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 have become more innovative than ever during Celebrate Pro Bono Week, October 20-26.
Through a new outreach effort, lawyers from the Panhandle to the Keys will volunteer their time in 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 will also talk directly with library patrons about free 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. These events are free and open to the public in designated libraries statewide the week of October 20 – 26. Event dates and locations are available at local public libraries.
“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 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 is supported by Florida Legal Services, Inc., The Florida Bar Foundation One Campaign, Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services of The Florida Bar, Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association, Florida Library Association, and the Division of Library and Information Services of the State of Florida.
“Access to justice is a fundamental right we have as citizens of Florida,” said Judge William VanNortwick, chair of The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. “But for many people, the inability to access legal information and assistance can lead to negative results for themselves, their families, and their communities. The Florida Lawyers in Libraries program will make it easier for Florida residents to find the legal resources they need.”