Reaching out to Students to Help End Distracted Driving

The following post is from AAJ President Burton LeBlanc:

I was honored to accompany fellow trial lawyer Joel Feldman as he made his first End Distracted Driving presentation Friday in Louisiana – my home state – at my high school alma mater, the Louisiana State University Laboratory School (U-High).

Joel, whose daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver in 2009, came to U-High to speak to an auditorium packed with 10-12thgraders about the dangers of distracted driving. It was an incredible experience to watch him speak candidly with the students, giving them information that will empower them to make safer choices as drivers and to feel confident when they need to speak up for their own safety as passengers.

Student and teacher as "son" and "parent" in role-playing demo.

Joel and his wife Dianne established the Casey Feldman Foundation and a nationwide effort, called, to end distracted driving through education and awareness. Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered to speak at their local schools and community groups using the EndDD presentation that Joel developed with scientists and traffic safety experts who specialize in behavior change theory and teen persuasion.

AAJ President Burton LeBlanc speaks at U-High student presentation

Louisiana is the latest in a growing list of state trial lawyer associations that are working with to help encourage and facilitate presentations in communities with local attorneys. At this point, lawyers throughout North America have given thousands of presentations, touching more than 100,000 lives.

Joel Feldman hold's daughter Casey's photo

Joel’s work to honor his daughter and improve the lives of families across the country through this safe driving campaign is inspirational. I am proud of Joel and all the members of the American Association for Justice who have volunteered thousands of hours of their time to save lives.

I thank them not only in my capacity as president of the American Association for Justice, but as a father of four daughters.

I look forward to doing everything I can to help Joel succeed in his mission to make our communities safer by ending distracted driving.

If you would like to learn more about how to get involved and make a presentation in your community, please visit


Posted on September 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

San Francisco Lawyer Protects Environment and Elders

Ingrid Evans

Ingrid Evans of The Evans Law Firm works to protect elders against financial and physical abuse both inside and outside of the courtroom. Inside the courtroom, Ms. Evans specializes in elder law and works some cases pro bono. Outside of the courtroom, she educates elders on abuse issues that may affect them.

“I believe that the best way to stop elder abuse is to educate seniors about it,” says Ms. Evans. To provide seniors with this education, Ms. Evans frequently speaks to local senior organizations and nursing homes. She teaches these groups about how to protect themselves from elder financial and physical abuse. She has also authored pamphlets on the same subjects.

To protect elders from abuse, Ms. Evans has also written legislation that has been enacted into law. She has testified before California senate and congressional committees and the Department of Insurance and organized victims to testify before a United States Senate subcommittee on issues involving the protection of senior citizens.

As a former San Francisco Deputy City Attorney, Ms. Evans realized that elder abuse was widespread. “The issues of elder abuse are important to me because I see so many people that are fragile and potential victims, I want to help protect them and fight for them.” Ms. Evans spends about 10 percent of each week giving pro bono advice to victims of elder abuse.

Ms. Evans was recognized as a finalist for California Consumer Attorney of the Year in 2009 and 2012 for her work on cases to resolve the issue of living trust mills and the sale of deferred annuities to seniors. She took this issue head-on, bringing national attention to and starting litigation against trust mills and insurance companies that supported living trust mills and other practices to increase their sales of deferred annuities.

Besides elder abuse protection, Ms. Evans is also passionate about environmental protection.

“Environmental issues have always been important to me because I grew up doing a lot of hiking and kayaking and have seen how devastated the environment can get when we don’t protect it. I love San Francisco Bay and the Bay Area and I want to see it protected for future generations,” says Ms. Evans.

This love of the San Francisco Bay led Ms. Evans to host three to four parties in previous years to raise money for Save the Bay. Today, she admires the San Francisco Bay from her office window and makes charitable donations to organizations that work to protect the environment.

“I have done a lot of pro bono work for elder abuse protection and environmental issues because protecting the public and fighting for the underdog is something I care about. The protection of people and the environment has become my passion,” says Ms. Evans.

Posted on September 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Jacksonville Lawyer Investing in the Next Generation


Shantel McClain, Wayne Hogan, Mayor Brown, Ebony Payne-English, Christian Theadford

Jacksonville, Fla., attorney Wayne Hogan hopes that his effort to invest in the youth of the city is one that is emulated by other business and civic leaders for years to come. This summer, Hogan donated $35,000 to the city’s Summer Night Lights (SNL) program that operates anti-crime, anti-violence learning initiatives for youth ages 13 -21 in select city parks each summer.

