In the midst of perhaps the most challenging period in its history from a financial standpoint, as the chart below indicates, The Florida Bar Foundation has recently made significant progress addressing access to justice issues for all Floridians.
During the past year our board adopted a strategic reset, in which the new emphasis is on serving as a “strategic leader and catalyst in the cause of increased access to justice for all” and “an agent of rapid, effective and high-impact change.” This focus on catalytic philanthropy includes investments in training, technology, technical assistance, assessment and capacity-building for the legal aid delivery system, as well as the creation and expansion of innovative pro bono initiatives. This reset will allow us to help more despite fewer resources.
Led by Ericka Garcia, our pro bono department has developed and launched a new online platform for connecting lawyers directly to the pro bono cases they choose. The new website, FloridaProBonoMatters.org, was introduced in the March issue of The Florida Bar Journal, where pro bono work was in the spotlight as never before. This special issue of the Journal was conceived by Florida Bar President Bill Schifino and brought to fruition by the Foundation’s communications director, Nancy Kinnally, who was chief author. If you missed the issue, I urge you to find it and read it. It will impact you.
The Foundation also is working to develop new models for legal services delivery with a pilot program at Pathways for Change, a Pensacola nonprofit community service center (whose CEO Connie Bookman is a public member of the Foundation’s board). Through “The Escambia Project,” interdisciplinary design teams led by Margaret Hagan of Stanford Law are developing services and programs to address specific community needs, including legal services based on the end-user’s/client’s perspective. Read more about that project.
Meanwhile, the Foundation has begun applying funds from the nationwide Bank of America settlement to collaborative grantee projects addressing targeted populations and societal challenges. These projects are in the areas of legislative advocacy, medical-legal partnerships, migrant/agricultural work, expungements, social/racial/economic justice, identity/documentation, and LGBTQ inclusion.
With such exciting things happening, it’s easy to forget that the Foundation is still funding longstanding programs such as its Children’s Legal Services grants, which address the special legal needs of low-income and foster children. Contributions from Florida lawyers through their Florida Bar fee statement have become absolutely critical to these grants, providing about a third of the $926,000 the Foundation distributed last year. The Bar fee statements will go out in late May, and I urge my fellow lawyers to take the opportunity to add to their Bar dues a donation to support Children’s Legal Services.
Finally, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to longtime Florida Bar Executive Director Jack Harkness and the Foundation’s first Executive Director Jane Curran, who will be honored together this year with the Foundation’s highest recognition, the Medal of Honor Award. Both are legends without whose leadership The Florida Bar Foundation would not be the national leader that it is today. I encourage you to purchase your tickets early for our annual dinner, as it is sure to sell out quickly given the enormous stature and exceptional service of this year’s honorees. As always, we are grateful to all the event sponsors, who are recognized below. At times such as these, it’s especially gratifying to have the support of such valued partners.