by Kathy Para
JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair
Pro Bono Spotlight - Bringing you news of pro bono opportunities and accomplishments.
Attorney Valarie Linnen received a pretty special Christmas card last year. Among the holiday well-wishes were the words: “Thank you so much for helping to keep us in our home for Christmas.”
“There aren’t many paychecks that can compete with that,” she says.
In fact, the Jacksonville appellate attorney did not get a paycheck for that particular foreclosure defense case, or from the scores of other foreclosure, guardianship, probate, Medicaid or appellate pro bono cases that she has handled for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid over the years. Just the satisfaction from the extremely grateful clients who would have been out on the street or in some other unfortunate circumstance had she not been there to help.
For being there for all those clients, JALA is proud to name Valarie Linnen Pro Bono Attorney of the Month for April.
“Valarie just seems to thrive off of pro bono work. In the short amount of time that she’s been an attorney, she has made an enormous impact in the lives of so many people,” says JALA Pro Bono Manager, Sarah Fowler.
“Valarie doesn’t need to be reminded of the Oath of Attorney,” says Kathy Para, JALA Pro Bono Development Coordinator. “She lives it, day-in and day-out.”
Linnen is extremely honored by the recognition, and while she feels that pro bono work is not just an option for an attorney, but an imperative, she admits that the work is not only emotionally rewarding, but it’s great experience for a new attorney.
“Where else are you going to get the chance to take on such cases and be coached in how to execute them?” she said. “This type of experience for a new attorney is invaluable.”
Most attorneys might gain such experience in a large law firm, a state attorney’s office or a public defender’s office. But through her affiliation with JALA, Linnen was able to gain the experience she needed while starting her own solo practice.
“When I got out of Florida Coastal School of Law, the economy wasn’t very good,” Linnen says. “There were few jobs available, and few people were going to hire an inexperienced solo attorney to represent them. It just made sense that if I couldn’t find paid work, I still needed to work and gain experience. JALA gave me the opportunity not only to get that experience, but to also help people who really needed my help.”
One of those people who stands out to Linnen was a 39-year-old developmentally disabled woman who was in danger of losing her independence due to budget cuts at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
“Through the Developmental Disability Waiver program, she had made great strides in becoming independent, including being able to live and care for herself,” Linnen recalls.
The attorney found an ally in the client’s waiver support coordinator and through their combined efforts, a way was found to ensure that the gains this woman had worked so hard to achieve were not lost merely because the state couldn’t continue to fund the little assistance she needed.
“I’d never worked with the developmentally disabled before,” Linnen said. “It was extremely rewarding to make a difference in this person’s life. She had already overcome so many obstacles. It seemed a shame that the life she’d struggled so hard to attain could disappear because of a lack of funding.”
The Ferris State undergrad and FCSL graduate now has enough experience to support her solo practice, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be cutting back on her pro bono work anytime soon.
“It’s much too important to just give up,” she says, “and with the economy and the foreclosure crisis, it’s more important now than ever.”
“Valarie has jumped into the foreclosure crisis with both feet,” Para says.
Linnen will be forced to slow down and take a bit of an extended break from all of her law practice, however, as she prepares to have her first child sometime this month. Linnen lives in Jacksonville Beach with her husband, David Linnen, and her three stepdaughters, Jessica, Megan and Sarah. She has recently moved her law office from the Southbank to the Beaches, where she will be able to walk to work after the delivery of the couple’s first son, John David Linnen.
“I would recommend pro bono work for any young attorney looking for experience,” she says. “It’s so rewarding. They back you up with expert attorneys and you even get free malpractice insurance for the JALA cases that you handle.”
And sometimes you get a Christmas card that is truly merry.
Local attorneys interested in pro bono involvement in the Fourth Judicial Circuit can contact Kathy Para at [email protected], 356-8371, ext. 363.