Community Outreach

Keeping Education in Reach: Trial Lawyers Give Back in Louisiana

Each year, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) presents the Trial Lawyers Care Award to an exemplary AAJ member who serves the community and fosters positive relationships with the public through volunteer activities.

The 2017 honoree is attorney Jennifer Greene of New Orleans.

Jennifer Greene headshot

(Jennifer Greene, 2017 TLC Award Honoree)

In August 2016, devastating floods hit Louisiana, killing 15 people and displacing 30,000 others. All told, the state suffered losses of more than $10 Billion. Hardworking folks lost everything in the state’s worst disaster since Hurricane Katrina. Families watched as their belongings, including their children’s backpacks, literally floated out of reach.

In the immediate aftermath, attorney Jennifer Greene did not hesitate. She immediately began brainstorming with fellow attorneys about how to help. Replacing school supplies seemed important, and do-able. While families began the long process of rebuilding their homes and their lives, their children could at least be prepared to go back to school right away.

A colleague suggested the attorneys coordinate with Trial Lawyers Care. Once connected, they moved mountains in mere days.

Within two weeks, lawyers from across the country answered Jennifer’s call and a team of volunteers in New Orleans had unpacked and organized 800 boxes of school supplies and filled backpacks for hundreds of kids. Louisiana’s First Lady, Donna Edwards – herself a teacher – brought Jennifer’s volunteer effort together with Team Comeback Kids to get the backpacks distributed.

Every child who received one of Jennifer’s backpacks surely had a little bit easier time getting back to the normalcy of life.

 classroomflood(Flooding of schools in Louisiana, 2016)

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(School supply donations from trial lawyers over the course of two weeks)

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 10:18 pm in Charitable Foundations, Community Outreach, Disaster Relief, General, Good Lawyer Stories by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0

Giving Back in Boston

AAJ members will be busy in Boston next week, not only attending educational events at the AAJ Annual Convention, but also giving back to the local community. Please see below for a list of community service opportunities available to AAJ members in Boston.

On The Rise Service Project

AAJ Trial Lawyers Care Committee members will be volunteering at On The Rise (OTR) Saturday, July 22. Founded in 1995, OTR is a daytime resource and community for women in Greater Boston who are homeless or living in crisis. In a dignified home in Cambridge, Mass., OTR’s Safe Haven Program provides women with the essentials for daily survival (safety, clothes, food, showers) and builds trusting relationships that help women move beyond crisis toward greater well-being. The Saturday event is now full, but volunteers are needed to help purchase essential items to support the women at OTR. Items can be purchased directly from an Amazon wish list and shipped to OTR.

Donation Bins at Convention

Additionally, we are asking convention attendees to donate toiletries for OTR (including un-used or slightly used hotel amenities) in donation bins located in The HUB during exhibit hours. For those unable to attend a service project, this is a great way to still show your support for those in need.

Cradles to Crayons Service Project

The AAJ New Lawyers Division (NLD) will volunteer on Friday, July 21, from 9:00 a.m. to12:00 p.m. at Cradles to Crayons, an organization focused on providing clothing, school supplies, toys, and more to children in need.

The LGBT Caucus and Minority Caucus will also help at Cradles to Crayons. The two groups are joining forces to make the greatest possible impact for this amazing organization. The group will be at Cradles to Crayons from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, July 21.

Anyone who has attended a service project in the past can attest to what a great experience it is – helping out in the community while bonding with your fellow AAJ members.

All of the AAJ community service projects are also listed on the  AAJ 2017 Annual Convention website and app. If you have any questions or want to volunteer, please email marie.davignon@justice.org.

We look forward to seeing everyone in Boston and giving back to our host community!

Posted on July 14, 2017 at 7:51 pm in Community Outreach, Featured, General by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0

A Lawyer’s Job is to Help: Pickert is Jacksonville Lawyer of the Year

Alan Pickert, longtime partner at Terrell Hogan and AAJ member, is 2017’s Lawyer of the Year in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jacksonville Bar Association (JBA) and Daily Record chose Mr. Pickert as this year’s honoree, out of 2200 lawyers, because of his efforts both inside and outside of the courtroom. Pickert has been practicing law for 27 years, handling a wide range of personal injury cases for his firm.

He first became involved with JBA more than 20 years ago when he volunteered to join their work with the Special Olympics. Over the next two decades, Pickert became increasingly involved with both the JBA – joining their Young Lawyers Section, then the Board of Governors, eventually serving as president of the association – and with JBA’s philanthropic activities. JBA is heavily involved in the Jacksonville community. In addition to supporting the Special Olympics, the association is involved in projects ranging from aiding foster children to providing legal aid for the homeless to making it easier for Jacksonville kids to read classic literature.

