3.6 million was established, fund-raising plans were initiated and key AAJ employees were temporarily assigned to TLC while money was raised to hire staff. To get TLC started, the AAJ Executive Committee pledged $100,000, plus “bridge funding,” and the AAJ Habush Endowment provided a $100,000 grant. Other bar associations, notably those in Florida and Illinois, also made contributions, as did many individual attorneys.

The goal was to “open” for business by mid-October. On October 15, 2001, TLC officially launched its operations with a press conference in New York City, announcing a toll-free telephone number and an e-mail address for victim contacts.

–Larry S. Stewart, AAJ President 1994-95

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