- 2013 - December - 16th -

Participants say it best about Ask-A-Lawyer

By Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair

The Johnson Family YMCA was the site of an Ask-A-Lawyer event Dec. 7 where many received pro bono legal assistance and direction.

Local pro bono attorneys counseled nearly 40 people on more than 50 legal matters in one-on-one interviews. Attorneys advised in the areas of family law, probate, guardianship, tax, criminal law, bankruptcy, foreclosure, workers' compensation, contracts, real estate, landlord/tenant, employment, immigration, tax, and personal injury.

Spanish speakers were available to provide translation. The pro bono attorneys included Jessica Skapetis, Crystal Johnson Reeves, Rob Ellis, Natalie Tuttle, Michelle White, Franklin Ayelin, Tiffany Jones, Adam Edgecombe, Cyndy Trimmer, Satasha Williston, Melina Buncombe, Markus Sermons, Yaima Coto, Jennifer Singh, Edith Jones, Laura Gapske, Allessandro Apolito, Elizabeth Gonzalez and Latangie Williams.

Florida Coastal School of Law students Jennifer D'Augstinis and Megan Kelley were there to provide administrative assistance and to observe the consultation interviews.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Client Advisory Board members Tanita Woods and Bobby Bell assisted by greeting and directing attendees and by registering people for their consultations.

The goals of each Ask-A-Lawyer event are to provide legal guidance and direction, as well as information on additional community resources for persons in need. Attendees may be referred to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, The JBA Lawyer Referral Service, and/or to a community service agency.

The events are possible because of the collaboration of The Jacksonville Bar Association, The D.W. Perkins Bar Association, The Hispanic Bar, Florida Coastal School of Law, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the City Council.

The volunteers welcomed each person with respect and compassion. They answered questions, provided information on legal options and community resources and in many cases, offered hope and direction.

Facing a problem requires courage and energy. Taking a first step toward solving the problem requires even more. For many of the attendees, Ask-A-Lawyer provided the information needed to enable the attendees to take that first step toward stability and resolution.

The attendees say it best:

"The consultation today was really helpful. The attorneys were able to answer all of my questions and clearly explain my options. We requested information about non-profits and foreclosures. They were knowledgeable. I appreciate this type of informative activity and legal advice. Please continue to offer them."

"Very, very helpful. Thank you!"

"This program is a wonderful resource. We received excellent advice from someone who is in that area of law at no cost! We are so grateful. We needed simple answers on the foreclosure process and we got them. Thank you so much for making this available. We found this event through a Google search for legal aid Jacksonville on legal aid's website."

"This service was invaluable. I spoke with an attorney who was not only knowledgeable, but sensitive. She was thorough, taking time to answer any and all questions. Well worth the time. I am truly grateful for this service."

The attorneys added:

"I enjoy seeing the people's demeanor before and after we meet. They seem sluggish, scared and upset, and then after we've talked, they are alert, smiling, and seem empowered. That is why I enjoy participating in Ask-A-Lawyer events."

"Ask-A-Lawyer events give me a chance to remind myself why I went to law school and I can use my license to really help the community."

The goal of Ask-A-Lawyer is to take information and guidance directly to members of our community who may not otherwise be able access the expertise of an attorney. We know that, as attorneys, we don't always tell people what they want to hear.

However, with the belief that knowledge is power, we know that with sound information and direction, people are better equipped to get the help they need and/or resolve their matters themselves.

Access to the legal community must not be limited to those who can afford to pay. It is informed advocacy on both sides that protects the integrity of our system of justice.

Attorneys interested in these and other pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chair of The JBA Pro Bono Committee at kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

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