Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don’t hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We’ve found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Their stories are inspiring, and hey, who knew lawyers were so…good? If you’ve got a story to share about an attorney who’s doing the right thing, let us know—we’d love to let others know, too. Today, we’re talking with attorney Douglas Fox of Cozen O’Connor law firm…
US military personnel have legal issues just like everybody else. And last year, the American Bar Association (ABA) saw a need to reach out to US servicemen and servicewomen and connect them with lawyers who were willing help on a pro bono basis.
“We jumped at the chance,” says attorney Douglas Fox, whose firm, Cozen O’Connor, was asked to become one of the founding members of the ABA Pro Bono Military Project.
“We thought it was an incredibly exciting and humbling responsibility and opportunity to help active servicemen and women. If you are going to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, the last thing you need is a legal problem on your mind and we felt this was a way for lawyers to give back.“
Even before volunteering to be a founding member of the Pro Bono US Military Project, Cozen O’Connor had an impressive pro bono track record. Last year alone according to Fox, who heads the firm’s pro bono committee, Cozen O’Connor attorneys did more than 16,000 pro bono hours—with a total time value of some $6 million.
“These were hours given to those who otherwise would not have been able to access legal services,” says Fox. “We handle all kinds of pro bono cases, from very high visibility cases to cases that don’t make the headlines, like the pro bono military project cases, but they are equally important to us and they are, of course, important to our clients.”
In the high-profile category you can include Lozano v. Hazelton, a civil rights case that is now before the Supreme Court. For the last four years, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others, Cozen O’Connor has being fighting a Hazelton, Pennsylvania city bylaw that would punish landlords and employers who rent to or hire so-called illegal aliens.
Cozen O’Connor has several hundred lawyers with 20 offices across the US and is also represented in London and Toronto. Although it is a general practice firm, its lawyers don’t do a lot of family law. With the Pro Bono US Military Project, Fox says, “This is an opportunity for our lawyers who don’t practice family law to go outside their comfort zone. It is something that lawyers who take on these cases are anxious to do because they know the need is so great.”
“Many of the cases are family law cases. They are adoptions, child support, divorces—cases of that nature. They are issues that need to be dealt with in order to put the minds of the servicemen and women at ease,” Fox adds.
“There is no question, even today with this program, not all of the legal needs of military personnel are being met,” says Fox. “Even with the great work of the ABA Pro Bono Military Project we know there are needs that are not being met, however, we have been very excited to do what we can do.”
Douglas Fox concentrates his practice in subrogation and recovery, property insurance, commercial and civil litigation. Before joining Cozen O’Connor in 1985, Fox served as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia. Fox has also previously served on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness.
Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don’t hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We’ve found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Their stories are inspiring, and hey, who knew lawyers were so…good? If you’ve got a story to share about an attorney who’s doing the right thing, let us know—we’d love to let others know, too. Today, we’re talking with Illinois attorney Mike Angelides of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd…
The Simmons firm in Illinois is well-known for litigating on behalf of people whose lives have been affected by exposure to asbestos. The firm, you might say, has also been very willing to put its money where its mouth is, and over the last several years has pledged some $20 million to mesothelioma and cancer research.
“I think all of us here would be very happy if we never had to see one of these cases again,” says the firm’s managing partner Mike Angelides. “I wish I never had to see a family go through the heartache and agony of having to deal with this disease. It would be great to find a cure and put this disease to rest.”
Compared to other types of cancer, mesothelioma affects relatively few people and as a result attracts fewer research dollars.
“It is an ‘orphan cancer’,” says Angelides. “Although it affects about 2,500 Americans every year, it only receives about 1/10 of one percent of all cancer research funding. We really see it as our moral obligation to help this community, because quite frankly, if we don’t help them, no one will,” says Angelides.
Although it can be decades before the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma appear, even the slightest exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma or another asbestos-related cancer. Those affected are usually people who have been exposed to asbestos at their place of work at some point during their lives. They can be pipefitters, or construction workers or factory workers—any worker whose job entailed working with either asbestos itself, or components or parts which contained the deadly asbestos fibers.
There are few treatments and no cure for asbestos mesothelioma. The lungs fill with cancerous tumors and mesothelioma patients literally suffocate to death.
“This is such a terribly aggressive cancer, fast moving, always terminal, very painful,” says Angelides whose firm has battled dozens of companies over the last 11 years to challenge their careless exposure of workers to asbestos fibers.
“Our lawyers see how this affects families and what people suffer and what they go through. That is what has led to a culture at the Simmons firm of giving back to this community,” he adds.
