Since 2001, the Christian Legal Society has offered pro bono legal assistance to the residents of the City Rescue Mission's LifeBuilders Program.
Christian Legal Society refers to the effort simply as the "Pro Bono Project" and they describe it as a legal services ministry. Volunteer lawyers go to the City Rescue Mission's McDuff Avenue campus every 10 weeks and conduct intake, client counseling and case assignments.
In the 13 years of the project's existence, there have been more than 50 volunteer lawyers and 45 volunteer law students. The group has served more than 600 residents and has handled nearly 400 matters.
The cases include a wide variety of matters such as driver's license suspensions, outstanding warrants, child support, tax non-filing issues, employment and disability appeals.
An underlying goal of the Pro Bono Project sessions is to equip City Rescue Mission residents with the tools, information and direction they need to take ownership of, and fix, their legal issues.
Not all cases lend themselves to this approach, but the majority do. For those matters the resident can resolve without an attorney, their initiative in taking steps on their own often provides a more lasting benefit than simply fixing the problem for them.
For matters that require representation by an attorney, a case is opened by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid so that the attorney receives the support that JALA can provide, including professional liability insurance, CLE materials, meeting space, notary public service, law student assistance, Westlaw access for case research and expert resource guidance.
Blane McCarthy, a board certified civil trial attorney and one of the founders of the Pro Bono Project, has served as the lead attorney for the effort.
McCarthy has developed a "protocol manual," which serves as a guide for new pro bono attorneys as they counsel residents and provide follow-up legal services.
"Helping others in need is one of life's highest callings, regardless of your personal faith," McCarthy said. "When you get involved, you'll feel that the blessing flowed more to you than to the client you served."
Hollyn Foster, president of Christian Legal Society and regular participant in the Pro Bono Project, adds, "It really is our privilege as an organization, as attorneys, and as people of faith to join City Rescue Mission in this life-changing work. If we're able to play a small role in helping a family regain its footing, we are humbled and deeply grateful."
The work of the Christian Legal Society and the City Rescue Mission brings hope to many people in need in our community. The impact is far-reaching, positive and impossible to measure. Northeast Florida is better because of it.
For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit, attorneys are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, Pro Bono Committee chairwoman, The Jacksonville Bar Association, at [email protected].