Pro Bono: Volunteer attorney helps give client a fresh start

All it takes is one case to help change someone’s life for the better.

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  • | 1:00 a.m. March 7, 2024
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Jacksonville Area Legal Aid
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid
  • The Bar Bulletin
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Attorney Christine Sahyers first met her pro bono client in March 2023 while volunteering at a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Ask-A-Lawyer clinic at the Orange Park Public Library.

This clinic, scheduled every other month, offers people the opportunity to receive brief counsel and advice from volunteer attorneys. Although attorneys are not required to accept a case after consulting the client, they are encouraged to do so. 


Sahyers said her client “walked in carrying a box full of divorce documents she affectionately referred to as a ‘coffin.’”

During their initial meeting, Sahyers learned that the client filed her petition pro se after 30 years of marriage.

Mediation had already occurred but unfortunately, the parties reached an impasse. Then, the client’s spouse retained private counsel who was aggressively pushing the matter toward trial.

Most unfortunate was the fact that the client had been ousted from the marital home and was living on her adult child’s couch.

Sahyers accepted the case for pro bono representation.

Attorney Christine Sahyers volunteered at a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Ask-A-Lawyer clinic at the Orange Park Library.

After filing her appearance and amending the pleadings, she convinced opposing counsel to reset the matter for mediation instead of immediately proceeding to set the case for trial.

It was during this time that Sahyers discovered several significant assets, which were not originally disclosed by the opposing party during discovery. 

Mediation started off as she expected and an impasse seemed likely, Sahyers said.

However, thanks to her thorough review of the opposing party’s financial disclosures, which resulted in the discovery of unreported income and other previously undisclosed financial assets, Sahyers was able to use this as leverage during negotiations.

“When the mediator wanted to call the ‘time of death’ on our mediation session and declare an impasse, I asked the mediator to go back and ask opposing counsel and his client one more time if he would agree to our terms,” Sahyers said.

When the mediator returned, it was clear that the tactics and leverage worked as the parties reached an agreement.

In doing so, the client was awarded approximately 60% of the marital assets, which included a significant amount of proceeds from the sale of the marital home and a portion of the opposing party’s retirement account.

“My client was ecstatic and I am pleased to say that she can finally bury the ‘coffin’ that my client carried around for months,” Sahyers said.

This family law case is just one example of why pro bono matters. It is likely that the client would not have gotten the same outcome had it not been for a volunteer attorney’s willingness to assist.

There is ample opportunity for pro bono involvement. Not only are there plenty of cases awaiting placement with a pro bono attorney, but there are plenty of clinics that need attorney participation.

For those interested in getting involved with JALA’s Pro Bono Unit, visit where you can find volunteer opportunities including cases awaiting placement. Alternatively, send an email to [email protected] if you have additional questions or interests.

When you provide pro bono service under the auspices of legal aid not only are you covered under JALA’s malpractice insurance policy, you also are afforded training materials, expert resources and other support services such as a dedicated office space to meet with you clients.

All it takes is one client, one case or one outreach project for you to help change someone’s life.



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