At least that’s how Heather Solanka sees it. Solanka works tirelessly on pro bono cases for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) and is glad to give back. She has served as a pro bono attorney for more than 10 years and has assisted dozens of clients. Because of this, her efforts are recognized and applauded, and she has been selected as the Pro Bono Attorney of the Month for October.
Solanka currently practices commercial litigation at Akerman, but has developed a very different niche with her pro bono representation. Solanka handles mainly pro bono temporary relative custody cases. She remembers obtaining a custody order in a pro bono case for a client who had been caring for her great-nephew for virtually his entire life.
“The child was in kindergarten and the client was having trouble getting him health care and dealing with the added responsibility of raising a child and giving him a good life. The entire case only took a few hours, but she was unbelievably appreciative,” said Solanka.
Establishing a temporary relative custody order provides family stability for many children in our community. Helping to ensure that a family member is always able to act on behalf of a child whose parents may not be available or able to provide is critical for a positive childhood. It’s the very foundation of a child’s daily life.
Solanka urges attorneys considering pro bono work to just accept one case. “Pro bono clients are so appreciative of your help,” she said. “And the reward of having helped someone is so much greater than the help you actually provide to the client.”
Solanka also has served on the Fourth Circuit Pro Bono Committee as her firm’s representative. In this capacity, she supports the development of pro bono initiatives and advocates for participation in her firm and with her colleagues.
In her free time, she enjoys Gator sports, riding her Harley and spending time with friends. In encouraging other attorneys to accept that one pro bono case, Solanka adds, “We are really fortunate to be educated and to have good careers practicing law. So while pro bono work is only one of many ways to give back, it is also one way we as lawyers are uniquely qualified to give back.”
Attorneys interested in more information on how to volunteer and what opportunities are available are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chair, The JBA Pro Bono Committee at email@example.com.