Pro Bono Spotlight
Bringing you news of pro bono opportunities and accomplishments.
Attorney Martin Sack Jr. has been quietly plying his trade in the city of Jacksonville for more than 50 years now.
“There have been no landmark cases,” he says, “no Brown v. Board of Education or appearances before the Supreme Court.”
Quiet though they may be, Sack’s tireless efforts in the River City, and especially his work on behalf of the city’s economically disadvantaged, deserve to be shouted, which is why he is Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Month for January, 2010.
“In addition to being an outstanding attorney and volunteer asset for us, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid owes so very much of its current success to the foundation that Marty helped lay during a critical time in the formation of legal aid services in the city,” says Sarah Fowler, Manager, Pro Bono JALA.
Sack remembers the early days of his career and the fledgling legal aid services the Jacksonville legal community was able to offer the underserved population in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“I started working with legal aid after I got out of the service in the late 50s,” he recalls. “It was located on the second floor of a ramshackle building somewhere downtown. It was definitely a bare bones operation.”
At the time, Sack says, “There couldn’t have been more than 300 or so lawyers in Jacksonville. Maybe just 25 to 50 of them helped with legal aid. There were no staff attorneys or anything back then – just us volunteers. I’d estimate we did about 100 to 200 cases a year.”
The Jacksonville Bar Association was pretty much the only sponsor for the legal aid effort, so funding was limited. That all changed in the ‘60s, and Sack was there to help usher in that change.
Sack took a turn as president of the legal aid board of directors in the mid-60s, and the year he was at the helm was the year the federal government began to take a serious interest in legal aid throughout the country.
“They came in to us and said they were going to help fund legal aid in Jacksonville,” he remembers. “But they looked around, saw how ramshackle our operation was and said, ‘This isn’t good enough.’” So, in addition to their day jobs, Sack and the small cadre of civic-minded lawyers worked to improve legal aid. And when the government came back in and said it still was not good enough, they worked even harder and received more funding for their efforts.
Today, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid is the fifth-largest law firm in Jacksonville, employing a staff of 80 people, including 30 full-time staff attorneys. Last year it handled more than 9,500 cases for the city’s underserved population.
While Sack has long given up his administrative duties, he continues to work at least a half-dozen pro bono cases a year. And, although he’s never kept count of how many such cases he’s handled, six cases a year for 50 years would come out to 300.
“I just think that lawyers have a moral obligation to help the communities they serve,” he says.
Sack began his law career in Jacksonville in 1958, after he left the Army following a two-year stint as a jeep driver.
“The Army was impatient,” he says. “I could have been a lawyer in the JAG corps had they waited another month. I’d already graduated law school and taken the bar exam, but they wouldn’t wait for my test results.”
So, for two years the Lee High School, Duke University and University of Florida Law School graduate became an enlisted man and devoted his highly educated mind to directing a jeep through the streets of Germany.
“It wasn’t so bad,” he remembers. “They posted me in Germany, and my wife was able to come over and live with me there,” an important benefit for a young man married only two months earlier. So, Sack was content to be an olive-drab taxi driver instead of an Army lawyer.
Sack returned to the States in ’58 and joined his father’s law practice in downtown Jacksonville. The Sacks specialized in motor carrier law, an area of law that brought them before the Florida Supreme Court on many occasions. When the elder Sack accepted a judgeship in the mid-60s, Sack Jr. remained a solo practitioner, a status he retains to this day.
“I just like being my own boss, I guess,” he says. “I live about five blocks from my office, so I can walk to work if I want and I can leave when my work is done.”
A member of the local Vintage Lawyers Association, Sack says he is about as retired as he is ever going to be. He and his wife Carol have been married for 53 years now and have two grown sons, Kevin and Andrew.
For more than 50 years, Marty Sack has been an advocate for the underserved in our community representing countless JALA clients.