In response to local and statewide concerns regarding access to justice for low-income people, The JBA’s board of governors and Pro Bono Committee have launched The JBA Pro Bono Initiative.
It is designed to help the many substantive committees of The JBA and other voluntary Bar associations to “adopt” existing pro bono projects and opportunities.
The goal is that every substantive committee will identify a pro bono project that is meaningful and manageable for its members, along with one that helps increase access to justice for all Northeast Florida residents.
In November 2014, recognizing that economic disparity threatens access to a fair and impartial judicial system, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga issued an administrative order establishing the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice.
The 27-member commission includes leaders from all three branches of government, The Florida Bar, The Florida Bar Foundation, civil legal aid providers, the business community and other stakeholders who will work in a coordinated effort to identify and remove economic barriers to civil justice.
The commission is a result of efforts by former Florida Bar President Gregory Coleman, in partnership with Labarga and Florida Bar Foundation leaders, to focus on addressing access to justice as a societal crisis that needs to be solved with concrete and creative changes in the system.
“Florida needs a coordinated effort involving all of the entities with the potential to make permanent, systemic advances to ensure that access to justice in Florida is not limited to those who can afford it,” Labarga said. “We are particularly concerned about the circumstances facing low-income litigants for whom purchasing legal representation can pose an impossible challenge. But access to civil justice is also a problem for the middle class, many of whom do not qualify for legal aid and cannot afford to hire a lawyer.”
Pro bono involvement is one very important aspect of increasing access to justice for our indigent population.
The JBA Pro Bono Committee works with various organizations that identify pro bono projects and legal needs of low-income people throughout the 4th Circuit. These include Florida Coastal School of Law, the 4th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee, Guardian ad Litem, the Office of Public Defender, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the JBA/Dependency Court Attorney ad Litem project, Missing Link, the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership, Three Rivers Legal Services and others.
With this broad knowledge of the legal needs of our low-income community, committee members will be able to assist in identifying gaps in access to justice and the existing projects helping to fill those gaps. The substantive committees will be encouraged to work with the committee to identify an appropriate and meaningful pro bono focus.
Already, these committees have pro bono projects and there are more in development.
The Legal Needs of Children/Attorney ad Litem Committee accepts pro bono appointments from dependency judges.
The Human Rights Committee, working with community organizations, assists survivors of human trafficking through the Advocates for Human Trafficking Survivors.
The ADR Practitioners Committee is in its third year of the Pro Bono Mediation project.
The Elder Law Committee has staffed advance directives events and helps with uncontested probate cases.
Many opportunities are available, such as presenting at group information clinics and Lawyers in Libraries; providing guidance at pro se advice clinics; giving brief counsel and advice at Ask-A-Lawyer and accepting cases.
They may be one-day events creating advance directives documents, reviewing naturalization applications at Citizenship Day or assisting at the Nonprofit Organization Legal Guidance Forum.
The JBA Pro Bono Committee will support each committee’s efforts with manageable project identification, educational webinars, expert resources and administrative assistance. It also will recognize committee efforts at the 4th Circuit Pro Bono table at JBA luncheons, in email communications and in the Bar Bulletin.
Providing meaningful ways for committee members to be involved in The Florida Bar’s and the Florida Supreme Court’s access to justice efforts will help ensure more low-income and underserved people in our community have the resources to resolve legal matters fairly and efficiently.
The JBA Pro Bono Committee looks forward to working with committee chairs and members to identify and implement projects that will complement the committee’s goals for its members and provide meaningful pro bono service to our community.
For more information please contact committee chair Kathy Para, [email protected], or co-chair Laura Boeckman, [email protected].