“These children need opportunity. If we provide opportunity they can make their way in the world. It makes me feel great to know that we have helped to impact their lives, helped to make their lives better, and in that way, helped to make Jacksonville a better city,” said Hogan in an interview he did to promote the SNL program.

During an end-of-summer celebration for the parks, Mayor Alvin Brown recognized Hogan’s commitment.

“We work very hard to invest in the next generation through quality programs,” Mayor Brown said. “We also are stronger when we work together. So it is my hope that Wayne’s commitment will serve as an inspiration to others in the community.”

As an agency partner in the SNL initiative, Sheriff John Rutherford also commended Hogan’s efforts. “As a long standing partner in public safety, I would like to thank Wayne Hogan for stepping up and personally ensuring that this important crime prevention program occurred this past summer,” Rutherford said.

”Because these SNL programs work, and because they have proven effective, I am sure more businesses and civic groups will support them, so we can help even more kids next year,” Hogan said.


Posted on at 4:15 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Helping Adults with Developmental Disabilities Achieve Independence

Sail Housing residents with Michele Smith (back row, R), who brought Sail Housing from idea to reality.

When Attorney Michele Smith of Johnson Johnson Larson & Schaller PC was looking to help her autistic son achieve adult independence after high school, she was disappointed to find that no suitable, sustainable housing options for adults with developmental disabilities existed in her community. She turned this disappointment into a non-profit organization that transformed into Supporting Access to Independent Living (SAIL) Housing.

Nationwide, nearly 60% of all adults with developmental disabilities continue to live with a family member throughout their adulthood. Many could successfully live independently, but do not get an opportunity to learn due to a lack of affordable housing that also provides a supportive learning environment. Without meaningful opportunity, many of these adults become increasingly dependent on family, and then can face overwhelming challenges when their aging family member is no longer able to house or care for them.

SAIL Housing’s mission is “to advocate for and promote sustainable housing for persons with developmental disabilities in a life enriching environment that fosters dignity and independence.”

Ms. Smith has volunteered more than 500 hours annually to this cause because she believes, “Meaningful participation, creative collaboration, and giving back are important for a community to thrive, and a thriving and interactive community benefits everyone.”

In January 2012, SAIL Housing opened Willakenzie Crossing in Eugene, Oregon, in partnership with Metropolitan Affordable Housing Corp. Willakenzie Crossing is a new affordable housing complex with 16 apartments reserved for residents with developmental disabilities. SAIL Housing has developed and maintains a collaborative and supportive community that involves residents, families, personal service providers, and agency case management. SAIL Housing also coordinates skills classes, activities, and events designed to promote self-determination and independence in living.

“We are witnessing individual successes at Willakenzie Crossing that go well beyond expectations in the areas of independent living, education, work, and resident participation in the community.  These are capable and wonderful adults who want nothing more than to continue to learn, and succeed in living enriched and independent lives. They are motivated and working very hard,” says Ms. Smith. “I firmly believe it is incumbent on every person to find some meaningful way to help their community, however small or large.”

Posted on August 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Motley Rice Assists Lowcountry Nonprofits and Residents

Anti-terrorism and human rights lawyer Michael Elsner paints the Shaw Community Center.

Headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, the Motley Rice firm gives employees the opportunity to get out of the office or go beyond the courtroom, and get out into the community. This year, more than 80 employees left their desks to participate in the firm’s third annual ProjectGo! Community volunteer program.

Their time was spent helping groups in need throughout the Lowcountry. This year, that meant helping East Cooper Meals on Wheels, Lowcountry Food Bank, Pet Helpers, Shaw Community Center, Trident Habitat for Humanity and Charleston Parks Conservancy at Elliotborough Park and Community Garden, Cannon, and Simonton Parks.

Volunteers at the Lowcountry Food Bank assembled more than 300 emergency relief boxes that will be distributed to those who come to the food bank with immediate needs. Earlier in the day, this same group of Motley Rice employees delivered dozens of meals to the homebound through East Cooper Meals on Wheels.

Ruddian Duggins, Susan Williams & Danielle Heck assemble relief boxes at the Lowcountry Food Bank.

Volunteers at the Charleston Parks Conservancy sites helped with beautification efforts at Simonton Park, Cannon Park, and Elliotborough Park and Community Garden, where they created planters for vegetables and handled maintenance needs. On both days at Pet Helpers, employees helped with landscaping projects, cleaning, socializing pets, and even constructing an animal obstacle course. Shaw Community Center put its volunteers to work painting interior walls, and the firm’s volunteer crew in Summerville worked with Trident Habitat for Humanity on a home being constructed for a local citizen in need of housing.

