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- 2012 - September - 3rd -

Focusing on the legal needs of children: The Pro Bono Attorney Ad Litem Dependency Court Appointment Panel

by Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chairwoman

Lawyers are known for living up to the phrase “carpe diem” because legal services often include time-sensitive issues that require confident persistence.

Attorneys’ self-motivation and diligence provide hope for children needing attorney ad litem (AAL) representation. These children, most of whom are in foster care, are developing quickly without many of the opportunities that most of us take for granted, such as stability and faith in the legal system. There is no better time than now to “seize the day” and help a child in foster care. Certainly, for the children who depend on our legal system, there is no time to lose.

However, the urgency of this need is being addressed by the Jacksonville legal community, which provides comprehensive training and support for interested attorneys. New attorneys ad litem are given a 30-day preparation period and step-by-step CLE training that attorneys may view at their convenience during this preparatory month. After a Dependency Court judge appoints the pro bono attorney ad litem, ongoing support is available with regular lunch and learn networking opportunities with other pro bono AALs and the sharing of legislative updates, recent court decisions, and dependency practice tips. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid supports the effort with professional liability coverage, additional CLE resources, and meeting space, if needed. This collaboration between The Jacksonville Bar Association (JBA) Protecting Our Children Section, The JBA Legal Needs of Children Committee, The JBA Attorney Ad Litem Sub-Committee, The JBA Pro Bono Committee, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, and the Fourth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee makes it easier than ever to be a hero to the children of greater Jacksonville.

Volunteering as an attorney ad litem is not only heroic, but also educational and rewarding. Attorneys who are listed on the Attorney Ad Litem Dependency Court Appointment Panel also may request experienced mentors for guidance during the case. Attorneys need only to add their names to the list of willing volunteers and reply to any future appointment to begin the process.

An underserved, unrepresented child is assigned an attorney and, as a result, the child is given a better chance for permanency and stability in his/her home life and education.

The seven-part CLE training video was developed by Florida’s Children First and is divided into manageable sections for easy viewing. The video gives the pro bono attorney an overview of dependency court, explains critical steps in the dependency process and discusses key considerations such as a child’s developmental stage and respective approaches to client communication.

Additional information and resources are available at www.floridaschildrenfirst.org. For attorneys interested in taking on a case to help a child in our community, please contact Kathy Para at kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

As always, thanks to everyone who helps to make pro bono possible in our community. Together, we truly can “seize the day” on behalf of at-risk children, helping them realize their full potential as citizens of Northeast Florida.

For pro bono opportunities throughout the Fourth Judicial Circuit, attorneys are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee chairwoman.

One client. One attorney. One promise.

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