Outside of JBA, Pickert is heavily involved with a nonprofit organization known as the HEAL Foundation which seeks to inspire, educate, and fund services for those affected by autism. In 2003, Pickert began representing clients with autistic children and soon became aware of the lack of programs available in the area for autistic children and families. Pickert, and a group of other determined individuals, helped create HEAL (an acronym for Heal Every Autistic Life) to fill that niche.

HEAL started as a small organization, but has grown to create an enormous impact within its community. The foundation’s first fundraiser earned just $400 net; over the past 10 years, it has raised almost $2 million. Fundraising efforts support summer camps, sports leagues, support groups, and educational seminars. The foundation also supplies iPads to aid in the education of non-verbal students and service dogs for those with special sensory needs.

Pickert has encouraged his own four children to get involved with the organization as well. He explained, “Helping the community has an altruistic effect, but also gives you great perspective in life – there is a big world out there.”

For lawyers, Pickert argues a different reason why they should get more involved in their communities and organizations like HEAL. “A lawyer’s job is to help people.” If a client contacts a lawyer, it is because he or she needs help in some way. “Volunteering is just taking what lawyers do in the office every day and extending it to the rest of the world.”

Learn more about HEAL at www.healautismnow.org and keep reading the Trial Lawyers Care website for information on other volunteer opportunities.

Posted on June 28, 2017 at 8:26 pm in Charitable Foundations, Community Outreach, General, Good Lawyer Stories by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0

Finding Closure for Victims of Tragic Fire

On February 20, 2003, a catastrophic fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, killed 100 people and injured more than 200 others. In May of this year, the surviving victims and their families came together to honor their memories at the opening of a memorial park.

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The Station Fire Memorial Park, standing on the same site as the catastrophic fire, was formally opened Sunday, May 21, at a gathering of 500 survivors, family members, and community leaders. In addition to multiple gardens and a courtyard, the one-acre park includes stone monuments inscribed with the names and birthdays of each victim.

The Station fire was the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history, with former Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri describing it as the “state’s worst tragedy.” As AAJ member and Rhode Island attorney Mark Mandell explains, “Rhode Island is a small state; there aren’t that many degrees of separation among its residents, and the fire just devastated Rhode Island and people from surrounding states as well.”

Mandell’s firm, Mandell, Schwartz, & Boisclair, Ltd., teamed up with other plaintiff firms to lead the litigation in the civil case surrounding the fire. The case served to provide a sense of closure that the victims and their families weren’t able to receive from criminal prosecution. The fire forever changed the lives of those involved; in a positive way, so did the lawsuit.

The opening of the memorial park is another step toward that closure.

Spearheaded by the Station Fire Memorial Foundation and a woman named Gina Russo, a client of Mandell’s who lost her fiancé and suffered severe injuries in the fire, the opening of the memorial park involved more than a decade of planning and difficult fundraising. In the end, several different groups came together to support the cause. The memorial park now serves as a beautiful place to remember those who were lost.

To make a donation toward continued maintenance of the Station Fire Memorial Park, please visit: http://www.thestationfirememorialfoundation.org/.

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Posted on June 27, 2017 at 1:48 pm in Charitable Foundations, Community Outreach, Disaster Relief, General by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0

Standing Up for Warriors

Trial Lawyers for Warriors is a nonprofit organization that assists U.S. special forces, including Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Green Berets, and Army Rangers — as well as other military personnel. P. Craig Morrow, senior partner at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett, & Haik in Opelousas, La., founded the organization.

Initially, he simply wanted to take some special operations personnel hunting and fishing with him to give them a break.

Morrow still takes military personnel hunting and fishing, but he also represents them pro bono and helps them and their families in other ways — such as buying plane tickets so that family members can be with their wounded warrior at a hospital.

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Now called the “Legal SEAL” by some special ops personnel, Morrow gained some clout when he stuck up for veterans at a town hall meeting about the Gulf Coast oil spill. Some veterans asked Morrow to attend, and he saw how they were being mistreated. “I almost didn’t stand up,” he said, but then he decided he needed to speak up. “I grilled this BP rep, and I got a standing ovation.”

Morrow has helped members of the military in various ways, including stopping predatory lenders from taking advantage of military personnel while they were away at war in Iraq and Afghanistan because they couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer; helping someone get his Purple Heart; defending a Marine who was falsely accused of a crime in Afghanistan; and drafting legal LLC documents to help people start their own companies.

