Program offers legal guidance free of charge to hundreds of people.
By Missy Davenport, JBA Pro Bono Committee chair
What should a member of our community do when he or she has a legal issue and is not sure of the next step? What if someone needs assistance but is not in a position to hire an attorney?
Come to an Ask-A-Lawyer event.
Now in its 10th year, Ask-A-Lawyer has provided legal guidance free of charge to hundreds of people, as well as information on community resources for people in need.
A record number of eight events will be offered this year at locations throughout the city easily accessible to low-income residents and the underserved.
Ask-A-Lawyer events are a collaboration of the Jacksonville Bar Association, Florida Coastal School of Law, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Jacksonville City Council.
The events are staffed by volunteer attorneys, law students and community members. Attendees may be referred to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the JBA Lawyer Referral Service and Three Rivers Legal Services as well as community service agencies.
The most recent Ask-A-Lawyer event was June 8 at the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corp. This is the 10th year that Ask-A-Lawyer event was held at this location as part of NJCDC’s annual Health and Neighborhood Day.
Under the direction of Paul Tutwiler, executive director of NJCDC, and the support of volunteers, neighborhood residents were invited to learn about community resources, enjoy music and games, complete a health screening and speak to a volunteer attorney.
Lawyers counseled 25 people on more than 30 legal matters in one-to-one interviews.
Attorneys advised in the areas of family law, probate, estate planning, guardianship, criminal law, collections, contracts, real estate and landlord/tenant matters.
The attorneys included Melina Buncome, Susannah Collins, Laura Gapske, Aaron Irving, Logan McEwen, Kristopher Robinson and Arden Joseph.
Florida Coastal School of Law students Chelsea Copeland, Chelsey Hess, Matthew Letteri and Sara Murrey also were there to provide administrative assistance and to observe the consultation interviews.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Client Advisory Board member Phyllis Maxwell was there to help welcome attendees, sign them in and answer general questions.
These volunteers served each person who came seeking information 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 the first step toward stability and resolution.
As attorneys, we know that we don’t always tell people what they want to hear. However, with the belief that knowledge is power, we know that with sound information and direction, people are better equipped to get the help they need or resolve their matters themselves.
Access to the legal community must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for legal representation. Informed advocacy on both sides protects the integrity of our system of justice.
Ask-A-Lawyer events empower and encourage people to effectively resolve their legal issues and overcome the barriers they face. The efforts of the entire pro bono Ask-A-Lawyer team of June 8 are applauded and appreciated.
Would you like to help make a difference in the community? Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit may contact Missy Davenport, chair of the JBA Pro Bono Committee, at [email protected].