In its still young existence, the Cyber Civil Legal Rights Project, co-founded by Elisa D’Amico ’06, has won a pair of multimillion-dollar judgments believed to be the largest awarded in revenge porn cases not involving a celebrity. But, as D’Amico, a litigation partner with K&L Gates in Miami, is quick to note, the vast majority of people who have contacted the pro bono project since 2014 are seeking something more valuable: to take back their lives.
The CCLRP created an online space where individuals could submit requests to get help, either from K&L Gates attorneys working in a pro bono capacity or from outside firms. Providing access to justice is the project’s greatest benefit to its clients, according to D’Amico. Rather than remaining introverted and feeling terrorized, many of the project’s clients become empowered to speak out and help others, she said.
“The project views image-based abuse as a violation of our clients’ ‘cyber civil rights,’” D’Amico explained. “So we don’t consider whether they are indigent. So long as people have access to our website, they can submit an inquiry and be considered by our intake team, obtain a consult, and get the legal help they desperately need. In cases where individuals don’t have access to the internet or are too fearful to submit a request, we also speak to them by telephone.”
D’Amico’s “a-ha moment” to start the project happened at a luncheon for the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers , where she realized her firm, K&L Gates, was in a position to help individuals struggling with this form of online sexual abuse. Unlike most law firms that outsource forensic investigative work, K&L Gates has an in-house forensic lab and employs forensic investigators.
This moment of “kismet,” D’Amico said, fused two worlds she, as a self-proclaimed nerd, is passionate about: women lawyers and internet law.
From that spark of inspiration, the Cyber Civil Legal Rights Project has gone on to win an $8.9 million verdict in Washington in 2017 and obtain a $6.4 million judgment out of California this April. The large monetary judgments have drawn national media attention from The New York Times, and in turn, have continued to raise awareness about nonconsensual pornography and victim’s rights. They’ve also provided the gift of precedent to other lawyers fighting the good fight.
“Judges can look at those opinions and rely on them when awarding damages to individuals seeking relief from cyber sexual harassment and other privacy violations,” D’Amico said.
Most people who contact CCLRP do so to have materials removed from the internet and to take back control of their online identities; most are not looking to file a lawsuit, D’Amico added. Her dedication to her clients accords with Fordham Law’s motto, “In the service of others,” which she has proudly carried with her throughout her professional life.
“Practicing law is a privilege, and our responsibility as lawyers is to give back, support the community, and lift up our colleagues,” D’Amico said. “Instilling that message in its students is something Fordham has perfected.”
Fordham’s network also benefitted D’Amico as she developed as an aspiring lawyer and as a professional litigator. She highlighted her internship with Hon. Loretta Preska ’73, chief judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, as one example of the many smart women doing amazing work that she has been blessed to observe up close. She also credited noted New York defense lawyer Ron Fischetti, a longtime Fordham Law Trial Advocacy adjunct professor, whom D’Amico worked for during law school, for empowering women attorneys.
D’Amico credits Fischetti for teaching her not just trial advocacy but also how to succeed and love what you do. He taught her to follow her heart, keep her word, and to always remember that “perception becomes reality.” The best example of that, D’Amico added “was watching Fischetti keep his promise to my best friend from Fordham Law School, and Fischetti’s long-time paralegal, Phyllis Malgieri. He had made a deal with her: ‘Finish law school, pass the bar, and I’ll make you my law partner,’ he said, and that’s precisely what he did. Every time I see their law firm name, Fischetti & Malgieri LLP, I get chills.”
“I feel a sense of empowerment by women lawyers, not just in Miami but everywhere,” said D’Amico, who was installed this month as the president-elect of MDFAWL and will serve as the chapter’s president in 2019–2020. “We’re taking the profession into our hands to make sure women are given the opportunity to succeed, are equally compensated, and that they make it to the bench.”
D’Amico’s own success illustrates the power of setting goals, getting involved in one’s community, and networking. She serves as director of community outreach for the Fordham Law Alumni Association’s Miami chapter, and has previously served as vice president.
Her advice to women currently attending Fordham Law?
“Be a thought leader, be professional, seek out good mentors, always remember that law is a business, and take a course with Visiting Professor Danielle Citron ’94, if possible,” she said. “Also, don’t underestimate the incredible power of a secret Facebook group of women lawyers.”