Motley Rice attorneys Hayleigh Stewart, Meghan Johnson Carter, & Carmen Scott clean up Simonton Park.

“It’s been exciting to watch ProjectGO! continue to grow and develop into a highly anticipated annual event for our employees,” said Michael Elsner, chair of the firm’s Charitable Giving Committee. “Going into the community and giving back through hands-on projects has proved not only beneficial for the organizations but also rewarding for our employees. We hope more companies will be encouraged to adopt similar projects for employees to encourage year-round volunteerism and build relationships within the community.”

The firm’s Charitable Giving Committee is already planning for ProjectGO! 2014. Visit to learn more about the organizations the firm has helped and how you or your not-for-profit can get involved.

For more information about the firm’s Charitable Contributions Committee, contact Motley Rice member Michael Elsner (NY, SC, VA) at 1.800.768.4026.

Posted on August 2, 2013 at 9:11 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Lawyers by Day, Rock Stars by Night

By day, they are lawyers at JSS Barristers, a litigation boutique law firm in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. By night, they are the Advo-Cats, a rock band that performs exclusively to raise money for charity.

“The Advo-Cats started purely for our own fun,” explains lead singer Oliver Ho. “We take pride in the fact that we are a band that is able to give back to the community…we take less pride in our actual musical abilities as a band.”

The name of the band is a nod to JSS Barristers’ specialty, which is almost all areas of civil litigation. This is commonly described as advocacy work, hence the name the Advo-Cats.


Leading the band and the firm is partner Glenn Solomon on drums. He is joined onstage by Oliver Ho on the keyboard and singing lead vocals, Darren Reed on guitar and vocals, bassist Geoff Boddy, and guitarists Simon McCleary, Vincent Light, and Micah Chartrand.

Photo courtesy of

The band formed in 2011 and performed for charity for the first time in February 2012 at the Rock for Dimes Battle of the Corporate Bands in support of March of Dimes Canada. Ahead of the band’s debut, the Advo-Cats invited everyone at JSS Barristers, friends, clients, and contacts to buy tickets, donate, or sponsor the band. Partner Glenn Solomon donated 50 cents for every dollar donated by others to the cause. Sponsorships offered perks including tickets to the show, limited edition band t-shirts, and having your logo displayed on stage during the band’s set.

The JSS Barristers Advo-Cats have also entertained the crowd at a fundraiser for the Between Friends Club with over three hours of continuous music. They won the Battle of the Bar Bands, a fundraiser for Alberta Lawyers’ Assist, and took home awards for most funds raised and most corporate sponsors. Between these three shows in 2012, the Advo-Cats raised approximately $75,000.

Members of the band have their own reasons for joining, but the consensus is that “the practice of law can be demanding on one’s life, and having a musical outlet is a great stress-relief.  Supporting the community is an honor and a duty, and this particular activity combines our passion for music and the community.” For Mr. Ho, who was enlisted by drummer, Managing Partner, and his boss Glenn Solomon, it was also based on logic – “Everyone knows that when your boss asks you to sing in his band, you agree.”

The Advo-Cats are all about enjoying making music, entertaining the audience, and raising money for charity.

Photo courtesy

“JSS Barristers has always emphasized a culture of graciousness to others, gratitude for our good fortune, and service to the community.” The Advo-Cats is just one way the firm achieves this.

While living the rock star dream is fun, the band members have all decided to stick to their day jobs and reserve their musical talents for charity fundraisers.

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 10:37 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Michigan Auto Law has College Rivalry Benefit Community

“We are proud to be lawyers who help people. That is what we do. And giving back is just one more way that we can live and demonstrate our values. It is why we became people lawyers, not insurance company lawyers,” says Attorney Steven Gursten, head of Michigan Auto Law.

As attorneys who specialize in automobile accidents, the firm participates in initiatives to promote and improve safety. They also make donations and do public service work that improves the lives of members of their community.

While the firm takes giving back to the community seriously, they also like to have fun with it. Most of Michigan Auto Law’s attorneys received their undergraduate or law degree from the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. The firm takes the big in-state rivalry games in football and basketball seasons as an opportunity to promote firm spirit and make donations to a good cause.


“We turn this rivalry into a fun event for the entire office,” explains Mr. Gursten. “The rivalry concludes with a charity donation.”

