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Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 21, 201612:00 PM EST

Lawyers help nearly 1,000 people at family law clinics

by: Kathy Para

Sometimes it’s good to look back at where you’ve been.

In 2015, the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Family Law Group Information Clinics reached more people than ever before, providing help and advice to those in need all across the 4th Circuit.

Nearly 1,000 people seeking guidance in family law matters found direction and encouragement in Clay, Duval and Nassau clinics.

Dozens more were assisted in the 7th Circuit at JALA’s St. Johns County office at the monthly family law pro se guidance clinics.

The family law clinics provide worthwhile pro bono opportunities to local attorneys and legal guidance to those who would otherwise be turned away.

Attendance numbers have climbed steadily each year since the clinics started, from just over 300 in 2011 to nearly 1,000 in 2015. This illustrates the tremendous need for family law assistance for low-income families in the 4th Circuit.

Attorneys are able to provide their expertise free of charge, with two private attorneys leading each clinic.

The monthly clinics cover the following family law topics: dissolution of marriage without children, dissolution of marriage with children, paternity/timeshare/custody and child support modification.

Clinics in Duval have been offered since 2011 thanks to the assistance and leadership of attorney Marla Buchanan. They are held Downtown at JALA’s office.

Clay and Nassau counties started clinics in 2012, thanks to attorneys Lisa Dasher and Valerie Faltemier, respectively. They are held at the Clay County Public Library and the Nassau County Courthouse.

Each year, JALA receives thousands of family law requests and questions. Staff and pro bono attorneys are not able to represent all meritorious matters.

The family law group information clinics provide education, empowerment and encouragement to those who will resolve their matters pro se.

The clinics provide each participant with a packet that includes pro se forms, information on how to get additional forms and guidance on where and how to file a case. The clinics give local attorneys a chance to provide legal guidance to those who would not otherwise receive it and to participate in a meaningful pro bono opportunity.

Sincere thanks are extended to those who donated their time to schedule and organize the 2015 clinics: Marla Buchanan, Valerie Faltemier and Lisa Dasher, as well as the many pro bono attorneys who served as presenters: Leigh Scales, Michael Parisi, Rusty Mead, Rachel Rall, Stacey DeVall, Troy Faraqhar, Jonathan Zisser, Aaron Irving, Jackie Green, Slade Dukes, Yaima Coto, Christie Guerrero, Kameisha Presley, Geraldine Hartin, Lenorae Atter, Roger Cruce, Laura Gapske, Paula Bartlett and Chanda Rogers.

Students from Florida Coastal School of Law, paralegals and other community volunteers serve as Family Law Clinic assistants. Their duties include preparing packets, checking in the attendees and assisting with latecomers. Clinic assistant volunteers included Sandy Connolly, Sonya Cohen, Tracie Reese and Jocelyn Jefferson.

For information on pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit and beyond, contact Para at [email protected].

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