The Lafayette Young Lawyers Association Makes Its Mark in the Bayou State
Jeffrey J. White is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices law with the firm of Robinson & Cole LLP in Hartford, Connecticut.
In the land where crawfish is king and Cajun and Creole influences meld together, a small, cohesive group of young lawyers in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, have worked tirelessly in an effort to improve the lives of those less fortunate. Founded in 1991, the Lafayette Young Lawyers Association (LYLA) consists of approximately 225 members and nine committees that coordinate the Association’s community service projects, speaker’s luncheons, meetings, and social activities. The Association is governed by a very active officer core that is led by President Maggie Simar, who is the Family Court hearing officer for the Sixteenth Judicial District Court (parishes of St. Martin, St. Mary, and Iberia).
Despite its relatively small membership base, LYLA has distinguished itself in the community for its involvement with Northside High School in Lafayette. As a “Law Signature School,” Northside offers multiple elective and non-elective courses at each grade level that focus on various aspects of the law and legal processes. Northside has been a Law Signature School for two years, and during that time, LYLA has been actively involved in ensuring that the program blossoms. According to Simar, “LYLA has elected to make Northside our top priority. We provide Northside with attorney/coaches for Mock Trial and Law Week. During recent Mock Trial preparations, we sent volunteers at least weekly to help the four teams prepare for the competition. In addition, we have provided speakers during the year to give the students a ‘real life’ look at what attorneys and judges do on a daily basis.”
According to all accounts, Northside has thrived in its role as a Law Signature School. Not only has the Lafayette Parish Bar Association (LPBA) fully supported the program, but members of the state judiciary have graciously volunteered to come speak to the students in an effort to both educate and inspire. As President-Elect Frank Slavich III recounted, “We have had both district and federal judges speak about the correct application of the law to specific types of cases. Numerous local attorneys also spoke to the class on a regular basis about aspects of the curriculum they were studying at the particular time. These included criminal as well as civil law. The attorneys spent numerous hours enriching these children’s lives by not only discussing topics they were learning about, but also giving real life insights on the ups and downs of pursuing a legal career.”
LYLA’s commitment to the parish’s youth does not end there. The Association has a very active Mock Trial Committee that recruits high school students who wish to participate in the state mock trial competition that takes place each year. Leading the Association’s efforts in this regard is its treasurer, Greg Koury, a litigation attorney with the Lafayette-based law firm of Laborde & Neuner. “For the competition itself, we annually have in excess of twenty local attorneys and judges from the federal and state bar to score and preside over the individual trials,” Koury noted. “Each year, we have seen improvements to the program in terms of the number of participants and overall quality of the competition, and we are committed to continuing that trend.”
In addition to its community outreach efforts, LYLA provides a slew of activities and networking opportunities for its members. For instance, the Association plans a “Speaker’s Luncheon” each year. In the past, these luncheons provided a forum for candidates seeking local or state offices to express their views or, alternatively, permitted a healthy discussion on whether tax dollars should be used to build a new courthouse. For Simar, these lunches “provide an excellent opportunity for both young and seasoned lawyers to listen to important legal issues in the community, both locally and statewide. It also provides an excellent opportunity for the membership of both LYLA and the ‘big bar’ [LPBA] to network and socialize and helps in our efforts to meet potential new LYLA members.”
The accomplishments of LYLA are even more astounding in light of the wave of destruction that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Lafayette Young Lawyers Association answered the call by volunteering to staff the disaster recovery centers. In addition, as ABA YLD District Representative Beth Abramson recounted, “The LPBA and particularly LYLA agreed to return calls to victims of the hurricanes who called into the Disaster Legal Services Hotline. The number of calls to the hotline were overwhelming during the first few months following the hurricanes. Approximately 4,300 intake forms were created during the first six weeks following Hurricane Katrina alone, so there was a dire need and a call for attorneys across the state to provide pro bono legal services. LYLA answered this call by accepting stacks of hurricane victim intake forms that needed return calls. Lafayette attorneys played a vital role, and continue to do so, in the legal response to hurricane victims.”
At the end of the day, the Lafayette Young Lawyers Association shows no signs of slowing down. The Association has faced its share of adversity, but it continues to build a legacy in south-central Louisiana. The “recipe” for success in the heart of Cajun country is simple according to Simar: “Provide the best possible educational programs, social opportunities, and volunteer events and remain committed to mentoring the next generation of Lafayette Young Lawyers.”