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How Trial Lawyers are Securing the Futures of Marginalized A

Apr 11, 2024 | Legal News | 0 comments

When the Los Angeles Times first used “marginalized” to describe the discrimination against Black Americans in the late 60s, they spurred an important conversation around socioeconomic equity. Namely, that “marginalizing” an individual or group of individuals means to actively ignore their needs and/or fail in offering the same opportunities available to everyone else (i.e., white Americans).

One of those needs and/or opportunities is fair access to the American justice system – or more specifically, access to the civil justice system. While it’s true that the phrase “justice for all” is ingrained in the American mindset, recent data shows that the phrase isn’t a call-to-action.

In fact, according to research conducted by The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) and The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), being a marginalized individual means you’re more likely to encounter a civil legal issue. That means the case will likely involve basic needs like housing, access to health care, child custody, and protection from abuse, according to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

Taking it a step further, the report by HiiL/IAALS states that: “The nature, seriousness, and resolution rates of the problems Americans experience are shaped in meaningful ways by their income, gender, race and ethnicity, age, and living environment.”

That means, in the context of our legal system, “marginalization” transcends ethnicity and extends into every aspect of a person’s socioeconomic status; where it’s one thing to be a Black American, yet something entirely different to be Black and low-income, for instance.

While a person’s socioeconomic status shouldn’t dictate whether or not they find justice, it is the reality that almost 50 million low-income Americans – a marginalized group – face every single day, according to the LSC. Fortunately, that’s where trial attorneys and contingency-fee law firms come in, helping secure the futures of these marginalized folks across the country – regardless of who they are.

The mindset of fighting for the marginalized

According to the HiiL/IAALS report, low-income Americans, women, and multiracial (non-Hispanic) Americans are three of the most vulnerable marginalized groups in terms of prevalence, seriousness, and rate of resolution of legal problems experienced.

That means not only are they marginalized simply by how they appear, but also in the types of legal battles they fight and the probability of a favorable outcome. Perhaps they’re impoverished, incarcerated, or physically and/or mentally incapable of finding legal help. Whatever it is, identifying these barriers and meeting clients where they are is a non-negotiable aspect of true civil litigation.

The fact of the matter is trial attorneys exist to level the playing field as it pertains to justice. In turn, they’re securing futures that would otherwise feel uncertain or unfair. In one instance, a trial lawyer, Reza Torkzadeh, who is also the founder and senior partner of his firm, TorkLaw, helped a homeless man reach justice:

“We represented a homeless man who was struck by a car and we were able to get a successful outcome in his case where he was able to purchase a home and get on his feet. He was able to really get on a path with the resources and the tools to make a new life.”

In this case, Reza demonstrated not just how TorkLaw sees justice, but how many trial attorneys see justice beyond just a favorable outcome.

“The work that we do, the resources that we put towards representing every individual client and their families is ultimately aimed at providing a better future, a better life for the people we get to represent,” said Reza.

Similarly, some trial lawyers, like Elise R. Sanguinetti, seek out places in the law where representation is lacking, or in other words, groups that are marginalized. For her contingency-fee firm, Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos LLP, one of those groups is incarcerated individuals.

“We focus on helping incarcerated individuals or their family members in cases where they weren’t provided proper medical care or oversight,” said Elise. “We have a lot of cases where individuals have died because the health care system inside the jail failed them, or because an individual with mental health issues was not properly watched, despite the policies and procedures that should protect them, and ultimately resulted in a suicide death. No inmate should be able to commit suicide in jail, and when it does happen, the jail needs to be held responsible for it.”

Giving a voice to the voiceless

More often than not, achieving justice for marginalized folks starts with uplifting their voices – not speaking over them. That was an important piece of the puzzle for Alexandria MacMaster, a trial attorney at Laffey Bucci & Kent.

“Through my legal career, I found that it’s very much not about me. It’s about making sure that other voices are amplified. The fact that I happen to know the law and the intricacies of the court system [means] we can get their voices heard,” said Alexandria. “I realized that should be at the forefront. Not my voice, but [letting] other people speak. And if I can get them there by speaking to the judge for them or supporting them in a deposition as they talk about their experiences, that is so much more valuable.”

In a similar vein, sometimes our own laws obstruct justice, no matter how deserving one may be of justice. For example, Elise R. Sanguinetti explained that, in many states across America, there have been significant restrictions since the 1970s against trying medical malpractice cases. That was up until January of 2023, when the law was changed to allow for more accountability among doctors and health care providers.

“We represent children who have been harmed by doctors and hospitals that did not provide proper care during their birth. Unfortunately, in those cases, it can have such catastrophic effects that those children will have long-term care needs for the rest of their lives. So we hold those doctors and hospitals accountable when those incidents occur,” said Elise. “Part of what we do is make sure they are taken care of through trusts and financial security long after their loved ones are gone.”

Justice without a price

The aim for most trial law firms is to give all plaintiffs a seat at the table – not to marginalize them in the same ways society has. But to do that, it takes incredible financial wherewithal, which isn’t necessarily synonymous with the contingency-fee model.

Firms that operate on a contingency fee basis only recoup if/when their clients do. While it enables more equal access to justice for those who otherwise couldn’t afford it, the high costs of a trial can be a tremendous burden for firms to carry. That’s why many successful firms gain the liquidity and capital to spend on case disbursements with a finance partner like Esquire Bank.

“Esquire Bank is a different bank. Traditional lenders do not understand the type of work that plaintiff’s lawyers do on a day-to-day basis, and Esquire does. [They] provided us with the opportunity to be able to grow, create the firm that we’ve always wanted, and help more individuals,” said Elise.

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