More than 30 years ago, I chose the complex area of family law because it provided me the opportunity to do the work I loved, yet work with clients who have a heartbeat. My wish as a young lawyer was to make a positive difference by helping my clients get through an incredibly difficult time and also help them reshape their lives. This remains my guiding principle today.
As one might imagine, my work has afforded me many occasions to see the best and the worst in people. Witnessing the vortex of proceedings euphemistically known as family law often reminds me of the importance of humanity, care, love, and dignity in a world that sometimes seems lacking in each. Whether guiding my clients through the nuanced issues particular to high net worth family matters and child custody, or from my pro bono representation for abused and neglected children in a program coordinated by the LA County Bar Association and the LA Superior Court, my work has given me more patience and greater compassion. And yet, many years ago I realized that I needed an antidote to the control wars that I witness unfolding every day—battles that are endemic to family law.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to search far. Giving back to my community has always been an integral part of my life. It is a concept instilled in me by my parents and through my paternal grandfather’s legacy. And so, in 1999, I led my firm in establishing the Phillips Lerner Adopt-A-Center Program (AAC) to recognize and celebrate the work of Los Angeles-based nonprofits that improve the lives of children and families. I founded this program for two reasons. First, my firm had matured and it was time to give back in an active way, not just through financial contributions. Second, I viewed this as a team-building enterprise for everyone at the firm—from the attorneys to paralegals and staff members. As I look back on the program’s evolution over the past fifteen years, it is gratifying that our AAC Program has fulfilled both these goals and more.
Each year, we receive dozens of nominations from which our distinguished AAC Advisory Board select three finalists, and everyone at the firm casts a secret ballot to choose the winning nonprofit organization. The “adopted” group works hand-in-hand with our firm to plan an event, project or activity for the children and families it serves. The event is underwritten and hosted by the firm, and attended by both the organization’s supporters and guests of Phillips Lerner.
In this way, we have supported organizations that provide housing, emergency services, and life skills education for runaway and homeless children; provide art programs for abused and neglected children; deliver comprehensive health care to low-income families; provide one-on-one mentoring relationships to underserved youth; and teach conflict prevention/resolution to K-12 school children.
In 2014, the AAC recipient was El Nido Family Centers’ GRYD (Gang Reduction Youth Development) program, which teaches photography to at-risk youth from the Pacoima area. Phillips Lerner organized and hosted a Photographic Exhibit of selected works by the GRYD students (ages 12-18) at the William Turner Gallery in Santa Monica. The most gratifying aspect of the event for me (and for many of our guests) was the opportunity to personally connect with the young photographers. These were teenagers from homes where often there isn’t enough money for food. All were identified as being at-risk for gang involvement before entering the GRYD program.
That Sunday afternoon, our guests were treated to some stunning, sensitive, and thought-provoking photographs, the sale of which raised funds to help continue the photography program. Most importantly, these young people were surrounded by accomplished, interested, and supportive adults from diverse backgrounds (many of them self-made), who encouraged their talents. Over the course of the event, we all watched these teenagers quite literally blossom before our eyes. This was the first time that their achievements had been recognized in public, if at all.
Our 2015 AAC recipient is the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra. The BHCYO provides free instruments on loan, high level training in playing orchestral instruments, reading music, and singing to children aged 6-14 who live in the East LA area of Boyle Heights. Since instrumental and choral ensemble training have been cut from almost every public elementary school curriculum in Los Angeles, children are hungry for this knowledge and experience. Boyle Heights is a culturally rich community, but is also one of the most underserved in Los Angeles. For these families, who simply cannot afford music lessons, the BHCYO’s after school and summer programs provide their children with experiences they never could have imagined.
On Sunday, November 15th, Phillips Lerner will host “An Afternoon of World Music,” featuring the BHCYO performing with recording artist Aloe Blacc and the band Quetzal at the Fowler Museum on the campus at UCLA.
I am certain that, as in years past, our Adopt-A-Center program will enrich many lives that day. I hope you will join us.
Tickets to the concert and reception may be purchased by contacting Phillips Lerner at 310/277.7117.