Pro Bono: Attorneys work together to stabilize a family

Hollyn Foster and Stephanie Sussman share how they did it.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. June 6, 2019
  • The Bar Bulletin
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Missy Davenport
Missy Davenport

By Missy Davenport, JBA Pro Bono Committee chair

A client often needs help in more than one area and assistance in multiple areas can be especially difficult for clients to secure. 

Just such a client, in need of help with a probate issue and a temporary relative custody matter, came to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid through the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership.

Attorneys Hollyn Foster and Stephanie Sussman stepped up to accept both cases and provided tremendous assistance for the family.

Because of their work, the client is able to care for his siblings, the family has a secure place to live, and the client is able to continue his education.

Foster and Sussman discuss their work here: 

Hollyn Foster  

A mother passed away leaving four children, two of which were minors and being raised by their older brother (my client). The eldest son sought help in gaining possession of the homestead property for all the dependents, who all continued to reside in the home. This action was necessary both to transfer title and to reestablish the right to receive the homestead exemption on the property. This could be accomplished through the summary administration process.

We were successful in having the court determine the property was homestead and passed to my client and his siblings and in completing the summary administration.

Why was the outcome important to your client? The children had lost their mother. Having the ability to remain in their home and keeping the younger children in the same schools was priceless.

What did you gain from the experience? Working this type of case reminds me of how very blessed I am. I am fortunate to have family and friends that support me emotionally and the finances to keep a roof over my head and food on my table.

What is the name of your firm?  In what areas do you practice? Bowers and Associates, P.A. My main focus is on estate planning, probate and trust administration and guardianships.

What advice do you have for other attorneys considering pro bono involvement? There is always time to help others. Get involved, stay involved and your life will be the richer for it.

Stephanie Sussman  

My client is the 21-year-old brother to a 17-year-old brother and a 12-year-old sister. He is a nursing student and works part-time. Their father passed away in 2006, and then their mother passed away in 2017.

My client’s siblings were then left without a legal guardian. My client’s 17-year-old sibling was scheduled for knee surgery and the surgery could not take place without an order giving my client the ability to consent to the surgery.

I petitioned the court for a custody order which would give my client legal custody of his siblings and the ability to make all decisions for them. The court granted our request.

Why was the outcome important to your client? My client had been the primary caretaker of his siblings for quite a while as their mother was sick for a significant period of time before her death. It was important to him that he gain legal custody of his siblings to ensure there would be stability and continuity in their lives.

Why was the experience important to you? I was able to help someone who needed help and could not afford to pay a lawyer. It was rewarding and encouraging to me to meet my client and witness his dedication to his siblings.

What is the name of your firm?  In what areas do you practice? Bledsoe, Jacobson, Schmidt, Wright & Sussman. I practice primarily in the areas of marital and family law. My partners practice in all areas of civil litigation.

What advice do you have for other attorneys considering pro bono involvement? I strongly encourage pro bono involvement. The most important reason is to provide a needed service to the community. In providing pro bono assistance you are helping ensure that the court system really is accessible to everyone. Pro bono involvement also is personally rewarding. For me it is a break from the stress of practicing law and helps remind me why I do what I do.

Our sincere appreciation and congratulations are extended to Hollyn Foster and Stephanie Sussman for the work they did on these cases and the advocacy they provided to this family in need.

 Attorneys who are interested in pro bono involvement, including case representation and outreach clinics and projects, may contact Missy Davenport at [email protected]