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Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 12, 201612:00 PM EST

Pro bono spotlight: Volunteers needed for Lawyers in Libraries program

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by: Kathy Para

The “Lawyers in Libraries” project was launched in 2013 by Florida Legal Services in collaboration with the The Florida Bar Foundation, One Campaign, the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services of The Florida Bar, the Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association, the Florida Library Association and the Division of Library and Information Services of the State of Florida.

In today’s technology-driven world, many low-income families rely on public libraries for free access to the internet as well as to obtain information about other services.

Many customers turn to librarians for legal information and research resources, and a librarian may be the first person to whom someone facing a legal problem turns.

Realizing the level on which many people rely on libraries for information, the “Lawyers in Libraries” project was born.

The group information sessions cover online free legal resources and topics in the law.

An attorney who presents the free legal resources session is provided with a PowerPoint presentation and a handout for attendees.

The presentation describes the resources available on legal websites.

The handout provides information about the websites and how to access local legal organizations for help.

An attorney who conducts the one-hour “Topics in the Law” prepares a 45-minute presentation in a specific substantive area to allow 15 minutes to address questions after the presentation.

Library managers request topics such as dissolution of marriage, landlord/tenant, employment, income tax, foreclosure, bankruptcy, probate, civil rights restoration, sealing and expunging criminal arrest records, small claims and advance directive documents.

The events are free and open to the public. The schedule and topics are promoted in the libraries and on jaxpubliclibrary.org. Click on “Programs and Events”

Sincere appreciation is extended to these attorneys who have served or are scheduled to serve as presenters for the “Lawyers in Libraries” project.

They include Laura Gapske, Tom Harper, Beth Luna, Andrea Reyes, Ericka Curran, John Dyro, Dulce Fazel, Troy Farquhar, Swati Amin, Melina Buncome, Slade Dukes, Jonathan Graessle,  Monica Mercer, Hollyn Foster, Matt Lufrano,  Iana Benjamin, Jeff Haynie, Ariel Cook, Michael J. Rainka, Michelle White, Lisa DiFranza, Katheryn Hancock,  Laura Giovannetti, Vicki Bowers and LaTonya Smith.

Also, Dyvonnda Thurston,  Lynn Drysdale,  Aaron Irving, Diana Johnson, Laura Boeckman, Erik Berger, Robert Morgan,  Jimmy Midyette,  Swati Amin,  Jennifer Boston Williams, Ashley Tunac, Jessica Dumas, Ingrid Osborn,  Jonathan Graessle, Ramona Chaplin, Rusty Mead, Sarah Bohr, Kameisha Presley, Chris Carson and Jessie Seaman.

“It would be super if we had the resources and the people to handle all of the legal problems of the folks who qualify for our services, but we don’t,” said Kathy Grunewald, attorney and statewide training director for Florida Legal Services.

“The Lawyers in Libraries project is one way that we can promote their access to justice in Florida, because there is right now in Florida a justice gap, she said. “So many people are coming to court nowadays without representation –– often not knowing what documents or other information they need –– that it is causing the court system to slow down. Through this great partnership with our library system, we can reach people in the place they are used to coming for reliable information –– their local public library,” she said.

Access to justice continues to be a focus across the state and great strides are being made in helping to provide legal assistance regardless of ability to pay.

The Lawyers in Libraries program makes it easier for people to find legal resources and seek outcomes that make positive differences in their families.

Attorneys who would like to be presenters in the Lawyers in Libraries project or are interested in other pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact [email protected]. Staffing for the 2017 Lawyers in Libraries program year has begun.

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