Massachusetts Lawyers Provide Helping Hands at Holiday Time

Massachusetts lawyers recently gathered in Boston to help hundreds of families in need. American Association for Justice member and Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) President Doug Sheff was among the more than three dozen MBA volunteers — officers, members, staff and their families — who set aside time the weekend before Thanksgiving Day to provide turkeys and a variety of food staples to 600 families.

The turkey drive is organized by Christmas in the City (CITC), a non-profit founded on the core values of giving to others and caring for our neighbors. Other CITC programs include an

Adopt- a-Family program to assist families transitioning from a shelter to their own home. CITC also assist homeless families to help them find employment, financial aid and legal advice, daycare and other help to get them back on their feet.

“Christmas in the City is an all-volunteer organization that helps thousands of families in need each year through its programs, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand during this year’s Turkey Drive,” said MBA President Douglas K. Sheff. “Whether through pro bono legal assistance or community service, volunteerism is built into our association’s DNA. This was natural fit for our attorney members.”

CITC Co-founder Jake Kennedy said, “[We] are very pleased each time we’re able to add new volunteers, because it means we’re able to increase our services to these courageous and deserving families. We look forward to a great partnership with the MBA.”

Posted on December 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Newtown, Connecticut: A Year Later

On a quiet Friday in December 2012, people nationwide started hearing reports of the tragic events shattering Newtown, Connecticut. By the end of that day, December 14th, we would learn that a gunman had killed 26 people — 20 of whom were children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After that devastating day, members of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association (CTLA) gathered over the next few weeks to make some decisions. They took the position that no lawyer should profit from handling legal issues stemming from the tragedy. They decided to provide free legal services to anyone who needed help, such as a worker injured by a bullet who needed to fill out a workers comp claim, or parents who needed to take the necessary legal steps to prohibit the use of their children’s photos in news stories.

Connecticut trial lawyers also raised more than $50,000 for two charities, the Newtown Memorial Fund and the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund*, the latter of which was created by the State of Connecticut for the first responders who might need help covering healthcare expenses related to the shooting.

“As this first anniversary approaches, The Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association continues to be available to those persons affected by the shooting,” says CTLA President Doug Mahoney.  “Several members of our Board of Governors reside in Newtown and as an organization we strongly support all who have been harmed by this senseless act of violence. We hope that the families of the victims and the people of Newtown can find some small measure of solace during this holiday season.”

* Donations can be made directly to the State Treasurer’s Office for the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund. To make a direct donation to the state, mail checks (with Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund in the memo line) to Office of the State Treasurer, 55 Elm Street, Hartford CT 06106.

The United Way of Western Connecticut has also been assisting in receiving contributions for the fund. Private donations are paying for the fund, not tax dollars. Donations can be made to the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund through the United Way of Western Connecticut. Anyone wishing to donate can visit


Posted on December 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm in Community Outreach, General, Pro Bono by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

The Phones Began to Ring: Help for Oklahoma Tornado Survivors

Members of the Oklahoma Association for Justice are working together on a campaign entitled, “Oklahoma Lawyers Care” to help victims of the devastating tornadoes that tore apart communities across central Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Lawyers Care was formed within an hour of the deadly May 20th tornado that left thousands of Central Oklahoma residents without homes and more than two billion dollars in damages in its wake. The OAJ Special Projects Committee decided to raise funds for the Red Cross, as they felt the Red Cross knew best how to assess the immediate and future needs of the victims, and how to effectively allocate resources.

Attorneys in Oklahoma and across the nation donated to the cause. Directors of other State Trial Lawyer organizations also sent funds. At this point, the Oklahoma Association for Justice has raised more than $60,000 for the Red Cross to use for Oklahoma tornado disaster relief.

The group didn’t stop there. The members wanted to do more. They knew families would need more than money, so the Special Projects Committee decided to open a virtual legal help center for the victims of the tornadoes.

In the days following the tornadoes, a website and 24-hour phone line was set up so that storm victims could call in for free, no-strings-attached legal advice. Within hours, the phones began to ring.

This line gives people access to real Oklahoma attorneys who can answer all types of legal questions. Questions may include things as simple as how to replace important documents such as birth certificates and social security cards. Thousands of people might need questions answered about processing insurance claims, questions about family medical leave (FMLA), federal disaster aid, tax relief, etc. Oklahoma Lawyers Care can help these victims find answers to these questions and more.

“The Oklahoma Association for Justice is made up of lawyers who live in communities and actively participate in those communities. The need to help those less fortunate following tragedies such as these is obvious, and our members have, once again, enthusiastically joined together to do their part,” said Past President, Bradley Gungoll.

More information is available at

OAJ recently received an award from the Oklahoma State Department of Human Services in honor of their volunteer efforts and community outreach projects. Just last August, the group raised approximately $60,000.00 to provide air conditioners to families across Oklahoma. OAJ is also involved in Lawyers Against Hunger, a group who has made national headlines with their community-based hunger relief efforts.


Posted on October 25, 2013 at 5:28 pm in Community Outreach, Disaster Relief, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Hope and New Perspective for Isolated Communities of India

Minneapolis lawyer Gale D. Pearson traveled with her family to Dehradun, India, to study the stigma of leprosy and work at a school established for educating children of people with the disease. It was a life-changing and unexpected trip.

