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The American Association for Justice’s (AAJ) Annual Convention is often hosted in a place where you would want to vacation: Maui, Los Angeles, Montreal, San Francisco, and this year, San Diego. Lawyers and vendors fly into these cities for a whirlwind of a weekend. AAJ members attend CLEs, seminars and receptions, meet with committees to make progress in the civil justice community, and then maybe steal a few hours to see the sights. As I geared up for my first AAJ Convention, I couldn’t imagine how there would be time to do much else. The name, “American Association for Justice,” might sound like a superhero organization, but even lawyers have to sleep sometime.

And yet, many AAJ Convention attendees still saved room for a day of philanthropy. Many flew in a day or two early to be able to support the efforts of the Trial Lawyers Care Committee. AAJ created Trial Lawyers Care after the September 11th attacks, offering pro bono services to victims’ families. After counseling and representing thousands of people at no cost to them, the committee gained momentum. It continues to give AAJ members opportunities to extend the work they do: giving the voiceless a voice and fostering well-being in the face of tragedy.

This year during the AAJ Convention, Trial Lawyers Care helped two organizations: Urban Street Angels and the International Rescue Committee. Milestone joined the project with Urban Street Angels, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that aims to end homelessness among transitional-age youth (18 to 25) in the San Diego area. The organization provides emergency overnight shelter, supportive housing, and job training.

In anticipation of our visit with Urban Street Angels, Trial Lawyers Care put together an Amazon wish list of items and asked AAJ members to donate. The much-needed products on the list ranged from shampoo to shelving units, underwear to pillows and mattresses. When we arrived, some of the Urban Street Angels crew had begun carrying Amazon boxes into the rec room. The pile suggested a decent turnout of items that AAJ members had donated.

The boxes kept coming. Our first task after introductions was to carry the rest of them into the room. There were so many that we formed a chain to pass the boxes from storage to the rec room, which eventually looked like this:

The volunteers broke into teams. Several groups stayed back to open the packages, a task which took hours. Staggering numbers of toiletries came in, which the volunteer teams used to make care packages for the incoming youth.

We put together shelves, deep-cleaned rooms, organized new shirts by size, and laundered stacks of new blankets and sheets. We carried old mattresses to the basement and put newly bought ones on the beds. Some of the residents poked their heads out of the rooms and helped with the overhaul.

As the volunteers’ tasks wound down for the day, the group filtered into the courtyard for a barbecue. It was there that we had moved the care packages to give to the residents. Later, the youth would be able to make their new beds with new sheets and blankets.

This past weekend, AAJ members tackled two projects that made an impactful difference. And they are just two of a long list of organizations and campaigns that Trial Lawyers Care has founded, spearheaded, or stepped in to help over the past 18 years. Here are a few others:

  • Camp Rainbow, a camp dedicated to Mississippi’s pediatric cancer patients and survivors
  • School supply drive for Hurricane Harvey victims, spearheaded by Karen Beyea-Schroeder
  • End Distracted Driving, founded by Joel Feldman of Anapol Weiss
  • Project KidSafe, founded by Breakstone, White & Gluck
  • Operation Helping Hands, founded by Kim Valentine of Valentine Law Group

I, like many others, see trial lawyers as the first line of defense for people who have fallen victim to a preventable catastrophe. They were the kids in grade school who stood between classmates and their bullies. They made careers out of standing up to those who have acted wrongly. But instead of stopping there, the largest trial lawyer organization in the country has now built a team of attorneys who are committed to “doing well by doing good.” They don’t have to do it, but they choose to use some of their spare time to give back to the communities they protect.

By: Allison McClure