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Local steps up for Long Island’s Latino community

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Between her career as a personal injury attorney and her new role as president of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, Liza Milgrim spends much of her time supporting and advocating for the Island’s Hispanic community.

By day, Milgrim, 42, of Merrick, represents clients who are mostly Spanish-speaking — including many who suffer major injuries and are navigating an unfamiliar legal system — at the firm Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. in Garden City.

She has also volunteered at LIHBA for five years, helping Hispanic law students adjust to a profession that largely lacks their ethnic representation, she said. In both venues, she provides important community outreach for local Latinos.

“I think people want to see their own in a position of power and leadership. We need to see more Hispanic attorneys as partners and judges and in government positions,” Milgrim said. “People have more faith in the system when they see their own — they trust more that justice will prevail.”

Milgrim is the first and only Hispanic partner at Sullivan and Papain, acting as a lifeline for Spanish-speaking clients who are often uneducated and at a severe disadvantage when facing an intricate legal system with a language barrier, she said.

“You build trust immediately with someone when you’re able to speak in their own language,” Milgrim said, “where they feel like they’re speaking directly to the attorney and that the attorney understands their position.”

As LIHBA president, Milgrim said, she planned to continue the association’s mission to advance the status of Hispanics in the community and the legal profession. The organization provides mentorships, networking and education to law students while hosting food drives and a prom dress drive for underserved high-schoolers.

Milgrim got involved in the organization after she relocated in 2014 from her firm’s Manhattan office, where she had worked since 2005, to its Garden City office. Working closer to home gave her more time to dive into local community affairs, a passion that was “in my heart,” she said, but could not be pursued between commuting and raising her first child.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, LIHBA’s work became even more vital — providing accurate legal information, Milgrim emphasized, to those dealing with legal issues such as immigration and citizenship, criminal matters and evictions. She helped create the Legal Information Program, which provides the information for free in English and Spanish via FAQ pages and on its YouTube page. Through the Nassau County Office of Hispanic Affairs, LIHBA was also able to provide free one-hour legal consultations.

“Being able to educate our community as to what their rights were and what the law was when these executive orders were in place was tremendous for our community,” Milgrim said.

LIHBA also gave $30,000 in scholarships at the height of the pandemic for law school students. This year, Milgrim spearheaded the New Lawyers Committee, which provides law school graduates with networking and professional development opportunities.

She estimated that she puts roughly 20 extra hours of work into the association every week. Her passion to help others, she said, comes from her mother, an Ecuadorian immigrant who came to the United States in 1968.

“She always managed to find a way, with a minimum-paying job, to always give back,” Milgrim said. “To this day, when her family, extended family or friends call and they need something, she finds a way to provide. I know the impact that had on me.”

Milgrim said she also hopes to pass along the same influence to her two children, ages 6 and 4. “I hope it’s the same impact for my children,” she said, “that they see how important it is that you give back to those less fortunate, or just those that need a helping hand.”

People interested in the LIHBA can contact the association at lihbacontact@gmail.com.