The Simmons firm recently donated $250,000 to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, a non-profit foundation that funds research and provides education and support for patients and their families. The Simmons firm is the Foundation’s largest aggregate donor and has given the Foundation a total of $2 million over the last decade.
Through its own charitable organization, the Simmons Mesothelioma Research Organization, the firm has pledged or given millions of dollars worth of grants to US universities that do mesothelioma research including the University of Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of California at San Francisco.
And in Springfield, Illinois, the firm donated $11 million to build the Simmons Cancer Institute currently operating at the Southern Illinois University to address and serve the needs of people with all types of cancer.
The money comes in part from community-based fund raising efforts, but most it comes from the verdicts and settlements the Simmons firm has obtained over the last decade.
The tradition of giving back comes from the firm’s founder.
“This is the philosophy that our founder and current chairman, John Simmons, has had ever since he started the firm and he has really impressed upon us the importance of contributing and giving back to this community,” says Angelides, “and it has really been an honor for us to have been successful enough to do that.”
Mike Angelides is a partner in the firm of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd (known as the Simmons firm). The firm has recovered approximately $3 billion on behalf of hundreds of families affected by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers. Mike Angelides is a frequent speaker at asbestos-related legal conferences.
Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don’t hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We’ve found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Their stories are inspiring, and hey, who knew lawyers were so…good? If you’ve got a story to share about an attorney who’s doing the right thing, let us know—we’d love to let others know, too. Today, we’re talking with Michigan attorney Kelly Burris of Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione…
About once a month, attorney Kelly Burris gases up her 4-seater single engine Beechcraft airplane and does a run for the Angel Flight Central organization in the US. “Let’s see,” says the easy-going, friendly and thoughtful Burris from her office at Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione, “I’ve flown breast milk, cancer patients, kids and one time I flew a hospice patient, that was a difficult one.”
It was a flight instructor who first suggested Burris get involved with Angel Flight as a way to gather more flying hours. Angel Flight is a non-profit organization of pilots and volunteers that provides free transportation to people who need to fly for medical or legitimate charitable reasons.
It was a good fit Burris. She’d just become a partner at the patent law firm of Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione in Ann Arbor. Her hours were flexible and Burris had the time, the money and the plane—and she loves to fly.
“Yes, I pay for it all,” says Burris who has been a volunteer pilot with Angel Flight for the last seven years. She calculates that each run costs about $400 to $500 and she believes it is worth every minute.
“But it’s a ‘win-win’ really,” she says. “I have always known community service is important and I have always done it. Maybe public service should be more of a sacrifice perhaps, but it isn’t. It is just really enjoyable. I get to do something good for people and I get to fly.”
Among her first flights was a 4-year old boy who was visually impaired. He walked out onto the tarmac and wanted to touch the plane. “He said, ‘Mommy, it is chrome, I bet it’s pretty Mom’. Burris says her heart melted. “Then he said ‘Kelly Burris, pilot, 1962, Beechcraft Debonair, is it a G-Tail or a B-Tail?”
That little boy is now 11 and Burris has flown him and his mother many times since then.
Burris was an engineer before she became a patent attorney. “It is all technology to me, and I love technology,” she says. Many of her clients are outside the state and she often combines work meetings with Angel Flight. “I have several clients in St. Louis, so I will look for an Angel Flight on a day I am going down there. I will swing by Chicago and pick somebody up and then drop them in Urbana at the University there and go see my client.”
In 2009 Burris won the Air Race Classic, a 2,700-mile cross-US race, sponsored by The Ninety-Nines, a female aviators group started in 1929 by Amelia Earhart. She donated the $5,000 top prize to Angel Flight.
Through The Ninety-Nines Burris has actually raised even more money for Angel Flight over the last several years. “The first year I was in the Air Race Classic, I thought while we are flying through all these different towns why don’t I slap the Angel Flight logo on the plane and wear my Angel Flight shirt and see if we can raise some awareness and money. My co-pilot and I have done 3 races now and raised about $50,000.”
To learn more about Angel Flight Central, please visit www.angelflightcentral.org.
Kelly Burris earned her J.D. at St. Louis University. She also holds a B.S. and M.S. in engineering. Her practice focuses on international trademark law, electrical and computer law, intellectual asset management, licensing, patents, trademarks and unfair competition. Ms. Burris, a licensed pilot since 1984, is a long-time volunteer and fundraiser for Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic and Angel Flight Central, part of the Air Charity Network. She was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of Angel Flight Central.
Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don’t hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We’ve found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Their stories are inspiring, and hey, who knew lawyers were so…good? If you’ve got a story to share about an attorney who’s doing the right thing, let us know—we’d love to let others know, too. Today, we’re talking with Michigan attorney Bertram Marks…
If the career combination of Baptist minister and attorney sounds like an oxymoron, don’t bother to mention it to Bertram Marks. “Oh yes, I have heard that one before,” says Marks with a gentle laugh.
Marks is the lead partner in a full-service law practice in Farmington Hills, Michigan, where he combines his ecclesiastical and legal training to the maximum. “It is not really as dichotomous as one might think,” he says. “If you have an interest in community justice and integrity, the two just go hand in hand.”
Marks, who is also Pastor at the First Community Baptist Church, says he “can’t think of a time there weren’t at least 3 or 4 pro bono cases” on his docket. “A lot my work is in the area of economic justice, civil rights labor,” says Marks, “So I bundle all that up to deliver real help to people.”
And people in Michigan have some very real problems these days. Many people have been rocked back on their heels by industry shutdowns, lost jobs and sinking house prices.
“There is a huge wave of pain out there,” says Marks.
Just keeping the heat on during a long Detroit winter is a challenge for thousands of people. Financial assistance is available but many people either don’t know to access it or are simply too proud to admit they need it. Aware that it would be in the uncomfortable position of cutting of service to thousands of families, DTE Energy executives came to Marks in 2007 and asked for his help.“
“We found people were so turned off by the utility company when they got a shut-off notice they just kind of shut off, too,” says Marks. “There’s a feeling of hopelessness and going into a utility service office was the last thing they wanted to do.”
“I was able to convince the utility if we could base these support centers in faith-based Read the rest of this entry »
Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don’t hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We’ve found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Their stories are inspiring, and hey, who knew lawyers were so…good? If you’ve got a story to share about an attorney who’s doing the right thing, let us know—we’d love to let others know, too. Today, we’re talking with Florida attorney Jason Melton…
There is a strong streak of decency running through Jason Melton as he talks frankly about his approach to the law. A very serious criminal and personal injury attorney from the Tampa, Florida area, Melton still manages to bring a dash of self-deprecating humor to the conversation about the hours of legal work he does for free.
“We’re not hurting. We can afford to do it, so we do it,” he says. “And we don’t do it so I have something to ‘bitch’ about or when someone says ‘you’re a jerk,’ I can say ‘no I’m not—I see what I do’.”
Whittel & Melton definitely does its share of pro bono work. But they don’t advertise it, they don’t crow about it and they don’t complain about it later after they’ve passed on taking a fee.
“It’s not like I review every case to see if they can pay—sometimes we forgo payment because it is just the right thing to do,” says Melton. “Sometimes there are issues that we feel strongly about and someone comes in with the perfect fact pattern and we want to prove a point because it comes up again and again in other cases.”
Many of the cases that Melton does pro bono are personal injury claims resulting from auto accidents where clients are underinsured. “A few weeks ago, I did a personal injury case and it was just a bad situation for everyone,” says Melton. “My client’s injuries were not life-threatening, but they have medical bills and there wasn’t enough insurance money to go around—so I just didn’t take a fee.”
“When we see a situation like that we just don’t bill,” says Melton. “Sometimes it is just the right thing to do.”
Melton is the former president of the Florida State Bar Association and in the past has done an “Ask a Lawyer” radio program. He’s very aware that people hold negative views of lawyers and are likely unaware that many other lawyers also do good things for no particular reason.
“My clients love me,” says Melton. “But unless someone has been injured in an accident they often think lawyers just take a cut of someone’s insurance payout. They don’t realize what it takes to deal with insurance companies.”
Melton’s working in a tough neighborhood these days. There’s no shortage of potential pro bono clients in Hernando County. The official unemployment rate is about 15.6 percent—that’s the highest since 1976 and the second highest in the state. There is also a large population of senior citizens who don’t have money to pay a lawyer.
Although the state bar association requires lawyers to report the number of pro bono hours they do annually, Melton says frankly—he usually improvises. “I usually just come up with a figure that is probably lower than what it really is. There’s no way to even guess” says Melton.
Melton’s quirky sense of humour comes with his services—no charge.
Jason Melton is an a partner in the firm of Whittel & Melton. The firm handles criminal and personal injury law, including wrongful death, DUI, traffic offenses and juvenile crimes. Whittel & Melton has a main office in Spring Hill, Florida.