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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 6, 202010:50 AM EST

Three Rivers Legal Services anticipates increased need during pandemic

The group’s civil legal aid is available online and by telephone.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t reduced the need for legal aid in Northeast Florida, so the attorneys and staff at Three Rivers Legal Services continue to work every day for their low-income clients.

Sarah Sullivan, pro bono director in the Jacksonville office, predicts that the need for legal aid may grow considering the economic impact caused by businesses closing or scaling back and employees losing their jobs.

Sarah Sullivan

“A lot of people who were on the cusp of the poverty guideline will qualify after this is over,” Sullivan said.

Three Rivers is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal aid to clients in 17 counties in North and Central Florida with offices in Jacksonville, Gainesville and Lake City.

The offices are closed to walk-ins, eliminating personal meetings to comply with social distancing.

“It’s forcing us to think about how to serve people without being face-to-face,” said Sarah Sullivan, pro bono director in the Jacksonville office.

Like many businesses, Three Rivers is able to continue to work with clients with the help of technology.

“We’ve had a legal helpline for three years. A lot of our communication is done by telephone and email,” Sullivan said.

Many documents can be filed online or over the telephone. “Virtual signatures” also may be done on the telephone.

Three Rivers is encouraging people to file end-of-life documents, specifically the Designation of Health Care Surrogate and Living Will Declaration.

A health care surrogate is an adult appointed to make health care decisions for a person who cannot make those decisions for themselves. A living will states someone’s choices for end-of-life medical care. 

The documents direct family, friends and medical providers when someone may not be able to speak for themselves.

“People can go from healthy one day to critically ill the next day. It’s important to decide who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself. There’s always the need for these documents, but it’s even more important now,” Sullivan said.

The firm’s call volume for landlord-tenant, employment and consumer credit issues is down slightly, but that’s likely temporary, Sullivan said.

She anticipates an increase in family law matters as child custody time-sharing agreements will have to be modified because of quarantining.

To reach Three Rivers and speak with an attorney, call (866) 256-8091.


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