As fallout from the recession lingers, legal problems from foreclosure to divorce continue to haunt low-income Floridians just as the resources of legal aid organizations dwindle, which is why volunteer efforts got more innovative than ever during Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Oct. 20-26.
Through a new outreach effort, lawyers from the Panhandle to the Keys volunteered their time in 70 local libraries educating librarians about free, online legal resources in Florida and how to access those resources to help patrons meet their legal needs. Lawyers also talked directly with library patrons about available legal resources, how to find and choose a lawyer, tips for going it alone in court, and why access to justice is important to local communities.
“It would be super if we had the resources and the people to handle all of the legal problems of the folks who qualify for our services, but we don’t,” said Kathy Grunewald, attorney and statewide training director for Florida Legal Services. “This is one way that we can promote their access to justice in Florida, because there is right now in Florida a justice gap. So many people are coming to court nowadays without representation — often not knowing what documents or other information they need — that it is causing the court system to slow down. Through this great partnership with our library system, we can reach people in the place they are used to coming for reliable information: their local public library.”
The Florida Lawyers in Libraries program was supported by Florida Legal Services Inc., The Florida Bar Foundation, the One Campaign, the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services of The Florida Bar, the Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association, The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, the Florida Library Association, and Florida’s Division of Library and Information Services.
Grunewald plans to make the Lawyers in Libraries program an annual event and expand it to include Law Day presentations in May.