Attorneys from the losing school donate to a charity chosen by the attorneys from the winning school. The most recent contribution was made to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The attorneys also make a point to also reach out to students. Seeing the serious consequences of distracted driving in their work, the attorneys take time to speak at high schools and colleges throughout Michigan. They educate these students on the dangers of distracted driving, texting while driving, and driving while impaired.

Another way the lawyers of Michigan Auto Law help people is by volunteering their time at local food banks. At least once a year, the lawyers make food donation packages to be distributed throughout the state. They packed 4,182 pounds of fresh produce for Forgotten Harvest, a non-profit organization that distributes the food to 250 emergency food providers in Michigan. The firm also contributed to the 46 million pounds of emergency food that Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan was able to distribute to 600 soup kitchens, shelters, and pantries. In addition, Michigan Auto Law has made financial donations to fight hunger.

The attorneys at Michigan Auto Law feel strongly about improving the safety of our roads. In metro Detroit, along Interstate-75 between 14 Mile Road and Rochester Road, lies a two-mile stretch of highway that has been adopted by Michigan Auto Law as a part of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program. The firm visits its section of highway several times each year to pick up the trash and make this busy stretch of highway safer.

Mr. Gursten emphasizes, “It’s important to show that lawyers are different from the terrible stereotypes that we often see today. We really care and really want to help people,” and the attorneys at Michigan Auto Law are doing just that with their many charitable efforts.

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Standing Up to Big Industries: The Pro Bono Cases of Vince Powers

When Project Extra Mile, a network of community partnerships working to prevent underage drinking, sought to have alcopops classified as distilled spirits, they knew opposing the alcohol industry would be challenging, so they enlisted the assistance of Vince Powers of Vincent M. Powers & Associates.

“Not one to shy away from controversy, Vince guided Project Extra Mile through the legal terrain around a highly contentious issue that some of the state’s highest officials were fighting to protect.  Vince was committed and undeterred, walking side-by-side with us against a very powerful industry,” says Nicole Carritt, Executive Director of Project Extra Mile.

The sweet, fruity alcopop appeals to youth, but is also full of hard liquor. With alcopops not classified as liquor, the alcohol industry benefits by being able to have the price compete with that of beer instead of hard liquor and allowing them to be sold by a greater number of vendors across the state. This allows the industry to create greater access to the products and to market the drink to youth, a price-conscious group with less disposable income.

In March 2012, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Lancaster County District Court that classified alcopops as distilled spirits.

Classifying alcopops as distilled spirits requires the industry to pay higher taxes on the drinks, which will raise the price to the consumer. Statistics show that 26 percent of alcohol sold in Nebraska is consumed by underage persons. Project Extra Mile and Mr. Powers’ victory will limit this group’s access to alcopops. After the ruling, the Governor rushed legislation that restored the alcohol industry’s tax break. Many other states applauded the Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, and will use it as a model as they work to address alcopops.

Vince Powers receives award from Project Extra Mile for his work in the alcopops case.

Mr. Powers says he took this case pro bono because Project Extra Mile was “being treated shabbily by the Governor and some state senators when they tried to get the Legislature to tax alcopops according to Nebraska law and I was confident I could prevail. Unfortunately, the legislature and Governor undid the Supreme Court’s decision by changing the law to benefit the industry and harm the taxpayers.”

Mr. Powers handles pro bono cases to make sure “that folks get a fair shake.” In a recent pro bono case, he obtained a restraining order to stop a deed of trust sale for an elderly couple who had been cheated by the mortgage company, allowing the couple to remain in their home.

“I make a good living because of the law,” says Mr. Powers. “The taxpayers provide the courthouse, the judges, the juries, and the staff – so it’s important to repay the community.”

Ms. Carritt expresses the gratitude of Project Extra Mile, “Vince saw the injustice to Nebraska’s children clearly and fought ardently for the appropriate classification of the products. He will forever be remembered for his commitment to social justice.”

Posted on July 9, 2013 at 7:09 pm in Community Outreach, General, Pro Bono by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

West Virginia New Lawyers Raise Money for Covenant House

Jon Mani, WVAJ Board; Taylor Downs NLD chair; Bernie Layne WVAJ Pres.; Ellen Allen, Exec Dir, Covenant House; Ed Weber, President, Cov. House

The West Virginia Association for Justice New Lawyers Division raised $11,550 during its spring community service project for Charleston’s Covenant House.

