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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Monday, May 7, 201809:46 AM EST

Impact a person’s life: It just takes one case to make a difference

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If this story doesn’t get you fired up, not just as an attorney, but as a human being, I don’t know what will.

By Fraz Ahmed, JBA Board of Governors

Recently, a family with two young children was forced from their home after flooding. The landlord notified the family that their lease was being terminated due to flood damage.

They were told they had two days to remove all of their belongings. If the family did not remove their belongings within that time, they were told their belongings would be thrown to the curb.

The next day, the family went to their home, but the exterior locks were changed. The family’s belongings, including clothing, furniture, medical equipment and family pictures were tossed to the curb like garbage. They found strangers rummaging through all their personal possessions. The family spent hours looking through their things in order to dig out family photographs and a sonogram picture of their baby, who had passed away. 

After collecting what they could, the family was forced to live out of a van for several days until they could find a place to live.

If this story doesn’t get you fired up, not just as an attorney, but as a human being, I don’t know what will.

These are the type of people that need our help. A few hours of our time can have a life-changing impact on a person’s life.

We have jobs. We have family. We have other commitments. I get it. It’s easy not to add something to our plate that isn’t required.

The Florida Bar asks each member to strive to satisfy our professional responsibility of at least 20 hours of pro bono service annually. That’s less than two hours a month. In other words, half of a happy hour for some of us.

If you are concerned about whether a case falls within your practice area or whether you know how to handle a pro bono case, you are not alone. When I first started taking pro bono cases, that was my concern as well.

Fortunately, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has plenty of resources and staff available to help guide us through the process.

A few weeks ago, JALA held its annual Presentation of the Pins Ceremony at the Duval County Courthouse. Most of the 4th Judicial Circuit judges were in attendance to recognize approximately 270 attorneys who devoted 20 hours or more of pro bono service.

The Florida Bar President Michael Higer was the keynote speaker and thanked everyone for their service while noting, “as lawyers, we can and we must make a difference.”

While we are grateful for all the attorneys who volunteered their time, we are hopeful that the number of attorneys recognized at the annual Presentation of the Pins Ceremony will significantly increase in the coming years. The funding has never been less and the need has never been greater.

Jacksonville has been known for its contributions to legal aid, but we can do better.

In 2017, the JBA received the Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award from the state Supreme Court. This year, Akerman associate attorney Allison Stocker received The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award.

We’re not asking everyone to be an Allison Stocker, who devoted more than 500 hours to successfully litigate a federal court case to help nonprofit Ability Housing of Northeast Florida Inc. establish permanent supportive housing for veterans with disabilities. But we all must do our part.

All we are asking for is one case for one attorney. That one case will not only have a lifelong impact on a resident of Jacksonville, but it will have a lifelong impact on you.

I will never forget one of my first pro bono cases. A disabled elderly woman was wrongfully denied public disability transportation, which we were able to successfully restore.

To accept a case, visit floridaprobonomatters.com or if you would like to get involved in any other way, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or (904) 356-6071. You also may contact Kathy Para, our Pro Bono Committee chair, at [email protected]. You also can go to the new jaxbar.org website, sign in, go to Sections, Community Outreach, and Pro Bono.

All it takes is one person to make a difference in someone else’s life.  Be that one person.

Fraz Ahmed is a trial attorney at Coker Law. His practice areas include personal injury, automobile accidents, traumatic brain injury, wrongful death, negligent security, trucking, and product liability.

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