Sarah Lahlou-Amine says taking on pro bono work can remind lawyers how fortunate they are
Published in 2021 Florida Super Lawyers magazine
By G.K. Sharman on June 24, 2021
The justice system can be confusing.
A woman evicted from her South Florida apartment took the landlord to court and won—but, due to an error, the court kept the rent deposit she was required to make; and then—again by mistake—gave the bulk of that to the landlord. Another woman was confused about voting rights being restored to ex-felons, and needed to know for sure if she could vote.
Fortunately, they connected with appellate attorney Sarah Lahlou-Amine, who, over the course of her career, has put in about 1,000 hours of pro bono work. In the above cases, she was able to help secure the money, and to reassure the woman who had paid her debt to society that she could safely register to vote.
“The law affects people’s lives every day, and an appeal may be the client’s last hope for justice,” says Lahlou-Amine, a partner at Banker Lopez Gassler in Tampa and a passionate advocate for ordinary people who lack the funds to get an expert legal opinion or appeal a case.
She chaired the Pro Bono Committee of the Florida Bar’s Appellate Practices Section, serves on the boards of Bay Area Legal Services and Urban League of Hillsborough County, co-founded Tampa Bay Pro Bono Partners; and calls legal aid lawyers “my heroes and my inspiration.”
Lahlou-Amine, who handles state and federal appellate litigation and insurance issues, has also chaired the Florida Bar’s Appellate Practice Section, argued before Florida’s District Courts of Appeal, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, and briefed matters for the U.S. Supreme Court.
She is working with the League of Women Voters and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition now on restoring voting rights to Floridians disenfranchised because they can’t pay fines and fees owed after completing felony sentences.
Lahlou-Amine began doing pro bono work at law school at Stetson University. She says a misconception about taking on pro bono cases is that they’re too time-consuming. Many can be done in a couple of hours, Lahlou-Amine says.
More importantly, she believes, pro bono work can remind attorneys how fortunate they are and help keep them grounded.
“I really believe we’re all connected,” she says. “Misfortune can befall any of us. My family experienced some of the adverse circumstances that legal aid and pro bono programs exist to help.”
For households struggling financially, getting assistance can make the difference between having housing or not. “I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do the work that I do, to give back, and to support others to do the same,” she says. “For the opportunity to find such fulfillment in my work, I have my family, my law firm, talented attorneys and judges, and my community to thank and be grateful for. But I am mindful that not everyone has the same support and resources. I am mindful that what hurts just as much as finding oneself in that position is seeing someone else go through it without a lifeline.
“Pro bono attorneys can provide support and resources and be a lifeline for those who need assistance. And that is a gift.”
Some people do yoga to wind down from a stressful, high-powered job. Others listen to music or go for a run.
Sarah Lahlou-Amine picks veggies.“I love knowing where my food comes from,” she says. “There’s nothing like twisting a head of lettuce out of the ground to have for dinner at night.”
She and the family love visiting Florida farms and U-pick venues on weekends, though COVID-19 has slowed down their excursions. While she and her husband go for the healthy stuff, the kids—ages 6, 8 and 10—hang out in the animal petting area.
When life becomes a challenging row to hoe, U-picking brings peace, says Lahlou-Amine, who once stopped to pick produce on her way to oral arguments in another county.
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