“For more than 30 years Covenant House of Charleston has provided an important safety net for some of the most vulnerable families and individuals in the Kanawha Valley,” said Taylor Downs, chair of the WVAJ New Lawyers Division and lawyer with Manchin Injury Law Group in Fairmont. “It provides food, clothing, housing assistance and a safe place to stay for people who have nowhere else to turn for help.”

The New Lawyers Division—for members who have practiced law 10 years or less—formed in early 2013. For its inaugural service project, the group selected to raise money for Covenant House. The lawyers saw a similarity between the work of Covenant House and that of plaintiff trial lawyers:  giving voice to the voiceless.

“Covenant House’s leaders are important advocates on behalf of the people they serve, giving them a voice when policy decisions are made at the local, state and national level. In that sense, they are very much like the members of WVAJ,” said Downs. “Our members ensure that any West Virginian, regardless of status or income, has a voice and an advocate in our courtrooms—even when taking on the most wealthy and powerful.”

The New Lawyers Division would like to find additional ways to assist Covenant House in the future.

“We stand in awe of this generous gift and will use it toward the stewardship of social justice for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Ellen Allen, executive director of Covenant House.  “We thank the WVAJ New Lawyers Division for their commitment to supporting and giving back to their community.  We could not meet the needs of the homeless and working poor without such contributions.”


Posted on at 4:08 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Washington County Lawyers Support All in Tennessee

The belief that indigent and low income individuals should have equal access to our court systems has led to grass roots efforts by Washington County, Tennessee, lawyers to connect with the general public. The Saturday Clinic, General Sessions Court project, and Pro Se Domestic Project have proved successful and continue to grow and expand throughout the state.

Tony Seaton of the Law Offices of Tony Seaton, PLLC along with trial lawyers McKenna Cox and Matt Bolton started the initiatives in October 2009. After learning to be a trial lawyer through pro bono work, Mr. Seaton had a desire to help people who cannot afford the legal services they need.  Mr. Seaton now volunteers his expertise to those who cannot afford legal services at least eight hours per month, which he considers “one of the most rewarding things I have accomplished as a lawyer.”

The Saturday Clinic establishes a set place where clients can find lawyers and paralegals ready to offer free and basic advice about bankruptcy, collection matters, divorce, eviction, foreclosure, and repossession. The Saturday Clinic is open for three hours, in which time approximately 40 clients are helped. This means that about 2,000 individuals have been helped during the Saturday Clinic so far.

Going to court without representation can be frightening because of the unknown, but in the Washington County (TN) General Sessions Court, attorneys from the Washington County Bar Association make it a little less nerve-wracking. A group of attorneys volunteer to speak with any unrepresented defendants who want their advice. They usually speak with 15-20 individuals each month.

The number of pro se litigants (litigants who represent themselves) in Washington County is high and rising. A partnership between attorneys and judges has established a monthly pro se domestic docket day. A domestic docket with many pro se litigants forces judges to play a balancing game of assisting without offering advice. Attorneys appear in court on the scheduled pro se docket day and assist the pro se litigants, benefitting all parties.

All of these initiatives fulfill a consistent need for pro bono services. Washington County serves as a model for counties across Tennessee. Everyone benefits from each of the projects and the trial lawyers are as eager to help as the individuals are to receive free assistance.

Mr. Seaton is on the statewide Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission and chairman of the subcommittee to establish free legal clinics throughout Tennessee. The commission has greatly contributed to the development of a telephone line offering legal information and referrals (1-888-alegalz), an email system for legal questions (, and a website for general legal information and court-approved forms ( Like the initiatives, all of these new services are free of charge.     

Attorney Seaton recently showed up in court to volunteer free legal services as part of the Access to Justice Initiative. A woman was being sued for credit card debt despite having fulfilled her obligations under a mutually agreed upon payment plan. The creditor attorney acknowledged that his company often sues even if there is a payment plan. Mr. Seaton pointed out that the judge would be equally as upset as his client if this case was presented, and the creditor attorney agreed to dismiss the claim.

“The next day I received one of the warmest and sincerest thank-you notes that I have ever received,” says Mr. Seaton. “It reminded me of why we do what we do.  We touch lives and serve people, partially out of a sense of obligation to our profession and our community.  Our state Supreme Court has initiated, encouraged, and enabled us to join hands to provide these programs.”

Posted on June 28, 2013 at 6:12 pm in Community Outreach, General, Pro Bono by kloiacono - RSS 2.0