It was a gray and stormy Saturday morning when 20 volunteers gathered to provide free legal counsel to nearly 50 people.
Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Downtown campus was the site of an Ask-A-Lawyer event Sept. 20, the second time the project has been offered at the location.
The college’s staff again provided a space that was welcoming and professional, one in which attorneys and attendees could confer in a relaxed setting.
Local pro bono attorneys counseled 48 people on more than 60 legal matters in one-on-one interviews.
Attorneys advised in the areas of family law, probate, guardianship, criminal law, bankruptcy, collections, foreclosure, contracts, real estate, landlord/tenant, employment and personal injury.
Spanish speakers were available to provide translation.
The pro bono attorneys were Mike Freed, Alessandro Apolito, Melina Buncome, Laura Gapske, Yaima Coto, Bradley Bodiford, Ramona Chaplin, Barry Bobek and Markus Sermons. Florida Coastal School of Law students were Jordan Yarbrough, Kelly Thiele, Ashley Fields, Roselle Pujols, Szu-Han Lan,
Jessica DeLeon, and Chris Jackson were there to provide administrative assistance and to observe the consultation interviews.
Paralegal student volunteers were Arnita Brown, Sarah Franken and Ronline Cannady.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid board member Bobby Bell helped welcome attendees, sign them in and answer general questions. Sydney Freed also attended to assist with administration of the event.
Each Ask-A-Lawyer event aims to provide legal guidance and direction, as well as information on additional community resources for people in need.
Attendees may be referred to legal aid, The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service, Three Rivers Legal Services and/or to a community service agency.
The events are made possible because of the collaboration of The Jacksonville Bar, the D.W. Perkins Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar, Florida Coastal, legal aid and the City Council.
The events are held quarterly in locations in the city that are easily accessible to low-income people and the under-served.
The 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 a first step toward solving the problem requires even more.
For many of the attendees, Ask-A-Lawyer provided the information needed to enable the attendees to take that first step toward stability and resolution.
Attendees expressed their appreciation in many ways, from sincere words of thanks and gratitude to leaving with a relaxed manner or feeling of resolve.
The goal of Ask-A-Lawyer is to take information and guidance directly to members of our community who may not otherwise be able access the expertise of an attorney.
We know that, as attorneys, we don’t always tell people what they want to hear.
However, we know that with sound information and direction, people are better equipped to get the help they need and/or resolve their matters themselves.
Access to the legal community must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for that access.
It is informed advocacy on both sides that protects the integrity of our system of justice.
Ask-A-Lawyer events empower and encourage people to effectively resolve their legal issues and the barriers they face.
The efforts of the entire pro bono Ask-A-Lawyer team of Sept. 20 are applauded and appreciated.
Attorneys interested in these and other pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman of The JBA Pro Bono Committee, at [email protected]