by Max Marbut
“There’s a lot of burnout in our business,” observed Chad Roberts of Spohrer Wilner, who is also president of the board of directors of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. “Having a Florida Bar number is something you can use to make an investment in the community and do good things.
“It’s a privilege to be a member of the Bar and you have to give something back. You have to make an investment.”
Roberts said he learned that concept when he clerked for one of his first mentors in the profession, Sandy D’Alemberte, a Miami attorney who, among myriad other accomplishments, later became President of the American Bar Association.
“At the time, he was on the back side of a long, hard road of billable hours,” said Roberts. “He said after you buy all the boats and buy all the airplanes and buy all the toys, if you aren’t doing something that makes you feel good about going to work, it’s a tough row to hoe.”
Roberts invests his time and talent in JALA because, he said, while the system will provide an attorney free of charge for people involved in criminal cases who couldn’t otherwise afford representation, there are so many people involved in civil actions who don’t have the money to retain counsel. He sees JALA’s role as being an essential service like the police and fire departments.
“There is an enormous segment of our population that can’t afford to hire a lawyer. I think the profession must take the lead when it comes to providing counsel for people who think the system doesn’t work for them,” he said. “For that segment of our community – the most life-bludgeoned group of folks – sometimes it’s just one thing after another. When you’re in trouble, you attract trouble. When your house is in foreclosure, so are your credit cards. It’s one thing after another.
“Then there are needs like domestic violence and predatory lending actions. Without a safety valve, I think bad things can happen to the community.”
Roberts said he gets something out of his work with JALA that his thousands of hours of commercial litigation can’t even come close to providing.
“There are days when I am driving home and I feel my biggest paycheck is a ‘thank you’ from somebody. It makes me feel like everything that has happened since I went to law school has been worth it.”
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