Source of Solace: Off the bench, federal judge dedicates time to helping others
The SOLACE program officially launched in the early 2000s, and it was adopted early on by the Louisiana State Bar Association. The program has since spread nationally, in large part because of talks Zainey has given at different conferences and events.
The judge says about 25 states have formal programs, and in many other states Zainey has people he can contact to share requests for assistance. In addition, the Federal Bar Association has implemented a SOLACE initiative as a member benefit.
In the speeches he gives to try grow SOLACE’s reach, Zainey says he emphasizes the common bond lawyers share.
“We were in law school together, we sweat out the law school exams together, we sweat out the bar exam together and then we made it; so we should try to help each other in our time of need,” he says.
A talk Zainey gave at a national meeting of bar leaders prompted then-Nebraska State Bar Association President Michael Kinney to start a SOLACE program in his state.
“What piqued my interest was how simple it is,” Kinney says. “It doesn’t cost any money.”
Zainey praised Nebraska for being the first state to require members of the bar to opt-out if they did not want to receive email notifications from SOLACE, as opposed to an opt-in approach. Louisiana soon followed suit, and the judge now recommends the opt-out method for building a strong SOLACE network.
“I ask people not to opt out because when they receive these notices, even if they delete them right away, it will at least be a constant reminder to them that the SOLACE program exists and it exists for them,” Zainey says.
The judge constantly highlights that the program would not be a success without those who help. And he notes that the program aims not only to assist lawyers and their families but other members of the legal community, including paralegals, court personnel and legal secretaries.
Zainey and Surprenant say Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect of the ABA, has been a longtime supporter of their efforts. Martinez, of counsel at Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans, says she appreciates how SOLACE allows members of the legal community to help colleagues or their family members in ways big and small.
“Some of the most extraordinary efforts I have seen are those following natural disasters where individuals simply say no to the notion that they will leave it to someone else to step up and pitch in,” Martinez says. “Within minutes of a request going out from SOLACE via email, the offers of help start rolling in, and the feeling that you are part of a community of caring individuals overwhelms.”
Zainey says he is hopeful for stronger ties between SOLACE and the ABA moving forward. He credits the ABA with being instrumental in aiding the expansion of another program he started, Project H.E.L.P.—Homeless Experience Legal Protection, which launched in New Orleans in 2004.
Through Project H.E.L.P., which is now in dozens of cities across the country, attorneys volunteer to provide regularly scheduled pro bono legal clinics for the homeless.
Surprenant says Zainey’s work with Project H.E.L.P. and SOLACE highlight the judge’s consistent willingness to give his time and energy to help others in need.
Zainey’s charitable efforts have earned him numerous honors, including the St. John Paul II Award from the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
“I think it’s just in his DNA to be a loving, caring person,” Surprenant says.
If you are interested in starting a SOLACE program in your area, contact U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey at [email protected] or contact Mark Surprenant at [email protected]. For more information about Project H.E.L.P., visit homelesslegalprotection.org.