A True Plaintiff’s Hero

My post today is not about a case decision or a new law, but about a person I know who qualifies in my opinion as one of the finest trial lawyers, and finest people, I know. His name is Leo Boyle. A founding partner of Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow in Boston, most people outside of legal circles might not know that name, but he is one of the true unsung heroes of our day – for several reasons.

First, Leo has dedicated his life to fighting for the “little guy” in society: The person who has been injured because of someone else’s negligence – be it a corporation or another unknown person. Regardless of who injured such a person, he or she had to go up against powerful corporate and insurance interests to achieve a measure of justice. That’s how our civil justice (civil liability) system works: 95% of the time, when an injured person sues a company or another person for negligently injuring them or worse, causing death to a loved one, it is an insurance company or corporate interest that defends the claim. And trust me, as a Boston injury lawyer who represents people who have suffered terrible injuries, I can assure you: Those insurance companies and corporate interests fight hard. The typical injury victim is usually an unknown person, without much power or influence: Literally David up against a huge corporate Goliath. Without a dedicated, talented lawyer to take up their cause, they don’t stand a chance. To employ some slang parlance, they’re toast.

Enter a man like Leo Boyle. Leo has spent his entire career fighting for the “little guy” – with incredible results. More lawyers should be like Leo; I know I’ve tried to be. Fortunately, I had the chance to observe and get to know Leo almost 25 years ago, when I was Public Affairs and Media Counsel for the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA,) and Leo was on the Board of Governors. He’s always been a source of wisdom and advice to me. Recently, the American Association for Justice honored Leo by bestowing upon him the Leonard M. Ring Champion of Justice award in Washington, D.C. While the AAJ honored Leo for many different instances of justice that he has achieved for so many over the years, the award centered on Leo’s actions when he was President of the national bar association in 2001, when it was then known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA.)

Leo was President of ATLA when September 11 2001 struck. In those days following 9/11, Boyle did the exact opposite of what critics of trial lawyers would have expected: He called on trial lawyers across the country to refrain from filing lawsuits in connection with the national disaster. He did so because he knew that if such lawsuits were filed by every person or family who lost a loved one during these events, those victims would be tied up in litigation for years on end, not seeing a dime of compensation until those suits were settled perhaps a decade later. Instead, he lobbied Congress, one by one and in groups, to establish the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund that expeditiously directed a streamlined claims system and compensation payments to injured victims and their families, and to all those who lost loved ones in the disaster. Stop and think about the valor and decency of that effort: If Leo hadn’t done that, and Congress hadn’t established the streamlined Victims Compensation Fund that they did, a great many of those lawsuits that would have resulted would still be ongoing today – while the victims’ families languished, waiting for justice that might never have come. Beyond convincing Congress to set up the streamlined claims and compensation system, Leo’s leadership helped to establish a national pro bono organization that offered free legal services for the victims’ families. Funny, but I didn’t hear or see any “tort reform” advocates talk much about that. These are the same corporate interests that would like to severely limit, or take away, your right so sue someone in court if their negligence injures you or a loved one.

After Leo was successful in urging Congress to create the Victims Compensation Fund, he went further, recruiting hundreds of (largely New York City) lawyers to represent the thousands of victims for free. Knowing this was going to be a tall order, he made a difficult trip to New York City in October 2001 to convince attorneys there that this free, uncompensated work was morally necessary.

“It was a pretty daunting task to represent all of the victims for free,” he recalled. “Everyone (in the legal profession) was aware that a lot of the work was going to fall to New York lawyers. There was a legitimate debate (among them) about ‘can we do this and still remain in business, and how are we going to do this?'” At this very uncomfortable meeting, Boyle stood up and said, “How can we not do this? If a fireman can rush into a building and lose his life trying to save somebody he doesn’t even know, how can I not represent his children for free?”

That sealed it. Lawyers volunteering across the country eventually procured more than $7 billion from the fund for victims, all without being compensated for any of their efforts.

So the next time you think of 9/11 and of “heroes,” think of a man you’ve probably never met or heard of, but who saved thousands of victims and survivors of that tragedy from even more pain still. His name is Leo V. Boyle, and I’m proud to call him a friend.