Pro Bono: A recipe for pro bono during the pandemic

More volunteers are needed to help people who cannot afford an attorney.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. September 2, 2021
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Sarah Sullivan
Sarah Sullivan

By Sarah Sullivan • JBA Pro Bono Committee co-chair

While the surge of the Covid-19 delta variant dampens our hope for the end of the pandemic, it is more than lost hope that affects low-income people in our community.

The sheer length of the health safety restrictions have particularly exacerbated issues affecting the poor. Luckily, with the experience in using technology to reach people over the past 18 months, pro bono outreach has adapted. The Jacksonville Beaches Bar Association stepped forward Aug. 21 to provide free legal services virtually to people in our community.

Thanks for the justice clinic goes to attorneys Courtney Walters, Kathryn Hancock, Heath Brockwell, Mary Scott, Justin Drach,  Joseph Nepowada, Rebekah Hope, Gregory Redmon, Lisa Ruiz, Vilerka Bilbao and law student volunteer Bailey Sassatelli.

The association partnered with Jericho Road Legal Service Ministry Inc. and Three Rivers Legal Services Inc. to provide more than 20 hours of volunteer legal service to people in need. 

Planning a virtual legal clinic starts weeks before the day it is presented. News of the clinic is sent to community agencies that serve low-income residents. 

Connecting with community agencies is essential to serving vulnerable people with legal issues that may not find their way to a legal service organization. 

With the assistance of case managers, social workers and other good Samaritans, clients with legal issues are encouraged to reach out to the service providers.

When the clients are identified as appropriate for the clinic, they are screened by volunteers who gather information that assists the volunteer attorney on the day of the event. 

Justice clinics are similar to other pro bono events in that clients can receive only legal advice. However, if a client is eligible for further services, they may be referred to a civil legal aid organization.

To meet the clients’ needs and to make the volunteer attorney as comfortable as possible, the client’s legal issue is matched with the lawyer’s areas of practice. The pro bono director then creates the schedule for the virtual event.

Because the goal of a virtual clinic is to break down the barriers keeping people from receiving vital legal advice, clients are given the choice of participating by telephone or by Zoom.

The attorneys use Zoom as the “center” of the justice clinic and can come in and out of the main meeting to ask questions and receive instructions for their next client.  Attorneys take virtual notes via a form link which is sent electronically to the pro bono director at the end of the justice clinic.

While remote meetings have become a common communication tool during the pandemic, utilizing them to reach underserved people is essential to meeting their legal needs.

The JBBA, with the assistance of Courtney Walters, its president, offered their members the opportunity to sponsor a justice clinic that traditionally would have taken place in person in the beaches community. 

The JBBA several years ago identified the need and desire for a regular service project to help the community. 

The justice clinics at the beach were a great fit, and we were able to continue virtually this year, despite the most recent surge of the coronavirus. 

Having the support of Jericho Road Legal Service Ministry and Three Rivers Legal Services ensures an event is meaningful for the volunteer attorneys and the clients.   

Without virtual clinics, many people with the greatest needs would have no access to legal advice.

Utilizing technology and encouraging collaboration between voluntary Bar associations, legal service organizations, community providers and the private practice Bar are essential ingredients to a successful virtual clinic. 

If you are interested in pro bono opportunities, virtual or in-person, contact Missy Davenport at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid  or Sarah Sullivan at Three Rivers Legal Services, co-chairs of the Jacksonville Bar Association Pro Bono Committee.  



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