“I felt that if these warriors were willing to sacrifice their lives and fight for our freedoms on the battlefield, then why shouldn’t I use my unique legal skills and help them in the legal battlefield we call the courtroom?” Morrow said. “I feel that trial lawyers have a unique skill set that we can and should use to protect and defend the warriors who protect and defend our way of life in America.”

Morrow represents some of the SEALs portrayed in the movies Lone Survivor and American Sniper. “They trust me, and I will say it was difficult at first because of the false propaganda spewed against our profession as trial lawyers,” Morrow said. “And I have personally witnessed a complete turnaround from countless military warriors that are now defending trial lawyers through social media.”

Morrow sees this chance to fight negative lawyer stereotypes as a secondary benefit of his efforts. “Trial Lawyers are in a helping profession, and, in my opinion, it is time to turn the tables and demonstrate that we are the good guys and not the people that our critics make us out to be.”

Trial Lawyers for Warriors has also collaborated with the organization Suiting Warriors to give veterans suits to wear to their first job interviews. “I was amazed at how almost none of our veterans had a nice suit to wear to a job interview,” Morrow said. “Who do you know that has more suits than trial lawyers?!”

“Founding Trial Lawyers for Warriors has given me an enormous sense of pride and inner peace in knowing that I am helping those who protect and defend our very freedoms — including the practice of law,” Morrow said.

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Learn more about this organization at www.triallawyersforwarriors.org.

Posted on June 26, 2017 at 4:46 pm in Charitable Foundations, Community Outreach, General, Good Lawyer Stories, Pro Bono by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0

Passion for Justice: Resources to Help Detained Immigrants

Policy changes under the new administration have led to a new and complicated immigration environment in the United States. One of the biggest effects we are seeing, is an increase in deportations and a lack of constitutional protections for detained immigrants. According to the American Immigration Council, less than 20 percent of detained immigrants in the US have legal counsel in their deportation proceedings.

Many AAJ members have expressed concerns over this new dynamic and asked how they can help. We’ve compiled a list of resources and volunteer opportunities below for anyone who would like to lend a hand or learn more about the issues.

Resources:

  • Through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), you can sign up to be a volunteer or mentor in specific legal areas and receive training specific to immigration cases.
  • AILA’s Immigration 2017 webpage is a one-stop-shop for legal and policy analyses of the recent executive actions on immigration.
  • AILA and the American Bar Association have teamed up to encourage lawyers to stop “Notario Fraud” – individuals who falsely represent themselves as qualified to offer legal advice, often taking advantage of immigrants. The Stop Notario Fraud website provides legal resources to help prevent fraud at both the federal and state levels. They also provide resources for attorney and law enforcement and training materials including recorded webinars.
  • Stay up-to-date on legal and political actions related to immigration with AILA’s Immigration Politics Ticker.

Volunteer Opportunities:

  • The Immigration Advocates Network has a Pro Bono Resource Center with a state-by-state map of organizations looking for pro bono volunteers and a calendar of upcoming trainings by state.
  • Advocates for Human Rights has a volunteer program with details on their take action page.
  • Volunteer opportunity in Georgia: The 1,800-bed Stewart Detention Center (run by private prison company CoreCivic) in Lumpkin, Georgia, is one of the largest – and most underserved – immigration detention centers in the country. The Detention Watch Network has written this report on this notorious facility, as part of its “Expose and Close” campaign. Volunteer lawyers will be doing intake, case/litigation prep, and bond hearings. Contact AILA for more information.
  • Volunteer opportunity in Texas: The Dilley Pro Bono Project needs volunteers to help represent detained immigrant children and their mothers – most of whom have fled horrific violence in Central America – at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX. The detention of these families is a shameful policy, and AILA has been at the forefront of advocacy to end family detention once and for all. Resources and background information on this fight can be found here. More than 20,000 children and mothers have been represented through the volunteer efforts in Dilley. If you are interested in volunteering, please email the project’s volunteer coordinator Crystal Massey at crystal@caraprobono.org. To learn more about additional opportunities to volunteer at a second family detention center in Karnes, TX, please see the CARA Family Detention Project

Thank you for your support!

Posted on June 15, 2017 at 1:40 pm in Charitable Foundations, Community Outreach, Featured, General, Pro Bono by Marie D'Avignon - RSS 2.0

Giving Back to Los Angeles #AAJinLA

Los Angeles2While in Los Angeles for their annual convention, member groups from the American Association for Justice will spend some time volunteering at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Teams of volunteers from AAJ’s New Lawyers Division, Minority Caucus, and Trial Lawyers Care Committee will work at the food bank on Thursday, July 21; Saturday, July 23; and Monday, July 25.

