Following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005, the Network’s executive committee began discussing the responses of individuals, member law firms and other legal organizations to the catastrophe. We were struck by the enormity of the disaster and the plight of those affected by it. We considered what more could be done to help.
In response to a poll, we confirmed that Network member firms have been very generous, making and continuing to make substantial contributions to various relief organizations. Many Network member firms also matched contributions made by their employees. The response of the public and of corporations appears to be similarly positive, with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and others appearing to do well in terms of contributions, at least in the short term. We estimated that Network member firms have already donated more than a half million dollars, not counting individual contributions separately made.
Our thoughts turned to concern about the ability of our affected member law firms to meet the needs of all of their employees. Our thinking went to support personnel in particular, file clerks, runners, secretaries, etc., some of whom sustained substantial losses. Thus, in response to the evident need of persons affected by these recent natural disasters along the Gulf Coast, TRIAL.COM FOUNDATION, INC. (the “Foundation”), a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, was formed on behalf of The Network of Trial Law Firms, Inc., to carry-out certain charitable activities of the Network, as specified in the Foundation’s organizing documents. Specifically, the Foundation was organized to do the following:
- Assist in funding legal services pro bono publico to individuals in need of but not
able to afford legal services necessary to protect important financial, civil and
other rights of those persons and their families;
- provide financial assistance to organizations providing such legal services pro
- provide financial relief to individuals suffering hardship due to mass disasters,
individual calamities, and other emergencies;
- provide financial assistance to organizations providing assistance and relief to such individuals.
The first project that the Foundation undertook was the raising and distribution of funds for the relief of the immediate needs of employees of member firms who are victims of one or more 2005 hurricanes. In accordance with guidelines provided in the IRS publication, "Disaster Relief, Providing Assistance through Charitable Organizations" the Foundation: (a) established objective criteria for determining need and selecting relief recipients (see below); and (b) created an independent selection committee to choose recipients for aid.
After the initial project, the Foundation has supported pro bono publico and other similar public interest programs. In addition, the Foundation is prepared to provide disaster relief should a need arise in the future.