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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 4, 201706:50 AM EST

Pro bono client sought help — and got his name

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Attorney Alisa Wilkes helps man who spent most of his life homeless and legally had no name.

By Kathy Para

The JBA Pro Bono Committee chair

What’s in a name? Ask a client of attorney Alisa Wilkes and you’ll get an answer that reflects a lifetime of living without a legal name.

In his case, getting the name he had been using his entire life legally recognized meant validation, identity and optimism about the future. It provided the very foundation for the next chapters of his life.

Wilkes describes the case:

What were the basic facts of your case?

The client spent a majority of his life homeless. He recently secured housing and wanted to obtain a birth certificate with his full name on it.

When he called to obtain the certificate, he found out that not only was his first name not included, but his certificate had no name at all. It was very challenging to request a birth certificate with no name, no father’s name listed and the mother’s name as the client remembered was incorrect.

The client also had a very extensive criminal history which meant getting a name change would be much more difficult.

What were you able to accomplish for your client?

Our firm was able to obtain all of the necessary documents needed to effectuate the name change.

Why was the outcome important to your client?

In Proverbs, we read that a good name is better than riches. Our name is our identity. It defines who we are and how we distinguish ourselves from others.

My client legally had no name. He is a few years shy of being a senior citizen and has lived his entire life with no identity. Now, he has an identity of which he can call his own. He has also begun to take the steps necessary to turn his life around and stay on the right track.

Why was the experience important to you? What did you gain from the experience? 

When I became an attorney, I made a promise to myself to always have at least one pro bono case. I have found that these cases tend to be some of the most rewarding. There is something very special about doing legal work for someone who has nothing to give but gratitude.

What is the name of your firm? In what areas do you practice?

Wilkes & Mee PLLC. We practice in the areas of railroad law (FELA), personal injury, real estate and bankruptcy.

What advice do you have for other attorneys considering pro bono involvement?

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Make time for pro bono work. Your life will be better for it. If you truly want to make a difference in the legal profession, the best way to start is with a pro bono case.

Sincere appreciation is extended to Wilkes and to all attorneys involved in the many pro bono case, clinic and project opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit. To review cases in need of placement, go to floridaprobonomatters.org and type your county in the general search field. For information on projects and clinics, contact [email protected].

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