“Food insecurity is a major public health issue that has reached crisis proportions in LA County,” says Jessica Hoerman, chair of AAJ’s Trial Lawyers Care Committee. “It is alarming and unacceptable that over 30% of Los Angeles County families will have difficulty putting food on their table every day. We look forward to taking time out from our convention to assist the Los Angeles Food Bank in distributing food to those in need.”

The Trial Lawyers Care Committee is comprised of lawyers who are working to build a team of attorneys across the country who are committed to the proposition of doing well by doing good, and who are fostering positive relationships with the public by serving and giving to others in need.

The lawyers associated with the American Association for Justice have a shared belief in making a difference within the communities where they live and work. Giving back locally during the annual convention where members gather for educational and networking opportunities reflects their beliefs. “We always look forward to pooling our resources to make a difference and get to know the community better,” Hoerman said.

During past conventions, AAJ lawyers have participated in many different community activities including donating books to elementary schools; providing books, blankets and stuffed animals to homeless children; donating school supplies to a community literacy program; cooking and serving meals in a summer community program; sorting food and bagging groceries at food banks; organizing canned food drives; building houses and cleaning parks; providing supplies at veterans shelters, and giving presentations at schools on the topic of ending distracted driving.

Posted on July 14, 2016 at 7:39 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

A Source of Support for Law Students

2016 Trial Lawyers Care Award recipient Ira Leesfield presents a scholarship to a law student.

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?”

Posted on July 13, 2016 at 6:59 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Driving the Message Home

As part of the Dori Slosberg Foundation’s driver education and safe teen driving program, Brian LaBovick of the LaBovick Law Group in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., speaks to local high school students every month about safe driving. He brings a legal perspective to the team that visits the schools and explains how one poor decision—involving DUI, texting, a passenger or other distractions—can affect a student’s life forever.

LaBovick speaks to the students as a father first and foremost, and as an attorney second. 

He explains that it is his job to ensure punishment for the driver who injures someone through distracted driving. He walks them through how their poor decisions can affect their families, and not just the families of the people they hurt. This could mean putting their own families in dire financial straits—including their college funds disappearing, their belongings and even their pets getting seized, and their wages getting garnished. “It takes no time to make a mistake in the car,” LaBovick said. “It’s important for them to understand that something that starts as a minor situation can quickly turn into a disaster. No one wants that for them.”

The team of presenters also brings together police and medical providers, and sometimes includes the victim of an accident, someone who has gotten out of jail after a DUI, a driving instructor, and a professional race car driver—who illustrates how dangerous it is to drive in everyday traffic. Driving on a typical street is more dangerous than driving a race car because of variables such as traffic flow and pedestrians to negotiate, LaBovick said. “We think it’s so easy that we don’t pay attention.”

The presentations have made progress. The number of accidents and deaths during prom has decreased for the schools the foundation has visited. The foundation has also made progress in pushing for safer driving laws, LaBovick said. The foundation’s mission is to educate the public and promote safe driving habits through the use of seat belts and the elimination of distracted driving (see dorisaveslives.org for more information).

LaBovick hopes that if the foundation can get its message across to students, it can help allow future generations to be safer on the roadways. He says that talking directly to the students has been rewarding. “When you donate money, you know it’s going to good use, but you don’t see it in the faces of the kids you help.”

[Editor’s note: LaBovick was a finalist for the American Association for Justice’s 2016 Trial Lawyers Care Award.]

Posted on at 6:40 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

15th Anniversary of 9/11

exhibit-case_2-articleSeptember 11, 2001, affected our country and all of us deeply. In 2001, the American Association for Justice organized a program to provide free legal help for 9/11 survivors. The program was called Trial Lawyers Care.

More than 1,100 lawyers donated their time and service to help 9/11 survivors apply for help from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Lawyers provided a combined total of more than 100 years of service on these cases. No lawyer took a fee for this work. The main objective was to give back to a community that was suffering.

On the 15th anniversary of 9/11 the American Association for Justice will once again call on members to volunteer—this time to save lives, by speaking with teens about how they can prevent distracted driving-related deaths.

In their law practices, trial attorneys see how distracted driving kills and injures a disproportionate number of teens. Motivated to save teen lives and reduce distracted driving, hundreds of lawyers have already reached nearly 300,000 teens across North America by giving End Distracted Driving (EndDD.org) presentations to school and community groups.

But we can do more. Saving lives by promoting accountability and safety is a mission that trial lawyers embrace every day. With AAJ and EndDD working together, making school presentations in September, we can promote additional conversation in the community that can make a difference.

To sign up as a 15th anniversary volunteer, please visit http://www.enddd.org/AAJ.  

Posted on May 24, 2016 at 7:52 pm in Community Outreach by kloiacono - RSS 2.0