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Jax Daily Record Monday, Nov. 5, 201212:00 PM EST

Pro Bono - It's never mattered more

by: The Jacksonville Bar Association Board of Governors member Mark Bajalia

You did it. You celebrated, recognized, applauded and, more importantly, you stepped up. Looking back on the 2012 Celebrate Pro Bono Week it’s clear that attorneys, paralegals, law students, and lay people are concerned with the legal needs of low-income people here in the 4th Circuit.

We commemorated Pro Bono Week, Oct. 21-27, with many important observances. Mayor Alvin Brown issued a proclamation and the proclamation served to kickoff meaningful, positive events.

The Jacksonville Bankruptcy Bar Association announced the formation of a new pro-bono effort while also thanking attorneys who have assisted local clients with bankruptcy matters.

The Clay County Bar Association held its second annual barbecue to raise money for legal services to the poor in Clay County and to commit to pro bono case representation.

The Jacksonville Bar Association, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Florida Coastal School of Law and the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association teamed to provide legal services to low-income seniors by creating much needed advance directives documents.

Attorneys trained to represent children in dependency actions accepted appointments from the members of our dependency bench.

Veteran pro bono attorneys coached new pro bono attorneys.

Agencies presented volunteer opportunities to law students – our next generation of pro bono attorneys – at the annual Fall Forum at Florida Coastal.

We began planning the second legal services forum for nonprofit agencies in collaboration with The Florida Bar Business Law Section and Florida Coastal.

The Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership began taking referrals and assisting vulnerable people from the Wounded Warrior Project and the Refugee Task Force.

We held a legal phone-in on consumer issues on WTLV TV-12 First Coast News and 15 attorneys provided legal guidance at an Ask-A-Lawyer event Nov. 3. We presented CLEs for pro bono attorneys and offered informational clinics in Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties for pro se litigants.

In these times of dwindling resources and increasing needs, these collaborations — of bar associations, law schools, professional organizations, and community agencies — help to ensure that effective and free legal services continue to be offered to the low-income and vulnerable in our community.

Our pro bono service has never mattered more and has never been more needed. The collaborations make it happen – for the man who was cheated by the car dealer, for the mother who needs legal authority to act on behalf of her disabled adult child, for the grandmother who wants to adopt her granddaughter, for the disabled tenant whose landlord refuses to supply reasonable accommodation, for the immigrant who is filing for citizenship, for the single parent who needs to probate her grandmother’s estate so she can fix the roof of the home where she grew up.

Our help matters to these and hundreds more.

This is what we believe. People should have access to our courts regardless of ability to pay. We say it every time we pledge allegiance our flag, “with liberty and justice for all.” We say it when we become lawyers, “I will never reject from any consideration personal to myself the cause of the defenseless and the oppressed.”

You are making it happen. You are helping to ensure that everyone receives zealous advocacy. It’s this balance –– having both sides represented –– that helps ensure the very integrity of our judicial system.

You are making it happen by taking that one case, by assisting that one client. It matters.

Here in the 4th Judicial Circuit we celebrate pro bono. Become involved. Stay involved. And let’s continue to applaud each other.

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