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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 5, 201806:30 AM EST

Ask-A-Lawyer is simple, effective and remarkable

Signature JBA project is expanding to six events, needs more volunteers.

By Kathy Para

It’s been a signature project of The Jacksonville Bar Association since 2009 and it’s still going strong. In fact, in 2018, there will be six Ask-A-Lawyer events instead of the traditional four.

Ask-A-Lawyer impacts lives in positive, even extraordinary, ways, using a simple approach: Conversation between two people, live and in person.

Ask-A-Lawyer events are held on a Saturday morning in trusted community locations such as a school campus, a nonprofit office or a YMCA. Eight to 10 volunteer lawyers occupy tables, small offices or a gym depending on the space at the host facility.

Each lawyer provides legal guidance to individual attendees in brief 15- to 20-minute interviews. Attendees sign statements verifying that they understand that the lawyers who provide assistance are not accepting their cases for representation but rather are answering questions and suggesting next steps.

It doesn’t sound extraordinary, but the interaction goes beyond providing information and education, and impacts attendees in very significant ways.

The attorneys listen and people can tell their stories. They are heard. The attorneys give encouragement and the information they provide empowers attendees to move ahead toward a resolution, or in some cases to leave a situation behind and start a new chapter.

Attendees are directed to websites and to online resources.  They are valuable and need to be further developed, but these tools are much more significant and better utilized when combined with human support and expert insight.

Attendees often arrive at an Ask-A-Lawyer event anxious, confused and discouraged. After receiving information and direction, they leave, nearly without exception, feeling relieved, encouraged and empowered.

Their comments include: “This is very important, what you’re doing here.” “Thank you. Please keep providing this service.” “I feel so much better.” “I think I can get through this. Thank you.” “I really appreciate the help I got today.”

The first Ask-A-Lawyer event for 2018 was Feb. 17 at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s Downtown office. The pro bono attorneys provided guidance in their respective areas of expertise.

Participating were Enrique Barquinero, Barry Bobeck, Jenessa Smith, Edith Jones, Jared Loucel, Xavier Saunders, Bruce Duggar and Rob Ellis.

Law students Jason Blizzard, Arlene Parsons, Jeffrey Hall and Joseph Lins  provided assistance and also had the opportunity to observe the attorneys in the interviewing and counseling sessions. 

These Client Advisory members greeted attendees, helped them sign in and directed them to information on community resources: Phyllis Maxwell, Brian Jones, Fabian Jackson and Bobby Bell.

At the event, 35 attendees received guidance on more than 40 legal issues. The members of this volunteer team gave every attendee the welcome respect, and guidance they needed and they are commended for their work.

With five more Ask-A-Lawyer events scheduled for 2018, opportunities abound and more volunteers are needed. Just bring the legal expertise you have and volunteer for a Saturday morning. These practice areas are needed for almost every event: family, criminal, consumer, bankruptcy, contracts, probate, guardianship, employment, landlord/tenant, seal/expunge, driver’s license reinstatement, Social Security and immigration.

Attorneys are matched with attendees according to the area of practice needed and the attorney provides brief counsel and advice. Upcoming dates are March 31, June 9, Sept. 15, Nov. 3 and Dec. 8.

For location and sign-up information, send an email to [email protected] and request Ask-A-Lawyer information and the link to the Ask-A-Lawyer Sign Up Calendar. Para also can provide information on the many pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit.

Kathy Para is JBA Pro Bono Committee chair. Finding meaningful and manageable pro bono opportunities has never been easier. For more information, contact [email protected] or call (904) 356-8371, ext. 363.

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