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To Sue or Not to Sue - Trial Lawyers Set the Tone
Elizabeth J. Coleman L’74, Executive Director of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, helped formulate the organization’s response to the tragedy. In a letter to members Coleman wrote, “In the wake of the horror engendered by the September 11 th atrocities, all Americans searched for a way to help the victims and our nation. NYSTLA’s officers and Executive Committee have voted unanimously to encourage members to represent eligible individuals seeking compensation on a pro bono basis from the Victim Compensation Fund established by Congress to aid September 11 th victims and their families.”
Additionally, NYSTLA in conjunction with the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) established a national non-profit entity, Trial Lawyers Care, to provide pro bono legal assistance to victims and their families in filing claims for compensation under the federal September 11 th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 (H.R. 2926). The nation’s and New York State’s largest trial lawyer organizations encouraged victims and the surviving families of victims to forfeit their rights to file civil suits in exchange for participation in the Victim Compensation Fund.
Attorneys who offer their services for free are chosen based on strict criteria: they must have at least five years of litigation experience and have tried or settled at least 15 personal injury, wrongful death or other significant cases. They pledge not to accept any fee from the client, including any referral fee, on any personal injury or wrongful death cases for harm suffered during or in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, nor to accept any fee for any other legal services provided to a client referred by Trial Lawyers Care, Inc. A website set up to provide more information is www.911LawHelp.org.
This program and the efforts of its members to create Trial Lawyers Care garnered ATLA a 2001 Pro Bono Award from the National Law Journal. As of December 2001, three thousand lawyers had volunteered to represent victims and their families.
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