Firm Expands Philanthropic and Pro Bono Commitment to Education & Youth Development with Formation of Academic Scholarship
As a lasting contribution to at-risk youth nationwide, Akerman LLP, a top 100 U.S. law firm serving clients and communities across the Americas, has intensified its philanthropic and pro bono legal efforts with a $1 million pledge to the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association. The donation, dedicated to benefit current and former foster youth, is the largest donation CASA has ever received from a law firm and one of the greatest sustained commitments it has received throughout its 38-year history.
Akerman's $1 million pledge represents a commitment over six years to take on a substantial role in the lives of foster youth nationwide. A significant portion of the pledged funds will go to the National CASA Association and its local CASA/guardian ad litem (GAL) programs to support the more than 600,000 abused and neglected children who enter the overburdened foster care system each year.
Funds also will be used to establish the "Akerman Academic Scholarship for Foster Youth." This endowed fund will help minimize the financial burden of higher education for college-bound youth who have grown up in foster care or have spent time in the foster care system. Many students lack the resources to live an independent life once they age-out of the foster care system, and few can afford the necessities to attend school, including the essential books and supplies, registration fees and living expenses. The goal of the Akerman Scholarship is to address these needs and provide these students with increased opportunities to achieve success.
"It takes immense commitment and far-reaching acts if we are going to achieve quality advocacy for every abused and neglected child in the foster care system," said Andrew Smulian, Akerman Chairman and CEO. "Our people have once again come together to take this huge step toward building an enduring program that will support foster youth in the years ahead. Akerman's $1 million pledge is about improving the outcomes for at-risk youth by leveraging our firm's resources while further aligning with our clients and other community partners who share our passion for making a difference."
"Entering our third year of Akerman’s support of local CASA/GAL programs across the nation, we are so excited to see this partnership expand and grow," said Bill Collins, President of the National CASA Association. "As we move down this road of increasing outcomes for foster children together, we fully expect these efforts to have a tremendous impact on the lives of the children we serve."
Identifying a Need and Bridging the Gap
With more than half a million children entering the foster care system each year, almost a third lack a legal advocate to stand for them and ensure the services and support they need to succeed. Akerman's contribution will strengthen the CASA/GAL network of court appointed advocates and support volunteer training programs to maintain strong child advocacy in the courtroom and other settings.
Studies demonstrate a child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to do better in school.
- Only 46 percent of youth in foster care earn a high school diploma, compared to 84 percent of all students nationwide.
- Only 15 percent of foster youth attend postsecondary institutions, with only about one percent completing college due to insufficient support, lack of appropriate guidance and unmet financial needs.
- One in five will become homeless after aging-out of the foster care system and 25 percent will be incarcerated by age 20.
The Akerman Academic Scholarship for Foster Youth addresses these realities for foster youth who represent a unique segment within a larger population of vulnerable young adults. The Akerman Scholarship aims to recognize and support the achievements of those who have overcome adverse childhood experiences by demonstrating high levels of academic commitment and readiness for success.
Working in collaboration, Akerman and the National CASA Association will award deserving students who wish to enroll in public and private universities, or technical/career programs. The Akerman Scholarship is anticipated to launch in early 2016, when more details will be distributed to the CASA/GAL network and the broader community.
Advancing New Methods of Community Impact
Akerman's $1 million pledge to National CASA is part of the firm's continuing commitment to promote volunteer and pro bono advocacy for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. The commitment spans multiple priority initiatives on both local and national levels throughout the year, including community awareness, volunteer engagement, pro bono, fundraising and donations, and an academic scholarship, among others.
Utilizing Akerman's national platform and building relationships between local offices and neighboring CASA/GAL programs represents a unique partnership. As the first law firm to partner nationally with the organization, Akerman is working closely with the National CASA Association to create a model that can be replicated with other philanthropic businesses.
“The Akerman partnership represents the best of all worlds for us,” said Tara Perry, Chief Executive Officer for the National CASA Association. “It will allow us to make a national impact at multiple levels that broadens our service to abused and neglected children.”
The pledge marks an unprecedented effort by a law firm to advance the CASA/GAL mission, signaling to the legal industry at large that the need for child advocates is great. Law firms are uniquely qualified to make an impact on the lives of foster youth given their breadth of skills and resources in the courtroom and the community.
"The relationship the National CASA Association established with Akerman just last year has had more impact than we ever imagined and our hope is to replicate the results with other community partners," said Perry. "Akerman has become a pioneering partner for the National CASA Association and a significant advocate for children in foster care. Nothing is more meaningful to us than for organizations like Akerman to strengthen their commitment to foster youth and inspire others to take part in such a vital cause."
Click here to watch a brief video about Akerman's partnership with the National CASA Association to help give at-risk youth a voice in the courtroom and communities across the country.
Recognizing the Power of Collective Generosity
Akerman's commitment to CASA programs builds upon the momentum of the firm's latest Give Back Campaign, a collective effort during the month of the May by the firm's professionals and staff to pledge volunteer and pro bono hours, and raise critical funds, to help at-risk youth. Since the campaign launched in 2014, more than 1,200 Akerman employees across the United States have participated in the Give Back Campaign, with hundreds pledging more than 22,000 volunteer and pro bono hours and contributing more than $200,000. The pledged time and contributions have the potential to improve the lives of more than 350 foster youth. These Give Back efforts are in addition to the firm's continuing contributions of pro bono legal services and financial support to numerous and varied community organizations.
The Akerman Give Back campaign is a highly-focused initiative that harnesses the power of lawyers and staff firm-wide around a common cause during a specified time of the year in order to achieve the greatest impact in the community. By merging the two functions of pro bono legal service and volunteer community service, this hybrid-giving approach lends the opportunity for Akerman to serve the community hand-in-hand with clients, philanthropic organizations as well as other civic and business leaders who share the firm's philanthropic focus in the areas of education and youth development.
Read more about Akerman's model approach to impact giving in Diversity & the Bar magazine.
About Akerman LLP
Akerman LLP is a leading transactions and trial law firm known for its core strengths in middle market M&A, within the financial services and real estate industries, and for a diverse Latin America practice. With more than 600 lawyers and government affairs professionals and a network of 20 offices, it is ranked among the top 100 law firms in the United States by The American Lawyer (2015). Akerman also is ranked among the top 50 law firms for diversity in The American Lawyer's Diversity Scorecard (2015).
Akerman has a long history of public service and corporate citizenship that stems from a deep commitment to serve as allies and advocates in the community. The firm's philanthropic and pro bono efforts focus on important, worthwhile, and vital causes - particularly in the areas of education and youth development. Akerman addresses critical social issues through community partnerships, employee volunteerism, pro bono service, and by collaborating with clients to expand the reach of shared purpose-driven initiatives.
About National CASA Association
National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of nearly 1,000 state and community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. The only program of its kind, CASA/GAL volunteers are empowered by the courts to provide children with one-on-one advocacy. CASA/GAL volunteers see their assigned children regularly and interview all the adults who impact their lives. Volunteer advocates offer judges the critical information they need to ensure each child's rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care, staying with the child until she is placed in a loving permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives. More information can be found at casaforchildren.org.