Pro bono attorneys provide counsel, peace of mind for seniors

  • By
  • | 12:00 p.m. February 10, 2014
Attorney Robert Morgan assists residents at Jacksonville Townhouse this month while law student James Etheridge makes notes for a newly created document.
Attorney Robert Morgan assists residents at Jacksonville Townhouse this month while law student James Etheridge makes notes for a newly created document.
  • News
  • Share

Local pro bono attorneys, paralegals and law students gathered this month at Jacksonville Townhouse, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development residential center, to serve senior citizens who needed advance directives documents.

The Advance Directives for Seniors Pro Bono Project is a quarterly event that provides many area senior citizens with the opportunity to create important legal documents for free.

The project is a collaboration of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Florida Coastal School of Law, The Jacksonville Bar Association and the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association.

The events are held in two parts on separate days.

On the first day, senior citizens gather for a session where longtime pro-bono attorney Pat Vail presents information on documents pertaining to durable power of attorney, living wills, designation of health care surrogate and designation of pre-need guardian.

Residents who need the documents are encouraged to make an appointment for the second day of the event.

Lisa Cooper and Brian Swanner, Jacksonville Townhouse service coordinators, played a large role in making the free legal assistance available to the residents.

Cooper’s job was to schedule the residents for individual appointments with the attorneys on the second day.

She also was responsible for publicity of the service, reserving the meeting space and ensuring residents were prepared for their appointments with their attorneys.

Swanner assisted on the day of the event by adjusting appointment times and ensuring residents were prepared while also helping with facility details.

Amelia Henderson, Rusty Mead, Debbie Lee-Clark, Bruce Duggar, Robert Morgan and Barbara McGriff were the attorneys who provided legal counsel.

Gil Sacayanan, Visalakshi Ramachandran, Forrest Frederick, James Etheridge and Cecil Grant Jr. were the paralegals and law students who drafted documents and listened to the residents’ stories.

One resident was almost in tears as she expressed her gratitude.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. Thank you, thank you for being here,” she said.

One senior ended his appointment by singing a song as a “thank you” gesture for his legal team.

Another was a bit stunned at the sight of the attorneys, paralegals and law students’ work, saying “I just can’t believe this. I can’t believe that you all would do this for us.”

The goal of creating the advance directives documents was accomplished. But, perhaps more importantly was the opportunity to provide competent and compassionate service to another — hearing a story, meeting a need.

It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee chairwoman, at [email protected].