WIth Sessions Fishman Nathan and Israel, LLC as the largest firm donor to The Pro Bono Project on GiveNOLA Day 2015, we feature Carole Cukell Neff here as the largest individual donor within the firm. Our sincere thanks to Carole for showing her commitment to The Pro Bono Project in this way. See the firm article at: SESSIONS
As 2015 Board Chair of The Pro Bono Project, Carole Cukell Neff has taken on the challenge of building the organization’s financial future and longevity doing what she does best as a lawyer: estate planning.
Her main goal for this year is to build a planned giving program that will enable lawyers and other supporters to make donations to The Project for the future. Doing this ensures that the clients in need of civil legal services within the six-parish area The Project serves will always have access to a pro bono lawyer.
This is not a small task. Even after Carole is no longer Chair, she will shepherd this program for The Project and its future clients.
But Carole is no stranger to taking on big, high impact projects. She came to The Project after Hurricane Katrina to share her special knowledge of successions with staff attorney Christopher Coty, who now heads up this area for The Project, as well as with the volunteer lawyers.
The Project’s volunteers were among the many who were tasked with resolving a portion of the more than 26,000 open successions in the aftermath of the Katrina’s devastation. Thousands of residents languished in other parts of the country or temporary housing because they could not obtain insurance or Road Home money without clear title to their property.
Local and national volunteers came on board to help get this process moving. In the middle of all this was Carole Neff, the resident expert, who today remains the ‘go-to’ attorney for all matters of succession that come to The Project. No small task.
“Because of the sheer number of cases from Katrina, we were asking lawyers without any experience in successions to take a succession case. At first, many were hesitant and fearful, but we found ways to make it easy for them. Working with Chris and The Project’s staff, we offered free CLEs to help lawyers get familiar with the succession process and taught them the basic skills to handle simple successions.
“Many lawyers see successions as a highly specialized area and it felt a bit daunting to them, and perhaps, that it might be beyond their abilities. Others felt that they didn’t even know the right questions to ask in order to gather the critical information needed or that they just simply didn’t have enough knowledge. Yes, successions can be complicated, but most of the cases The Project handled then, and continues to do now, are simple successions,” explained Carole.
In addition to the CLEs and one-on-one mentoring, Carole created forms and other resources to make the succession process uncomplicated. With Carole’s guidance, the lawyers were able to relax knowing that that they had an expert on call, and the resources to ensure everything was done correctly. Truly an expert, Carole and her colleague Max Nathan, Jr., co-authored the Treatise on Louisiana Successions, which is updated regularly, and serves as the ‘bible’ of succession law.
Besides her work with The Project, Carole, who was mentored in pro bono by Max Nathan, Jr. at Sessions Fishman, has been bringing her legal expertise pro bono to many area organizations. She has served on boards and has led as a Board or committee chair for many. Among them are the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, Jewish Community Day School and a host of other community groups. She has been recognized countless times for her services to these groups and to the community at large for her pro bono efforts.
“It’s my obligation as a lawyer to use my skills for the better good of the community and this satisfies some of my obligation to that. I want to be of service and feel like it’s important for all attorneys to find a way to give back to people who need our services and can’t afford them,” says Carole.