Among the attorneys at Holland & Knight, veterans, reservists, and active-duty members of the U.S. military have a prominent place.
Nationally, the firm is deeply committed to internal and external initiatives that serve those who have served our country. Hiring attorneys who are veterans is an important part of the firm’s diversity program. These veterans also play a critical role at the helm of Holland & Knight’s pro bono efforts to assist current and former military members with the unique legal challenges they face.
Nicholas Hasenfus, an associate in Holland & Knight’s Boston office, is vice chair of the firm-wide Veterans Group. In his role, he oversees the firm’s pro bono efforts related to helping veterans – efforts that have engaged more than 140 professionals in contributing over $2.3 million in legal service time in 2017 alone.
Hasenfus is one of eighteen members of Holland & Knight’s Veterans Group from the Boston office, ten of whom are veterans. Having served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010, he said he feels “very fortunate to be in the position [he’s] in,” and feels privileged to help fellow veterans when it’s “easy to see veterans [his] age who are homeless or jobless.”
“It could have been me or a lot of friends I served with and a lot of these people just need a little help,” he said.
Hasenfus said many older veterans seek help from Holland & Knight attorneys as well, particularly on issues with disability claims, aid and attendance benefits and assistance with getting into and paying for nursing home care. Cases come from a variety of sources – some veterans and families reach out directly, while many find the firm through the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, for which many lawyers at the firm volunteer, or Veterans Legal Services (where former Holland & Knight attorney Tim McLaughlin, now with Shaheen & Gordon, is a past Board Chair).
In Boston, Hasenfus said other common cases involve landlord/tenant disputes, where the tenant is a low-income veteran facing eviction. Hasenfus said in many cases, simply having an attorney present to navigate the process is enough to keep the client in his or her home.
He also said his colleagues are working on two cases where clients who served in Vietnam are seeking benefits based on long-term health complications from exposure to Agent Orange. The infamous herbicide was used by the U.S. military to kill plants in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971, and has been linked with many serious health problems, including some types of heart disease and cancer.
“We’re providing these veterans with legal services first and foremost, but we think, as a firm, it’s really important to welcome these veterans and get them the care they deserve, especially when some of them may not have received the welcome they deserved when they came home,” he said.
In addition to working with veterans on issues related to housing and benefits, the firm represents many veteran-owned businesses. Hasenfus said he is grateful to Holland & Knight’s leadership, which has enabled the firm’s Veterans Group to have such a robust pro bono practice. In particular, he acknowledged Executive Partner Steven Wright and the Boston Veterans Group Leader Paul Lannon, whose support has given the Boston office an amazing platform for this work.
Nationally, the firm’s efforts involve about 200 attorneys across all 28 Holland & Knight offices. The Chair of the Veterans Group, Daniel Sylvester, an associate in the firm’s Chicago office, coordinates these efforts throughout the firm, which has received the American Bar Association’s Military Pro Bono Project Outstanding Service Award for six straight years.
Sylvester served 11 years in the military. His wife served seven, and now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As an attorney overseeing Holland & Knight’s effort to help, and the caregiver of a disabled veteran himself, Sylvester said he is proud and grateful to have received so much support from the firm’s leadership.
“It’s the atmosphere and mentality of the firm to do good and take care of people, and it allows us to do so much to take care of veterans across the country. It’s really heartwarming,” he said.
Pro bono work with veterans, active-duty service members, and their families is a large and important part of Holland & Knight’s community commitment. But the firm’s public service projects represent a varied array of causes. The Public and Charitable Service Department of Holland & Knight strives to involve attorneys in many types of cases, and leads firmwide signature efforts in the areas of children and education, civil rights and human rights and social entrepreneurship.
In addition, it encourages its attorneys and professionals to volunteer together, often with clients, family and friends, on non-legal community service projects. On the firm’s annual 9/11 Day of Service, attorneys are encouraged to get out and volunteer in the community, whether at a soup kitchen, a school or center for youth, or an elderly housing facility.
The 9/11 Day of Service was started on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in memory of Glenn Winuk, a Holland & Knight partner in the New York office and volunteer EMT and firefighter, who was killed on September 11, 2001 assisting New York City firefighters at Ground Zero. Working with his brother, Jay, the firm started the nation-wide tradition to help harness the spirit of unity and volunteerism that arose on 9/11.
The aim, according to the Boston office’s Public and Charitable Service Partner Brett Carroll, is to engage attorneys in a fulfilling day-long project in hopes that they will become more deeply invested in representing disadvantaged populations.
“What we’re doing has an immediate impact for the groups that need assistance, but the goal is to get people talking to people in Boston community that might inspire them to do a little bit more to help,” Carroll said.
In Boston, there are between ten and sixteen different 9/11 Day of Service projects. The Boston office’s participation translates to well over 5,000 hours of community service since 2011, and has involved organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank, the New England Homeless Veterans Center, and the Ronald McDonald House and corporate entities like Baupost, Boston Financial, JetBlue and Welch’s. In addition to the homeless and the hungry, attorneys have helped survivors of domestic violence and Paralympic athletes as part of the 9/11 Day of Service. Working together and with these partners, Carroll says the motto in the Boston office is “it is our privilege to serve.”
“One of the leaders of the firm, Holland & Knight founder and ABA President Chesterfield Smith, truly believed in service,” he said. “It all comes down to something he would encourage others to do, ‘Do good and be somebody.’”