September 29, 2023

Economic Backbone: Law

Attorney Mischelle D'Angelone reflects on her childhood and why she does so much pro bono work

Pro bono award winner D'Angelone encourages all attorneys to chip in.

Art Levy | 7/20/2022

Pasco County-based Mischelle D’Angelone, one of 20 lawyers recognized this year by the Florida Bar for service to low-income and disadvantaged clients, points to her own childhood as the reason why she does so much pro bono work, particularly work on behalf of children and families.

Background: “As I sit here today, my mom is still an alcoholic and meth user at age 80, and both of my siblings struggle with addiction. My maternal family has a long history of drug use and sexual abuse. I was in and out of foster care, often returned to my mom, even when I didn't want to go back to her. The system was not set up to house me long term, so they simply sent me back until the next event and then removed me again. I was lucky enough to spend summers with my grandmother, who instilled a love of reading, which is what kept me sane and also served me well in academics. I love my family, but I don't like or respect them, and when I say I understand the plight these families face it's because of that. No one chooses to be an addict, and yet the actions of a parent have ramifications for the child that are lifelong. I have been a foster parent. I have represented parents whose children were removed, and I currently represent kids in foster care. What I've learned is that no one is evil, and for the most part, no one sets out to abuse or harm their kids. Most of the time, these parents are simply doing what was done to them, without knowing any better. My bottom line is that if every attorney put a little good out into the world by doing some pro bono work, we could collectively make a difference, and that might break the cycle.”

The Work: “I do pro bono work privately and for Bay Area Legal Services and for the Tampa Abortion Fund. What I'm hoping to accomplish is access to the justice system. If a person can't afford an attorney, then they don't have access, and equal justice requires equal access. We have a very limited number of legal aid organizations in Florida with most having wait lists for services. If every attorney did a few cases per year, we could achieve equal access. I try to set an example and encourage other attorneys to take pro bono cases because, frankly, it's not a ton of work, and it means a world of difference to the person you help.”

The Return: “I love the law and I love helping people, so pro bono work is a great fit for me. With that said, I have staff to pay and other expenses, so I can only do so much. If every attorney did just a little pro bono work, maybe 40 hours a year, it would change our legal system for the better. I would also add that my staff does the majority of the work on these cases I take, and they are really the ones who deserve the award.” 

Changing Workplace Dynamics

Post-pandemic workplace litigation is on the rise, says labor and employment attorney Andrew Gordon, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Fort Lauderdale. Gordon, who represents clients across Florida, says he’s seeing more litigation over work arrangements for remote employees, employermandated vaccine requirements and discrimination claims.

Gordon says the Great Resignation has prompted employees to feel as though they have the upper hand. Gordon advises companies to prioritize employees to avoid difficulties.

Another topic: Counseling employers on complying with Florida’s new “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act.” Gordon says about a quarter of current corporate clients have called about the act. “The Stop Woke Act has created confusion among employers who are cautious about workplace diversity training efforts and have slowed down or reduced their training efforts,” he says. Gordon recommends employers have attorneys take an active role, “if not a lead role,” in preparing diversity training programs. He says it’s “very possible” a program used in New York by a multistate employer might get the employer in trouble in Florida.

Tags: Government/Politics & Law, Feature, Economic Backbone: Law

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