Trial Lawyers Fight to Protect Individuals from Abuse

Trial Lawyers Fight to Protect Individuals from Abuse

How do you protect individuals from abuse?

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The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, states it clearly: everyone is affected by sexual violence.

It’s not hyperbole. RAINN reports that 1 in 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Moreover, an average of 24 individuals per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner every year in the US.

Whether it’s you, a loved one, or a neighbor, abuse is common enough that some civil litigators have taken it upon themselves and their law firms to hold those perpetrators accountable. And whether the perpetrator is an individual or a corporation, one thing is certain: survivors of abuse need help finding the justice they deserve.

Fortunately, trial lawyers provide just that.

Protecting survivors of abuse through legislation

A trial attorney’s tireless work is typically a net positive. It empowers their clients with the expertise necessary to attain justice, funds the trial lawyer and law firm so they can extend their reach, and transforms our laws to strengthen America’s democracy.

Transforming our laws also helps protect American citizens. Some of our nation’s most important laws were born from civil cases. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, and sex. This important Act set a precedent for civil cases, proving that it can be a viable avenue for change.

Elise R. Sanguinetti is a trial lawyer walking that avenue. As a founding partner of her San Francisco–based contingency fee law firm, Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos LLP, Sanguinetti has tried myriad cases ranging from mass tort to medical malpractice to sexual assault, among others. But she also served as president of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) from 2017 through 2019 – a position that bolstered her passion for protecting individuals from sexual assault predators.

As AAJ president , Sanguinetti set her sights on change, specifically to the 1926 Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), legislation she believed to be “one of today’s biggest threats to consumer and employee protections.”

That’s because the original introduction of the FAA provided for non-judicial resolution for disputes within private organizations through a process called arbitration. Essentially, this waived the rights of employees and consumers to bring class claims to court and prohibited any formal complaints against the company. So, instead of a court date, trial, and judgment entered by a court of law, the FAA provides an individual with an arbitrator or arbitration panel that provides an “arbitration award.”

Sanguinetti continued to fight forced arbitration because, as originally written, it failed to protect survivors of sexual assault. And because nearly 60 million American workers, making up more than half the non-unionized workforce, were subject to mandatory arbitration agreements as of November 2022, it was clear that the FAA left many at risk.

“While I was president, we [worked] on legislation that prevents anyone from forcing a sexual assault victim into forced arbitration – and that is now national law,” said Sanguinetti.

The law she referenced was the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act (aka, the Ending Forced Arbitration Act, or EFASASHA), which Congress passed in March 2022. The law now “precludes employers from requiring employees to arbitrate disputes related to sexual assault or harassment,” according to the American Bar Association.

“I’m so proud of the work that I did, along with many of my clients who came and testified before Congress to make sure that the legislation passed,” Sanguinetti said.

This was a significant moment, for both Sanguinetti and the whole of American consumers, who are now better protected by EFASASHA.

Two lawyers working on a legal campaign.

A significant ripple effect

As a federal law, the Ending Forced Arbitration Act affected all Americans, but also all trial lawyers across the country who represent survivors of sexual assault.

One of those trial attorneys is Alexandria MacMaster from contingency fee law firm Laffey & Bucci based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In her role, MacMaster focuses on fighting for survivors of sexual assault, as well as child abuse in institutional settings. With such emotional and assiduous work, MacMaster knows how important these cases are for both attaining justice and highlighting gaps in the law that endanger vulnerable groups in the first place.

“When we are trying these cases and exposing the court system to just how traumatic these types of assaults can be, the law starts to change,” MacMaster said.

Specifically, she cites the Ending Forced Arbitration Act, legislation spearheaded by Sanguinetti years prior. MacMaster believes EFASASHA is a monument to the decades-long efforts of trial attorneys fighting for survivors of sexual abuse.

“We represent many survivors of abuse who have been assaulted in massage locations. And part of [the Ending Forced Arbitration Act] referenced some arbitration clauses hidden in the paperwork clients fill out at massage locations,” explained Alexandria. “It’s something that allows me to see tangible change, and I’m excited about that.”

A female lawyer comforts a client who has suffered from abuse.
Credit: Istock

The resources for attaining justice

In shouldering some of their clients’ emotional turmoil, trial attorneys can be true advocates for them. In turn, they reinforce our democracy. But the best way to advocate for their clients is to ensure they have the financial wherewithal to fight–and not only to fight but to win.

Given that contingency fee law firms only recoup if/when their clients do, covering the high costs of a trial can be daunting, even for the most well-seasoned law firms. Fortunately, both Arias Sanguinetti and Laffey & Bucci found financial stability in their partnerships with Esquire Bank.

“Esquire Bank was with us from the beginning. They gave us the support we needed to go out and make our vision a reality,” said Sanguinetti. “Most importantly, Esquire has allowed us to help more people through our own expansion.”

Without the worry of financing standing in their way, contingency fee law firms can truly focus on helping protect Americans from abuse, attaining justice for their clients, and enabling their own growth. Learn more about these trial lawyers and their inspiring stories of social justice at

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