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Jax Daily Record Monday, May. 26, 201412:00 PM EST

Pro bono spotlight: Family law attorneys assist nearly 600 through clinics

by: Kathy Para

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

In 2013, the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) Family Law Group Information Clinics reached more people than ever before, providing legal help and advice to those in need all across the 4th Judicial Circuit.

Nearly 600 people seeking guidance in family law matters found direction and encouragement in Clay, Duval and Nassau clinics.

JALA’s family law clinics provide local attorneys with worthwhile pro bono opportunities and provide legal services to those who would otherwise be turned away.

Attendance has climbed steadily each year since the clinics started: 311 in 2011, more than 450 in 2012 and nearly 600 in 2014. This illustrates the growing need for family law guidance in the 4th Circuit.

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

Each topic is presented monthly and clinics cover the following family law topics: dissolution of marriage, paternity/timeshare/custody and child support modification.

Clinics in Duval have been offered since 2011 thanks to the assistance and leadership of pro bono attorney Marla Buchanan.

Clinics in Clay and Nassau counties started in 2012, thanks to pro bono attorneys Lisa Dasher and Valerie Faltemier, respectively.

Duval clinics are at the Downtown JALA offices, Clay clinics are at the Clay County Public Library and Nassau clinics are in the Nassau County Courthouse.

In addition to the clinics offered in the 4th Circuit, the St. Johns County office of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid also offers pro bono assistance in the 7th Circuit.

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 have donated their time to schedule and organize these clinics: Marla Buchanan, Valerie Faltemier, Lisa Dasher, Joy Owenby and Ashley Myers.

Thanks also are extended to the many pro bono attorneys who served as presenters at the clinics: Christian Winicki, Rusty Mead, Jonathan Zisser, Susannah Collins, Julie Anna Rountree, Dana Dorrell, Paul Dick, Christie Guerrero, Shawn DeVries, Chanda Rogers, Bruce Landrum, Bruce Talcott, LaRae Hendrix, Joseph Wiggins, Michelle Sweatland, Jacqueline Green, Damon Pichoff and Rosa De La Cruz Price.

Students from Florida Coastal School of Law and paralegal volunteers serve as Family Law Clinic assistants. Their duties include preparing packets, checking in the attendees and assisting with latecomers. Clinic assistant volunteers included: Sue McGlothlin, Teri Mai, Minal Acharya, Elisabeth Whitmire, Megan Kelley, Patrick Maier, Visalakshi Ramachandran and Victoria Gammill.

The 2014 Family Law Clinic schedulers and organizers continue their work and a very special thanks is extended to them for supporting this vital service: Valerie Faltemier, Lisa Dasher, Joy Owenby and Ashley Myers.

For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit and beyond, contact Kathy Para, chair, The JBA Pro Bono Committee, [email protected].

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