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- 2009 - September - 21st -

Pro Bono is an opportunity to contribute to the public good

by Circuit Court Judge Jean Johnson, Chair Fourth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee

Do you know what Cicero, Pythagoras, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Ghandi and Mandela have in common? They were all lawyers who worked for the public good. You are members of the same profession, which has always stood for the highest standards of personal and professional integrity. Being a lawyer is not just an occupation. It is different from other jobs and professions. As an officer of the court, each Bar member has a responsibility to provide pro bono legal services to the poor. There is a statewide Pro Bono Committee and each Circuit has a Pro Bono Committee established by its Chief Judge. The Florida Supreme Court reviews the activities of each circuit.

The comment to Public Service, section 4-6, Provisions to the Rules of Professional Conduct state, “As our society has become one in which rights and responsibilities are increasingly defined in legal terms, access to legal services has become of critical importance. This is true for all people, be they rich, poor, or of moderate means. However, because the legal problems of the poor often involve areas of basic need, their inability to obtain legal services can have dire consequences...”

As an officer of the court, each member of the Florida Bar in good standing has a professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal service to the poor. Pro bono services can be provided not only to those truly below the federal poverty standard, but also to the working poor. Lawyers do not have to do their own investigation of client eligibility but can make a good faith determination. Pro bono services can be provided not to just individuals but to charitable, religious or educational organizations whose overall purpose is to address the needs of the poor. There are a number of such organizations in Jacksonville which would welcome the legal advice of an attorney.

A law firm or a group of lawyers may collectively satisfy the pro bono requirements by a common project. Although the minimum yearly standard is 20 hours or $350 to a legal aid organization, it is recognized that some cases may take more than 20 hours. Excess hours can be credited towards the succeeding two years. The local Pro Bono Committee has the following members: Judge Donald Moran, Judge Jean Johnson, Judge Hugh Carithers, Judge Ronald Higbee, Judge Virginia Norton, Andrew Knight II, Chris Moser, Mike Mullin, Rebecca Beller, Kathy Para, April Charney, Christine Russell, Michael Figgins, Heather Solanka, Brian Kelly, Satasha Williston, Sarah Fowler, Daniel Bean, Edward Jackson, Wayne Hogan, Gerald Weedon, Donald Anderson, Richard Alexander, Betsy Cox, Refik Eler, Michael Freed, Michael D. McCoy, Amber Rumancik, John J. Schickel and Eric Smith.

We meet to plan pro bono opportunities that offer a variety of choices for service. We also are tasked with training attorneys for pro bono service and recognizing those that do. The Jacksonville Bar is very interested in encouraging members to meet their pro bono legal service. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has full-time resources to help you find the perfect project for you. Twenty hours of service over a year is a little more than an hour and thirty minutes a month. The $350 financial contribution is less than two lattes a week for a year. According to state reports the Fourth Judicial Circuit is not among the best of the circuits in meeting pro bono requirements. We certainly believe that we are the best in our adherence to other professional standards of courtesy and comity, and at excellence of representation and fulfillment of duty to our clients. We have the kind of Bar that we make.

The Fourth Judicial Circuit demographically has one of the largest indigent populations in the state. If the lawyers here ascribe to excellence in all other areas, why not in the area of pro bono services? If you have ideas for pro bono projects or for ways to recognize those who provide pro bono service, please communicate them to one of the above committee members or to me. If you want to say that you meet the highest standards of your profession and are an excellent attorney in every way, sign up for pro bono service today.

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