Like all Americans, the leadership of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America was shocked and horrified by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
While the rest of the country was still reeling, ATLA took unprecedented action: It called for a moratorium on all lawsuits arising out of the attacks, urging restraint and respect, putting relief for the families above all else.
|Photo by David Gordon
|Past MBA President Leo V. Boyle is credited with creating and supporting Trial Lawyers Care, the effort to assist the families of Sept. 11 victims with legal representation.
Within days, ATLA learned the airline industry had gone to Capital Hill and was requesting a financial bailout package that included immunity from litigation. ATLA immediately mobilized its lobbying team to argue that no special interest should be bailed out before the thousands of families blindsided by terrorism received the care they needed.
Over the following days, draft legislation was prepared and sponsors were secured, resulting in the enactment of the Victim Compensation Fund to assist injured victims and the families of every deceased victim in recovering full economic damages and unrestricted damages for noneconomic suffering.
Once it became clear that the fund would be created, ATLA again stepped forward and pledged that no family should suffer even more for lack of a lawyer: it would provide free legal representation for all of the Sept. 11 victims through a newly formed organization, Trial Lawyers Care.
Less than three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, almost 1,700 lawyers from every state, six Canadian provinces, Mexico, Australia and England volunteered for Trial Lawyers Care to provide free legal services to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
One man, Leo V. Boyle, a well-known Massachusetts litigator and past MBA president, who had just assumed the presidency of ATLA at the time of the terrorist attacks, is credited with creating and supporting this extraordinary relief program.
"Nobody is more responsible for the success of the Victim Compensation Fund than Leo Boyle," said Kenneth R. Feinberg, Special Master for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. "He was instrumental in getting the fund created and established by Congress. He was instrumental in the design of the fund. He was instrumental in encouraging grieving families to enter the fund. And he did a superb job in representing his clients in the fund. So at every step of the way, from its genesis to its completion, Leo's shadow looms large over the entire program."
Feinberg said Boyle's "modesty, his flexibility, his compassion in representing his clients, his determination to make sure that the fund succeeded has no peer."
"He also was instrumental in making sure that over 1,400 families were represented pro bono," Feinberg said. "He's really reaffirmed what a wonderful calling it is, our profession, the law. He's a model for others, for all of us to emulate."
For his remarkable work on behalf of the Sept. 11 victims and their families, as well as his other contributions to the legal profession, MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell will present Boyle with the Gold Medal Award during the Sept. 14 President's Reception at the Boston Harbor Hotel. MBA officers nominated Boyle for the award - a decision later ratified by the Executive Management Board.
The award is given to individuals who have provided outstanding legal services that have benefited the legal profession in Massachusetts. Candidates must have performed actions that have enhanced the image of the legal profession and the MBA, and that demonstrate a commitment to public service and the principles embodied in the MBA. The honor has been awarded only about 20 times in the past 45 years, and has included recipients such as Roy A. Hammer, William E. Bernstein, Paul R. Sugarman, Wayne A. Budd, Michael E. Mone and Kay H. Hodge.
"(He) is a leader of our profession and we are very fortunate that he was president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America at the time of the Sept. 11 crisis," said O'Donnell, who called Boyle the most outstanding trial lawyer and person she has ever met. "It's appropriate that the MBA honor him, not only for his work after Sept. 11, but for all the work he's done as a lawyer in Massachusetts."
History of public service
Among his many professional memberships, Boyle has been an MBA treasurer, vice-president, president-elect and president; an ATLA governor, secretary, vice-president and president; president of the New England Bar Association; and president of Trial Lawyers Care. He is a fellow of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers and has been chosen for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America.
In addition, he was recently appointed to the Court Management Advisory Board to assist the justices in their management of the judicial department.
From the outset of his career in 1971, following his graduation from Boston College Law School, Boyle was attracted to trial work and pursued every chance to go to court. Originally hired at Parker, Coulter, Daley & White to do legal research, he was fortunate that his mentor, Jim Meehan, recognized Boyle's curiosity, dedication and innate ability for trial work and began grooming him as a trial lawyer instead.
Around 1985, Meehan asked Boyle to join him and Cynthia Cohen, who is now an Appeals Court judge, in a new partnership, because Boyle was so curious about trial work and so diligent in preparing cases. Trial work "requires immense concentration, work on weekends and whenever, and he was willing to do that. I knew this was the guy for me," Meehan said.
Boyle garners admiration because he doesn't hesitate to take on the hard cases.
"He takes a great deal of pleasure in trying cases and giving it his all," Meehan said. "I had to admire him for what he did, because there wasn't an ultimate financial reward. It was the satisfaction of seeing a client come to a successful end on a case."
However, after forming Meehan, Boyle & Cohen, Boyle tried a series of cases and in fact became the financial support for the entire firm.
MBA President-Elect Warren Fitzgerald jumped at the chance to work with Meehan, Boyle and Cohen in their firm, which now exists as Meehan, Boyle, Black & Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said the atmosphere around Boyle is "energized and exciting."
"It's like watching someone create magic, whether in the courtroom, dealing with issues of governance of bar associations, or analyzing and advising people on political strategies either locally or at national level," Fitzgerald said.
