Laura Boeckman once helped a pro bono client whose wages from a new job were being garnished for a judgment he didn’t know existed.
A debt collector insisted the man, recently retired from the Navy, had personally been served notice. But Boeckman discovered that couldn’t be true.
She obtained a copy of his military orders, which proved at the time her client was supposedly served, he was deployed aboard a ship in the middle of the ocean.
“I was able to unravel all of it and we ended up suing the debt collector, which led to a good resolution for him,” she said.
Boeckman’s career as an attorney has revolved around helping others, professionally and through her volunteer efforts.
Over the years, she has volunteered to help people facing foreclosures, garnishment of their wages and who are victims of predatory lending.
She is now being recognized for those pro bono efforts.
Every year, The Florida Bar honors a lawyer in each of the state’s 21 judicial circuits for work on behalf of indigent clients.
Boeckman will receive the Pro Bono Service Award for the 4th Judicial Circuit in a Jan. 19 ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court.
The fact she was even nominated came as a surprise to Boeckman, whose day job is North Florida bureau chief for the Consumer Protection Division in Jacksonville for the Attorney General’s Office.
“There are some impressive people in town who do pro bono work,” she said, so receiving the award “is pretty amazing.”
A co-worker who helped nominate Boeckman said she is very deserving of the recognition.
“She’s a model attorney of someone who gives back,” said Assistant Attorney General Johanna Nestor. “Her full-time job helping others is not sufficient. Even with four kids, she finds time to give back.”
Boeckman, whose office is decorated with artwork by her 9-year-old triplets and 5-year-old daughter, always knew she wanted to do public interest law as opposed to going to work for a law firm.
She grew up in Ohio, attended St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and graduated from the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington.
Shortly afterward, she moved to Jacksonville in 2001 to serve as a judicial clerk for U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger.
Working closely with the judge on a wide range of civil cases was a “wonderful” learning experience, said Boeckman, who left after two years to work for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.
There, she represented low-income clients in areas of consumer law and predatory lending, aspects of law she enjoyed and in which she became a specialist.
“At first, it was mostly that I needed a job,” she said. “But once I started doing the cases, which involved a lot of foreclosure defense and debt collection, I really enjoyed helping people who were having financial problems.”
Two years later, Boeckman went to work for Florida Coastal School of Law as a clinical professor supervising the Consumer Law Clinic. She helped students work on cases from JALA that involved the same type of work she had done for the agency.
She also started taking JALA cases of her own because she knew the agency did not have the resources to help everyone who sought assistance.
“They rely heavily on attorneys in town to take pro bono cases,” she said. “Typically the ones who do, do a lot.”
After working as a law professor for eight years, Boeckman left to take her current position.
She enforces the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act — in effect, she said, going “after companies and individuals who are ripping people off.”
About half her cases are against legitimate companies that promised something they failed to deliver. The rest involve “fly by nights,” she said, with no legitimate product, only the goal of taking as much money from people as they can before getting caught.
Protecting consumers from the government side prevents Boeckman from representing people directly as a pro bono attorney.
Instead, she serves as a coach for other pro bono attorneys who represent clients.
She also helps lawyers through leadership positions with several Bar associations and is president of the Jacksonville chapter of the Federal Bar Association. And she serves as co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee of The Jacksonville Bar Association.
In an essay submitted with Boeckman’s nomination for The Florida Bar award, Nestor and others wrote that throughout her career, she “has demonstrated a creative and energetic commitment to pro bono service” and “is a steadfast believer that justice should not just be for the wealthy.”
Due to her efforts, the nomination says, the 4th Judicial Circuit is a better place.
“I’d love to see more attorneys take on pro bono work,” said Boeckman. “So they can get the fulfillment out of it that I do.”