The SOS Academy, a charter elementary school in West Jacksonville, is next door to a community center and playground.
It’s an active gathering place where families often enjoy activities and find resources that help them thrive.
On March 4, The Jacksonville Bar Association, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and Florida Coastal School of Law offered an Ask-A-Lawyer opportunity at the school. It was the fourth year attorneys, law students and other volunteers offered guidance and education at the trusted, welcoming neighborhood location.
The leadership team at SOS Academy, in particular Genell Mills, the charter school’s founder and director, and her staff prepared the school’s cafeteria and helped publicize the event.
In three hours, volunteer attorneys counseled 33 people on over 40 legal matters in one-to-one interviews.
They advised in the areas of family law, probate, guardianship, criminal law, bankruptcy, collections, foreclosure, contracts, real estate, landlord/tenant, immigration and personal injury.
Spanish speakers were available to provide translation.
The attorneys were Vanessa Newtson, Tiane Sommers, Logan McEwen, Enrique Barquinero, Poppy DeCunto, T.C. Roberts, Brent Latour, Susannah Collins, Edward P. Jackson, Lee Lockett, Andrea Reyes and Tom Harper.
Also, Florida Coastal students Shea Peterson, Jeffrey Hall, Jess Westervelt, Michael Haynes, Willis Harris, Brandi Stevens, Borne Liave, Charles Vega, Aishah Bradley Veney, Alexandria Brown and Nadia Miranda, observed interviews and provided administrative assistance.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid board members Brian Jones, Phyllis Maxwell, Tanita Woods and Audra Craig-Walker helped welcome attendees.
Each session aims to provide legal guidance and direction, as well as information about community resources.
Clients may be referred to JALA, the JBA’s Lawyer Referral Service, Three Rivers Legal Services or to a community service agency.
The volunteers served with respect and compassion. They answered questions, provided information on legal options and community resources, and in many cases, offered hope and direction.
Facing a problem requires courage and energy. Taking the first step toward solving the problem requires even more.
For many of the attendees, Ask-A-Lawyer provided the information needed to enable them to take that first step toward stability and resolution.
The goal is to take information and guidance directly to people who might not otherwise be able access the expertise of an attorney.
We know that, as attorneys, we don’t always tell people what they want to hear. However, we know that with sound information and direction, people are better equipped to get the help they need or to resolve matters themselves.
Access to the legal community must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for that access. Informed advocacy on both sides protects the integrity of our system of justice.
Ask-A-Lawyer events empower people to resolve their legal issues and the barriers they face.
The efforts of the entire Ask-A-Lawyer volunteer team are applauded and appreciated.
Future Ask-A-Lawyer dates are June 10, Sept. 16 and Dec. 2. More details can be found at jaxlegalaid.org.
Attorneys interested in Ask-A-Lawyer and other pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit may contact [email protected].