When Steve Brust and a team from Smith, Gambrell & Russell decided to ramp up their pro bono involvement, it was clear they were “all in.”
“We’ve long supported Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the delivery of legal services for the disadvantaged, but we know we can do more,” Brust said. “We want to do the right thing for our community and we also want to do the right thing by training our new associates. Maybe with additional pro bono involvement we can do both.”
A conversation about these goals evolved into a new pro bono initiative: The Landlord/Tenant Pro Bono Project.
It will provide legal assistance to low-income clients in housing disputes while giving new associates experience in client representation and court proceedings.
Once a month at JALA, attorneys from the firm help interview clients during landlord-tenant intake and then accept pro bono cases.
In turn, JALA provides training and expert resource guidance, such as recognizing and defining legal issues in landlord-tenant intake and common causes of action.
In July, attorneys James Cummings and Jennifer Pruden pioneered the project and helped staff the intake day alongside JALA attorneys.
Not only did Cummings and Pruden interview tenants in need of an advocate, they accepted two cases for representation.
Also, JALA landlord-tenant attorney Jeff Haynie conducted training at Smith, Gambrel & Russell focusing on common issues.
Cases may involve landlords who aren’t making essential repairs, defending a wrongful eviction or suing a landlord for causing a bogus debt to appear on the client’s credit report.
JALA’s Fair Housing Unit and staff members provide support for the attorneys when needed, either during intake or as they progress with their cases.
With the training protocol in place and the structure of the project established, additional firms could be added to the monthly rotation.
The landlord is often represented by counsel while low-income tenants are most often pro se litigants. Studies have shown the involvement of a lawyer in a landlord-tenant matter increases the tenant’s chances of a positive outcome significantly.
The Landlord/Tenant Pro Bono Project is helping to level the playing field.
The attorneys at the law firm are the trailblazers for this pro bono initiative. Their work will keep families in their homes and help give housing stability to children, seniors, veterans and other vulnerable people.
Sincere appreciation is extended to the team at Smith, Gambrell & Russell for spearheading this initiative. Other firms are invited to join the effort by committing to a monthly intake half-day.
Contact [email protected] to begin a conversation about pro bono involvement for your firm.