Kathy Para, retired director of pro bono for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, has won The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2020 Jane Elizabeth Curran Distinguished Service Award.
The award is named for the Foundation’s first executive director, recognizing individuals who, over their careers, have achieved meaningful, effective and lasting increases in access to civil justice for the poor in Florida.
“Kathy has been an extraordinary force in shaping Florida’s pro bono efforts,” wrote James Kowalski Jr., president and CEO of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA), in his nomination of Para. “Her inspirational energy, her drive to be involved in the community, and her innovative approach to filling unmet needs forged Kathy into the right leader at the right time to expand access to civil justice in meaningful, effective and long-lasting ways for thousands of low-income and otherwise vulnerable Floridians.”
Para graduated from the University of Central Florida and worked as a speech therapist and opened the first Jazzercise studio in Jacksonville. After participating in Leadership Jacksonville, she decided to go to law school and graduated with honors from Florida Coastal School of Law in 2000. She completed more than 50 pro bono emancipation cases by 2008, earning her The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Award. In 2009, she joined JALA as its pro bono development coordinator.
At JALA, Para oversaw an online case review system, helped start the Federal Bar clinic, and added more intake and informational clinic opportunities. Her innovative approach and incentives for pro bono lawyers increased participation; the average number of JALA’s closed pro bono cases increased by 27% over ten years, and the number of lawyers participating increased by 72%. Para served as the chair of the Jacksonville Bar Association’s pro bono committee for nine years and wrote a weekly column about pro bono lawyers for the Jacksonville Daily Record. She retired as JALA’s pro bono director in 2019.
“Kathy Para changed the way clients with needs are connected to the help they need, locally and statewide, and these changes are lasting and substantial,” wrote Circuit Judge Steven M. Fahlgren in a letter supporting the nomination. “Kathy accomplished all of her work with great charm and her positive personality that is her stock in trade.”
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Florida Bar Foundation’s 44th Annual Reception and Dinner will be replaced by an award ceremony to be scheduled in the near future. The Jane Elizabeth Curran Distinguished Service Award will be presented at the award ceremony.