Ms. Pearson’s daughter, Heather, was a pre-med student at Wellesley College, where she was in charge of organizing student trips for “service learning.” When several students dropped out of the planned trip to India, Ms. Pearson and her family said they would go.

Heather’s research led her to the KHEL School – KHEL for Kindness, Health, Education, and Laughter. Coincidently, the school was started in 1982 by an Indian family whose relatives live in Minneapolis and are friends of Ms. Pearson’s family.

After a year of preparation, including extensive interviewing by the school to ensure that that family would be a good fit with the students, the family made the journey in 2012. They discovered an isolated community where their family of four was able to eat on $25 per day. 

At the KHEL school, Ms. Pearson focused on inspiring the young girls to develop career aspirations and finish their education. Unfortunately, many of the girls in this community are required to give up their education after 8th grade so that they can help support their families and meet cultural expectations.

Meanwhile, Heather, who was studying why leprosy has not been eradicated, was also able to visit the school and share what it was like to have a mom with a career. She encouraged the girls to follow their dreams. During the school visits, Heather and her younger brother Brandon (17 at the time) taught the students American playground games. Their father, Tom Pearson, who works in the field of television production, spoke to students about his career. He brought his camera along for the trip and filmed the students. One day they may produce a PSA to share the needs of this remote community with the outside world.

“We’d like to bring awareness about this community and school to other people to see if others would like to help them,” said Ms. Pearson. “

While they were there, Ms. Pearson and her family donated playground equipment; but there are other needs. The teachers are enthusiastic and love their jobs, but are paid very little. Pencils are used down to the last inch. Power outages are common, and teachers often carry on a lecture in the dark.   

“They could use a generator,” said Ms. Pearson, who plans on returning and staying connected with this community. “Each year I’d like to contribute something. KHEL is a charity that doesn’t make a lot of noise.”

Ms. Pearson is determined to increase the volume – not just on the school, but also on another KEHL Charities initiative.

Several years ago, KHEL purchased land and constructed homes for people with leprosy. Under the caste system, once people are diagnosed with leprosy, they lose all their property. Prior to the KHEL buildings, these individuals had no homes. Sadly, they must still resort to begging because no one will hire people with leprosy or their family members.

Despite the fact that leprosy is curable and one of the least contagious communicable diseases, the stigma surrounding the disease runs high. Gale and her family challenged the myths and stigma surrounding leprosy and visited several colonies while in India.

“I felt like I was traveling back 2000 years,” said Ms. Pearson.

Stones were thrown by people fearful of leprosy as Ms. Pearson and her family made their way from the main village into the leper colonies. The isolated residents welcomed them with fresh flower leis.

To learn more please visit KHEL online.

Posted on October 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm in General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Lexlee’s Kids: Caring for Child Safety

“I believe that life is about making a difference. I know that I make a difference by helping my clients but I wanted to do more. My goal was to learn as much as I could about child safety and injury prevention and then help to teach to prevent this type of tragedy from happening to another child,” says Attorney Lexlee Overton of Lexlee Overton, Attorney at Law, Inc.

Inside of the courtroom, Ms. Overton is a personal injury lawyer, helping children and families in Louisiana who have been wrongfully injured or harmed. Outside of the courtroom, she runs her non-profit organization, Lexlee’s Kids.

Ms. Overton has been a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician for eight years. This year, she became a Certified Child Passenger Safety Instructor and conducts certification classes through Lexlee’s Kids so that others can become Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians.  These classes educate parents and caregivers on the proper way to install child safety restraints, a necessary skill for safeguarding children.

Her job as an attorney led her to found Lexlee’s Kids.

“Early on in my career, I represented a six-year-old child that became paralyzed in a collision.  Handling this case made me realize the need for education and awareness about the proper restraints of children in vehicles,” reflects Ms. Overton.

The statistics about child safety are abysmal – eight out of ten car seats are incorrectly installed and car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages two to eighteen.

According to its website, the mission of Lexlee’s Kids is “to save and improve the lives of children ages 0-18, by empowering caregivers through awareness of injury risks and prevention.”

Lexlee’s Kids fulfills its mission by hosting community programs. These programs focus on a specific safety issue and educate kids, parents, and caregivers on prevention. Lexlee’s Kids also gives demonstrations, assists in installing child safety seats, donates car seats to needy families, and participates in local speaking engagements. The Lexlee’s Kids website posts information on product recalls and opinions on current child safety debates.

Every Friday, Lexlee Overton, Attorney at Law, Inc. hosts a Fitting Station, a place parents and caregivers can go for a free and correct child safety seat installation. Over the past two years, Lexlee’s Kids has inspected and installed more than 1,000 car seats and donated another 600 to needy families.

Ms. Overton’s work to ensure child safety does not end with Lexlee’s Kids, though. She is the Regional Coordinator for the Louisiana Passenger Safety Task Force. In this role, she helps other agencies provide car seat installation services and helps local certified technicians stay current on changing technologies in child safety.

Thanks to the work of Lexlee Overton and Lexlee’s Kids, the children of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are safer in their everyday lives.


Posted on September 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

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