Blane McCarthy has some advice for attorneys considering pro bono cases.
“Dive in,” he says. “The water’s not so cold. Seriously, if you are like me, you wonder about how your specialized law practice and skill set can be of any use in pro bono cases. Let me encourage you to take that leap of faith and give it a try.”
McCarthy became involved in the Pro Bono Project through the Christian Legal Society’s (CLS) Jacksonville chapter while he was the chapter president.
“We jumped at the chance to put our faith and moral obligations (to serve others) into action,” he said.
Since 2001, he has led and participated in the CLS Pro Bono Project, a legal service ministry for the residents of the City Rescue Mission’s (CRM) Lifebuilders program. A group of volunteer lawyers go to CRM’s McDuff Avenue campus every 10 weeks and conduct intake, client counseling and case assignments.
During that time span, there have been more than 50 volunteer lawyers and 45 volunteer law students. The group has served 576 residents and handled 340 matters.
McCarthy has personally served 113 residents and handled 59 cases, ranging from matters of driver’s license suspensions, outstanding warrants, child support, tax non-filing issues, employment, disability, and other common “poverty law” matters.
His philosophy and preference when conducting Pro Bono Project sessions is to equip the CRM residents with the tools, information and direction they need to take ownership of, and fix, their legal issues.
Many cases do not lend themselves to this approach, but the majority does.
He believes that giving the clients some “sweat equity” involvement in their issue provides a more lasting benefit than simply fixing the problem for them. For matters that require representation by an attorney, a case is opened by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid so that the attorney receives the support that JALA can provide, including professional liability insurance, CLE materials, meeting space, law student assistance and expert resource guidance.
McCarthy recommends that all attorneys try pro bono work at some point.
“You will likely find that the work is not beyond your ability, even though it may be outside of your comfort zone,” he says. “Helping others in need is one of life’s highest callings, regardless of your personal faith. When you get involved, you’ll feel that the blessing flowed more to you than to the client you served.”
McCarthy is a board certified trial attorney who handles injury victim claims and conducts mediations. He enjoys spending time with his wife of 18 years and raising their three sons.
For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the Fourth Judicial Circuit, attorneys are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, Pro Bono Committee chairperson of The Jacksonville Bar Association, at [email protected].