Four years ago a medical school graduate in Louisiana embarked
on the trip of a lifetime with her brother. As a graduation
present, their father took them to the World Cup in South Africa,
the global soccer championship which takes place every four years.
But what started as the trip of a lifetime suddenly turned
The two siblings were unfortunately the victims of a terrible
hit-and-run accident. The med school student was killed in the
crash and her brother slipped into a coma. Estimates put the cost
of bringing the deceased sister and her brother home at
Back home in Louisiana, the sister of the med school student was a
lawyer in Baton Rouge. As word of the tragedy spread, the legal
community pitched in to help through the SOLACE program, an
email-based network of legal professionals interested in helping
other members of the legal "family."
A message was sent out to SOLACE members asking if anyone had any
contacts in the medical evacuation or transportation industry that
could assist the family. Just 18 minutes later an email response
came from a law school professor who had a brother that was the
head of medical evacuations at Ochsner Hospital in New
Free of charge, the hospital dispatched a team of five doctors to
South Africa who brought the med school student and her brother
home to Louisiana. Amidst a horrific situation, the family finally
had some sense of relief and it was the local legal community that
helped make it happen.
The SOLACE program was co-founded 12 years ago in 2002 by U.S.
District Judge Jay C. Zainey of Louisiana and Mark Surprenant, a
New Orleans attorney. SOLACE (Support of Lawyers/Legal Personnel -
All Concern Encouraged) was born from a simple, yet important
question: what can members of the legal community do to help each
other in various times of need?
The program, which began in Louisiana, has now been implemented in
15 states and Puerto Rico. Massachusetts came on board to the
SOLACE program this past fall. SOLACE participants include lawyers,
paralegals, legal assistants and legal staff, court personnel, and
anyone who works in the legal profession. It harnesses the personal
networks of its volunteer members to provide critical assistance,
especially when there has been a death in the family, illness or
other catastrophic loss.
The process is simple yet effective. Members notify a program
coordinator by email when someone from within the legal "family"
needs assistance due to tragedy or some other unfortunate
circumstance. The program administrator then sends out a short,
confidential email to the SOLACE network in a given state chapter.
SOLACE members who might be able to help can reply and ultimately
be put in touch with the requester. There is never any pressure to
offer assistance and participation is purely voluntary. The
identity of the requester is kept confidential in the initial email
blast from the administrator.
SOLACE has flourished thanks to the power of the Internet and
instant communication. According to Zainey, the Louisiana SOLACE
chapter has approximately 8,800 volunteer members. If each of those
members has 10 friends, family members or neighbors in different
careers, there are potentially 88,000 people who can address a
request for help. By using email, the power of such a vast network
can be leveraged quickly and effectively.
"In 11 years we've never had to tell anyone we couldn't help them.
It's amazing," said Zainey. "If the message reaches 88,000 people,
eventually somebody is going to know somebody who's going to know
"It's a pretty easy, low maintenance way of connecting people who
need help with people who can provide help," said Patrick Curran,
an executive committee member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the
Federal Bar Association (FBA) who will serve as the SOLACE program
coordinator in Massachusetts.
Zainey noted that the Louisiana chapter receives more than 100
requests for help in a year, averaging about five to 10 per month.
The mantra of the program is: "Nothing too big. Nothing too
"It's amazing what people will do for total strangers - the common
bond or link being they're all members of the legal community
helping each other during a time of need," added Zainey.
SOLACE will never ask for cash donations from participants. The
program facilitates an opportunity to offer clothing, housing,
transportation, medical community contacts and a myriad of other
services when someone in the legal community faces a dire
MBA Vice President Christopher Sullivan first learned of the
SOLACE program when he attended a convention in New Orleans as
president-elect of the Massachusetts Chapter of the FBA. Sullivan
heard Zainey speak about SOLACE at a luncheon and took the idea
back to the FBA chapter in Massachusetts.
In June 2013, Zainey came to Massachusetts as part of the FBA's
annual judicial reception. In a meeting with several bar
associations, including the MBA, Zainey described the SOLACE
program and the success it had enjoyed in Louisiana. Also
represented at the meeting was the Association for Legal
Administrators - Boston chapter, the Boston Bar Association, the
Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association as well as other legal
The MBA's Massachusetts chapter of SOLACE has already attracted
more than 100 members to date.
"We're thrilled that we've received such a positive response to
this," noted Sullivan. "We think it's going to be a real benefit to
MBA members, their staffs and others we work with in the court
system, corporations and public agencies. What we're trying to do
is really harness the contacts and clout of the entire
Massachusetts legal community so that everyone benefits."