by Kathy Para
JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair
As a young attorney in the early 80s, family law attorney Homer Bliss received mentoring from several attorneys who many consider one of the best legal and strategic minds in Florida.
Since that time, Bliss has accepted dozens of pro bono clients and mentored many new attorneys himself.
It is because of his generous and far-sighted commitment that Jacksonville Area Legal Aid would like to recognize Homer Bliss as the Pro Bono Attorney of the Month.
Today, Bliss maintains a law practice focusing on custody matters and business issues. He explains his dedication to pro bono work by saying he has a duty to pay back the mentors of his youth and pay ahead to the newest members of the legal profession.
“All attorneys have an obligation to provide pro bono assistance to the members of our community unable to afford our services,” said Bliss, “but as professionals we also have a duty to improve one another and provide pro bono guidance to our colleagues.”
Bliss credits attorneys like Herbert Panken, Homer Humphrey, Ed Austin and Bob Willis who instilled in him the obligation to “pay back” and help those in the community who are less fortunate.
The duty to “pay ahead” means Bliss returns the hundreds of hours spent on him to the next generation of attorneys.
“My hope is to ingrain in the newest members of the profession the same goals instilled in me,” said Bliss.
As a result, Bliss tries to live up to the high standards set by Jacksonville’s local bench and bar by working a half dozen pro bono cases at any given time.
When asked about a memorable pro bono assignment, Bliss refers to a recent paternity case in which a man was served with a paternity suit filed by an old girlfriend.
“My client was served with a petition for paternity to establish child support even after getting a DNA test proving he was not the father of the child in question,” exclaims Bliss. “The next thing he knew, his paycheck started going down because the State was taking out child support pursuant to a final judgment of paternity and support.”
After getting a complete copy of the court file, Bliss determined that although the Department of Revenue received the results of the DNA test, they still asked for a final hearing. Unfortunately the notice had been sent to an unknown address (different from the one where he was served), and when he did not show up, the court entered a final judgment.
Fortunately for the client, Bliss was able correct all the mistakes. Within a few months the State was free to go after the real father.
“Otherwise,” says Bliss “this poor guy would have paid child support for 18 plus years for a child that was not his and the child may never have known his real father.”
Bliss hopes that other attorneys will accept clients who genuinely deserve help, including fellow colleagues in the legal field.
“We are all in this together,” says Bliss. “Aside from accepting cases, we have wonderful organizations such as The Florida Family Law American Inn of Court, the Jacksonville Bar Association, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and others in Jacksonville that help the profession and community.”
It is his hope that attorneys take on pro bono work, and that when they do, they’ll not be able to distinguish their pro bono clients from other clients because all are treated equally.
“As attorneys we are blessed with an honorable profession. We are leaders of our community. We all have a duty to share our time and talent, and most importantly, to give back.”
Attorneys who are interested in pro bono work in Northeast Florida are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, Pro Bono Committee chair for The Jacksonville Bar Association, at [email protected]. One client. One attorney. One promise.