Val Patrick Exnicios exemplifies not only what is best in our profession, but what is best in human beings. The recipient of the 2009 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Fifth Circuit has devoted his life to the service of others, but when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, he distinguished himself by conspicuous selflessness. His leadership, dedication to his community, and infectious perseverance and enthusiasm inspired countless volunteers to regroup and rebuild. New Orleans is better for his efforts and our profession is strengthened by his example.
As a young man, Exnicios had a powerful role model, his father—who himself was a trial lawyer.
As a young boy, I remember how proud I was that my Father was a lawyer. People in our neighborhood in the 60’s and 70’s looked up to him as an honest, caring friend, neighbor and professional who put their best interests ahead of his own. His primary motivation was not pecuniary, often charging little or nothing for his services. He was extremely active in our neighborhood associations and volunteered as a New Orleans Police Department reserve officer and in various community organizations. I wanted to grow up to be just like my dad so that my children could be just as proud of me when they grew up as I was of my dad when I was growing up.
His father’s example obviously resonated with him, and after Exnicios graduated with honors from Loyola University School of Law, he would go on to use his practice to benefit the community. Exnicios is managing director and senior trial counsel for the New Orleans firm of Liska, Exnicios & Nungesser, where he has been in the middle of numerous high visibility mass tort/class action cases since 1989. While he is a first-rate trial lawyer, his innumerable “extracurricular” activities set him apart from his peers.
Exnicios is chair of the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) Bench and Bar Section, Chair of the LSBA of Section Council, Chair of the Katrina Relief Committee, a member of the LSBA Rules of Professional Conduct and Lawyer Advertising Committee, the LSBA Legislation Committee, Professionalism and Quality of Life Committee, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Louisiana Center for Law and Civic Education. He is a member of the Loyola University College of Law Skills faculty and has taught “Professionalism in Practice” for over 10 years. He is also the secretary/treasurer of the A.P. Tureaud American Inn of Court in New Orleans.
As Chairman of the Section Council, Exnicios has donated his time and effort to assisting all Sections of the Bar in their efforts to provide continuing legal education to their members, to support or oppose legislation of interest to the various Sections, and to opine on various resolutions presented to the LSBA House of Delegates. He personally provides funding to the Sections to underwrite the cost of CLE seminars. For the past dozen years, he has donated his personal time and resources to providing annual free CLE seminars on topics of interest to both judges and lawyers. Further, his free annual seminars on merit selection versus popular election of judges in Louisiana are among the most popular and widely attended seminars at the LSBA Annual Convention each June. As chair, Exnicios has also sponsored and funded multiple Bench-Bar social functions designed to facilitate interaction between judges and lawyers outside the courtroom setting.
Exnicios has been an active member of the LSBA Professionalism and Quality of Life Committee for more than a decade. He was instrumental in organizing the Professionalism Orientation for all incoming law students at all four Louisiana law schools, and he has served as a Professionalism Instructor at each orientation for the past six years. Further, he convinced Loyola Law School to be the first law school in Louisiana to require its law students to complete a professionalism skills course as a prerequisite to graduation.
Shortly after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, and despite the total destruction of his own law offices, Exnicios returned to New Orleans and immediately began to devise ways to assist his fellow lawyers that were affected by the storms. He identified various law firms, bar associations and other legal organizations willing to donate money or office equipment, furniture, and/or supplies to attorneys rebuilding their lives and law practices. Working in conjunction with then LSBA President Frank Neuner, Exnicios arranged for multiple tractor trailers to be loaded with the goods in cities throughout the United States, and then transported to New Orleans. He donated his personal funds and solicited other funds to cover the cost of transportation. Further, he arranged for extremely scarce warehouse space to be donated to store the donated goods and he personally unloaded several tractor trailers so that the needed goods could be distributed as quickly as possible. For his efforts post Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as his long history of pro bono service to his community, Exnicios received the 2006 LSBA President’s Award.
Since its inception in 2004, Exnicios served as co-coordinator of Judge Jay Zainey’s Homeless Experience Legal Protection Program.(H.E.L.P.), which provides free legal consultation and services to the homeless population of New Orleans. Lawyers visit homeless shelters in the Greater New Orleans area and meet with homeless men, women, and families that are experiencing legal problems of any kind. The attorneys “represent” the homeless free of charge and assist them with their legal difficulties so as to facilitate their return to employment, or entitlement to benefits, so that they may end their homelessness. Exnicios has spent hundreds of hours counseling and “representing” the homeless over the last several years. He has also served as a director on the Board of Directors of the Louisiana Center For Law & Civic Education (LCE) for the last year. Since 2004, Exnicios has served as pro bono counsel to the Ozanam Inn, the oldest and largest homeless shelter in the City of New Orleans. A project of the St. Vincent dePaul Society, the Ozanam Inn provides free food and overnight accommodations to hundreds of homeless men in the New Orleans area.
Professionalism has been defined in a myriad of ways. Regardless of definition, certain members of our learned profession exemplify what it means to be a professional. Val Patrick Exnicios is just such a person.
As Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson of the Louisiana Supreme Court stated: “Val has dedicated his personal and professional life to improving our profession, and to helping others. In reviewing his resume of pro bono activities, one can’t help but wonder how he finds the time to donate so much of his time to his community, and still provide for himself and his family. The fact of the matter is that he simply makes time to do it all.”
Another colleague remarked that Exnicios’s philosophy was well known: “Live your life in such a way that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you’re proud of what you see.” There is no doubt that when he does look into a mirror, Val Exnicios has every reason to be proud. We all do because of how he has improved our world.