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- 2012 - May - 21st -

ABA president returns for Equal Justice Conference

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

American Bar Association President William Robinson returned Thursday to Jacksonville to join local leaders in opening the 2012 Equal Justice Conference.

The conference took place at the Hyatt and was presented by the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Robinson also was the keynote speaker April 11 at The Jacksonville Bar Association annual Law Day event at the Hyatt.

The Equal Justice Conference was developed to bring together all areas of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor and low-income individuals in need of legal assistance.

In describing how lawyers react from their involvement in pro bono work, Robinson drew on observations of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian who toured America in the 1800s to witness its society and government.

“He saw something that he saw nowhere else on his travels. He called it, ‘habit of the heart.’ Today we call it volunteerism,” Robinson said.

“That term ‘habit of the heart’ has always struck me as capturing the essential ingredient of volunteerism that uniquely characterizes our country and our great profession because it is that emotional satisfaction and fulfillment that each of us experiences when we provide pro bono legal representation that gives us dignity as lawyers that validates the special license we have to reach out and serve others,” said Robinson.

Robinson was joined at the opening session Thursday by Mayor Alvin Brown, Chief Circuit Judge Donald Moran and The Jacksonville Bar Association President-elect Ray Driver.

“The work you come here to do is so important. In these challenging economic times legal services to low-income individuals are more vital than ever. Money is tight all around, and that is true for all of us, but it is also painfully true for so many families,” said Brown.

“I commend you for casting a light on a serious problem and working so hard to provide a voice for the voiceless and hope for the hopeless,” he said.

The mayor was recognized by Larry McDevitt, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, for his efforts to bring the conference to Jacksonville.

“Mayor Brown made it a priority to recruit us to come here and it is one of the reasons he was here this morning. He wanted to thank you for the work that you do,” said McDevitt.

Moran took time to salute the pro bono efforts of the local legal community.

“We have attorneys in this community that contribute hundreds of hours of pro bono work, not only in civil cases and civil litigation, but they get involved in serious criminal cases trying to help the public defender,” said Moran, talking about the special assistant public defender program developed by the Public Defender’s Office and The Jacksonville Bar Association.

Many in the legal community volunteered to help organize the conference on the Florida Host Committee for the conference, including Driver, The JBA board of governors member Christa Figgins, The JBA President Mike Freed, attorney Leslie Goller of Terrell Hogan, Circuit Judge Jean Johnson, attorney Emily Magee of Foley & Lardner, Karen Millard of Florida Coastal School of Law, Dalton Agency partner Michael Munz, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair Kathy Para, Lanny Russell of Smith Hulsey & Busey and Josh Zmroczek of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

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