Trial Lawyers Helping in the Wake of COVID-19
May 7, 2020 - Maureen Leddy
As the new coronavirus pandemic continues, AAJ members are contributing their time and talent to help their communities in various ways, including supporting emergency medical workers, ensuring at-risk students and seniors have meals, and working on the front line.
Working on the front line. When the coronavirus broke out, Dallas attorney James Mullen, a former ER nurse, didn’t hesitate to look for ways to use his medical skills to help out. Finding there was greater need in the New York City area, Mullen signed up with a travelling nursing company and quickly boarded a plane, leaving behind his wife and young child. Mullen spent the next three weeks working 12-hour night shifts in a Queens, N.Y., ER, checking in on his legal cases after his shifts. Mullen says the temporary move back to emergency nursing work felt natural: “Both as a plaintiff attorney and as an ER nurse, what you are doing is helping people who are injured or sick.”
Mullen credited his firm’s principal, Bill Curtis, with making it possible for him to contribute to the fight against coronavirus in such a direct way—and his colleagues for jumping in on case work when necessary. Mullen also hopes that all law firms will “mold their practices around stay-at-home orders and ensure the safety of their staff,” as Curtis has done.
Supporting emergency medical workers. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Atlanta trial lawyer Chris Stewart heard from several of his friends in the medical profession that morale was low—some were afraid to return home to their families, and most were having trouble finding time for nourishing meals. In response, Stewart started The People vs. COVID-19, a nonprofit that accepts donations to purchase food from local restaurants to be delivered to emergency medical professionals.
Fellow Atlanta attorney Jeb Butler quickly joined the effort, and the nonprofit has raised more than $31,000 and provided meals to hundreds of health care workers. The organization has twin goals of helping medical staff who are working hard to save lives and helping local restaurants that badly need the business. Local businesses are ecstatic to receive orders for 1,000 meals, and health care workers’ spirits have been lifted by the high-quality food, Stewart and Butler said. And they hope that their efforts can reach beyond the Atlanta area: At the request of a donor, any donation to The People vs. COVID-19 can be directed so that “anyone in any city can help their local hospital!”
Ensuring at-risk students and seniors have meals. “Our goal is to give back in whatever way we can,” says Lissa Zanville, executive director of Los Angeles Trial Lawyers’ Charities (LATLC). And in mid-March, when the coronavirus closed schools across the city, threatening the food security of students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches, LATLC did just that—it made a $10,000 emergency grant to Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter school network serving primarily low-income students. LATLC also provided 500 tote bags for the grab-and-go meals.
Past LATLC president Minh Nguyen said he “was one of those children who were not born into fortunate situations—who just want an opportunity not to think about food; who want to have enough energy to be a child, to run around, to play, to learn, to dream, and to grow up and be someone. To me, this is why when the stay-at-home orders were issued, LATLC moved to feed the children.”
Then, just over a week later, LATLC exhausted its funds, so its board members individually contributed a combined $10,000 to fund meals for at-risk seniors. LATLC worked with the Foothill Unity Center—an L.A. County nonprofit serving people who are low-income or at risk of homelessness—to provide over 2,000 meals to seniors.
“What gets me out of bed in the morning is the thought that my work makes a difference in people’s lives—but that doesn’t stop at the courthouse steps,” said LATLC board member Olivier Taillieu. “LATLC’s work is a natural extension of what I do every day: helping people in our community in times of need, especially the most vulnerable among us.”
Maureen Leddy is an associate editor for Trial magazine.