Rushing to the call of duty
Fitzgerald said Boyle continually thinks of new and unique solutions to problems and methods of accomplishing things, as Boyle so ably demonstrated in the hours immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11.
Fitzgerald, Tom Henderson, the chief executive officer of ATLA, and others agree that Boyle was the visionary behind the moratorium on Sept. 11 lawsuits and in establishing the Trial Lawyers Care program.
According to Henderson, while on a conference call with the ATLA executive committee, Boyle said, "if a firefighter can rush into a burning building and give his life trying to save someone he doesn't even know, the least we can do as trial lawyers is to represent his widow and children for free."
"That's the kinds of person he is. He is an outstanding leader and he's an outstanding human being for his compassion and his caring about people. He's one of the finest people that I know," said Henderson.
As a result of Boyle's position statement, most trial lawyers readily agreed to a suspension of lawsuits arising out of the attacks, and an army of pro bono attorneys volunteered to assist families file claims with the Victim's Compensation Fund.
Ultimately, 98.25 percent of eligible families who lost a loved one voluntarily decided to participate and submitted claims to the fund, with payouts under the fund exceeding $7 billion dollars, according to Boyle.
Estimates vary, but Henderson believes trial lawyers provided approximately $250 million in free legal services.
Life and law was about to change
When discussing his actions and ATLA members' responses, Boyle sounds like a criminal lawyer, breaking the issue down into motive and opportunity.
"This was a mass murder, not a mass tort," said Boyle. "It occurred to us that everything about life was about to change after Sept. 11. Undoubtedly the legal system would see changes as well. So the option we had was to sit back and wait to see what happened or try to be part of crafting some changes. We chose to do the latter."
As for opportunity, "the airline industry was lobbying for a bailout bill consisting of cash and loan guarantees. They had a persuasive argument that without some kind of help from the government, they were going to fail. It seemed pretty obvious that if the government is going to take taxpayer money and bail out the airlines, let's take some of that money and bail out the families. That's a hard argument for anyone to stand on the floor and refute."
But when credited with the quick and innovative response, Boyle, with typical modesty, quickly shifts the spotlight to others.
"(The staff and officers of ATLA) are a really smart and concerned group of people," he said. "If you just took it one step at a time, it was pretty obvious what had to be done. I just happened to be the president of ATLA at the time, but any other president before or after would have gone through the drill and come out at the same place."
Apparently, Boyle doesn't realize that one of his gifts is inspiring and raising the performance of the people around him, as both Henderson and Fitzgerald commented.
Boyle led by example, particularly during the organization of Trial Lawyers Care.
Richard Bieder, president of Trial Lawyers Care, said during that time the development team for TLC began three to six months of nonstop work, 17 to 18 hours a day.
"If I was working that much, Leo was working 20 hours a day," Bieder said. "To take a project that mammoth, to take it from start to finish in less than three years without neglecting familial duties, duties to other clients in his Massachusetts office and his duties as president of ATLA, was a marvelous thing to observe."
Past MBA President Camille Sarrouf, of Sarrouf, Tarricone & Flemming, who served as MBA president from 1998-99, said it is fitting Boyle was chosen for the award.
"The award is only given to those who've shown extraordinary commitment and contribution to the legal profession," Sarrouf said. "He's certainly done that, not only with service to the Massachusetts bar, his championing the improvements to the judiciary, this wonderful work as president of ATLA and his being out front in providing free legal advice and services to victims of Sept. 11."
American Bar Association President-Elect Michael S. Greco, of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, who served as president of the MBA from 1985-86, agrees. "He is an outstanding lawyer and an outstanding humanitarian," Greco said.
A Gold Medal recipient himself, Mone, who served as MBA president from 1993-94, called Boyle's work as president of ATLA consistent with his career, "which is to not only to be a terrific trial lawyer, but to zealously protect the rights of those who are injured."
"Leo is responsible for establishing the vehicle by which thousands of families received generous public compensation for their horrible loss," added Mone of Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile, who has known Boyle for 30 years.
Boyle says he was stunned and thrilled when he learned he had been awarded the Gold Medal.
"Hopefully I won't devalue it too much," he said. "The people who have gotten it before me are true giants in the profession. I don't feel I'm in that constellation."
Boyle credits others for his accomplishments, saying Meehan and Cohen always made volunteer work as important as casework and fee-producing work.
In particular, "right from when I first started with Meehan in 1971, it was kind of imparted to you that an important part of being a lawyer is being active in professional associations and trying to make a difference, not only through your case work, but also your volunteer work. Jim's the one that set us all on that path.
"The trick is working with really good lawyers in my office who are really great human beings and they allow me to do this stuff. They not only don't begrudge it, they celebrate it. As just one example, in addition to the volunteer work I was doing, Peter Black and my other partners handled about 19 of the Victim Compensation Fund cases and eventually 11 of them went to hearings. So I'm just surrounded here by remarkable people and extraordinary lawyers. They have allowed me to go out and do the bar work I love to do."
Boyle is very relieved the Victim Compensation Fund went so well and appreciates the thousands of lawyers who helped.
"All of us were able, by representing these families, to partake in a little bit of history," he said. "It's another one of those things that you get out much more than you put into handling that case."