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- 2014 - September - 1st -
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Pro bono spotlight: Now is the time to help pro bono clients

By Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair

No doubt you’ve seen the news releases and articles regarding the critical lack of funding for civil legal services for the poor in our community.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has served Northeast Florida for nearly 80 years. Its beginnings trace back to the 1930s when The Jacksonville Bar Association and private attorneys banded together to assist the low-income people in our community.

Their efforts didn’t fill every legal need, but it was pro bono work that mattered to the person who had been cheated in a contract, someone who needed protection from an abusive spouse or a person trying to establish a guardianship for a loved one.

As our population and the need for services grew, the private Bar realized it could be most effective in partnership with a paid legal services staff. The first employee of the Duval County Legal Aid Society was hired in the 1950s.

Now in 2014, with nearly 250,000 people in the 4th Judicial Circuit living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (the threshold for income eligibility for free civil legal services) that collaboration of legal services staff and pro bono attorneys is more important than ever.

Legal services staff attorneys as a group cannot serve every client and pro bono attorneys as a group cannot serve every client. But together, they are able to significantly impact the well-being and productivity of thousands of low-income families. Their service goes beyond benefit to the family to benefitting and stabilizing our whole community.

Pro bono attorneys accept cases for representation, present at group information clinics, serve as expert resources for other pro bono attorneys, participate in Estate Planning Intake Night, advise at Ask-A-Lawyer events, create documents at Advance Directives for Seniors events and teach CLE classes in support of other pro bono attorneys.

The list goes on and on. They serve seniors, children, immigrants, veterans, the disabled, and other vulnerable and under-served persons.

Today, with funding for legal services at critically low levels in our state and city, pro bono service is more important than ever.

It’s time. It’s time for every attorney to take a case and assist a pro bono client with a legal matter and/or be an active participant in a pro bono project.

For 4th Circuit cases in need of placement, go to jaxlegalaid.org and click on “Cases Awaiting Placement with Pro Bono Attorneys.”

Attorneys will be able to read a redacted summary and send an email from the website requesting more information on the case prior to acceptance. These cases are from throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit and are identified by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership and Three Rivers Legal Services.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid placed 696 cases with pro bono attorneys in 2013 (an increase of 42 percent over 2012).This year, JALA is on track to exceed the record-breaking 2013 case placement numbers.

To date, 482 cases have been placed with pro bono attorneys. At the end of August 2013, JALA had placed 460 cases.

However, thousands of applicants with meritorious cases who meet financial eligibility guidelines are turned away every year.

If one more person receives help because of one pro bono attorney’s efforts, that attorney has improved that person’s life, has positively impacted our community and has strengthened our justice system.

It’s a system in which we believe that fairness should not be available only to those who can pay for it. Clearly, it’s an effort that matters. Pro bono participation is strong and growing in the 4th Judicial Circuit, but the need is immense and all hands are needed on deck.

If you are able to consider accepting a pro bono case (or another pro bono case), please go to jaxlegalaid.org, review the cases in need of placement with pro bono attorneys, and request more information on the case.

For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit, attorneys are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chair of The JBA Pro Bono Committee, kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

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