by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Attorneys are required to contribute to pro bono service on an annual basis by The Florida Bar’s “Rules of Professional Conduct,” but Jacksonville Area Legal Aid took time Tuesday to recognize the people and organizations within the local legal community who have gone above and beyond the minimum requirements of the rule.
Rule 4-6.1 states that “Each member of The Florida Bar in good standing, as part of that member’s professional responsibility, should (1) render pro bono legal services to the poor and (2) participate, to the extent possible, in other pro bono service activities that directly relate to the legal needs of the poor.”
Members of the Bar can fulfill the requirement by providing at least 20 hours of pro bono service to the poor or contributing $350 annually to a legal aid organization.
The Equal Justice Awards were created by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid to thank the people who helped the organization and the profession provide legal services to the poor.
The high honor at the reception held at The River Club Downtown is the Robert J. Beckham Equal Justice Award, which was presented to The Jacksonville Bar Association.
“Eighteen months ago we set out to strengthen our relationship with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid,” said Dan Bean, immediate past president of The JBA.
“That relationship has helped us to better serve this community,” he said.
The two organizations have developed the “Ask-A-Lawyer” program, which brings lawyers into the community to offer guidance and direction to people who may not be able to afford a lawyer.
JALA Pro Bono Development Coordinator Kathy Para also chairs The JBA Pro Bono Committee. The two organizations also help homeowners through the Fourth Judicial Circuit’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program.
“What you have at The Jacksonville Bar Association is enlightened leadership,” said Michael Figgins, executive director of JALA.
“Their efforts have helped the JBA-JALA relationship blossom. We hold joint events where both organizations benefit. We hold joint clinics to benefit both the community and the profession. We expect more collaboration in the future,” he said.
The JBA wasn’t the only organization to receive praise. Keynote Speaker Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, Florida State University president emeritus, was impressed with the development of JALA.
“Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has had a profound impact on the development of legal services in Florida,” said D’Alemberte. “You have had some incredible people involved in JALA since it began in 1976, and an incredible staff as well.”
Current staff members also were given an opportunity to recognize outstanding JALA employees.
“We talk about dedication to the profession, but Lynn (Drysdale) lives it,” said Ariel Patterson, JALA attorney. “She is the first into the office and always the last to leave.”
Area law firms that achieved 100 percent pro bono participation through JALA were also recognized, with 12 firms receiving honors. Pajcic & Pajcic was singled out for doubling the minimum contribution, donating $7,000 to JALA.
“We wanted to give a jump-start for next year,” said Tom Slater of Pajcic & Pajcic. “We made the donation with the hope it would inspire other firms to participate in the 100 percent participation campaign because (JALA’s) needs are many.”