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Business Law Section program promotes financial literacy, legal help for veterans

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Kacy Donlon

Kacy Donlon

The Business Law Section, two legal aid programs, a South Florida bankruptcy judge, and United Way’s Mission United program are combining to offer a financial literacy and legal assistance program for veterans in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The planners hope that the October 30 Veteran’s Financial Literacy Program will be a template for expanding the efforts statewide.

“Pro bono and financial literacy are two of the cornerstones of what are important to the Business Law Section,” said section Chair Kacy Donlon. “This is an opportunity to combine the two. With the timing of this being just before Veterans Day, it’s even better that we can help the veterans in our community.”

At the moment, the programs are set to allow either in-person or online attendance — both by veterans and volunteer lawyers. Depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be switched to a completely online event.

The events are set for the United Way Ryder Room at United Way Miami Dade County, 3250 SW 3rd Ave., Miami, and United Way of Broward County, Ansin Building, 1300 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale.

Carlos Sardi, who’s spearheading the project for the section’s Pro Bono Committee and Financial Literacy Task Force, said Chief Judge Laurel Isicoff of the U.S. Southern District Bankruptcy Court promoted the program after seeing a similar event in San Diego at a National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges meeting.

The program, which begins at 10:30 a.m., will feature a remote PowerPoint presentation by Judge Isicoff that will discuss various aspects of financial management, including budgeting, credit and credit cards, and consequences of poor financial decisions.

After a lunch break, participants will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one, again either in-person or online, with a volunteer attorney. If a veteran has a problem that can’t be handled during those 15-minute sessions, the volunteer lawyer can decide to take it on, or the veteran will be referred to legal aid.

Sardi is handling recruiting of volunteer attorneys and Jamie Cassidy of Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., and James Heaton of Legal Aid of Broward County are coordinating the legal aid involvement and preparing training materials.

Sardi said almost 70 section members have volunteered to participate, and more volunteers, whether section members or not, are welcome.

“Eventually, the idea is this will take on a life of its own and the legal aid offices throughout the state will start replicating this project for the benefit of veterans, so they can make better financial decisions and learn more about the subject,” he said.

Cassidy and Heaton said their offices are working with United Way’s Mission United program, which helps veterans and their families, to find program participants.

They said two types of training materials are being prepared for the volunteer lawyers.

One is “cultural sensitivity training for the volunteer lawyers so they’re equipped to work with the veterans,…understanding where the veteran is coming from and being able to engage the veteran effectively,” Cassidy said.

The second will train the lawyers about helping the vets with their financial problems.

Heaton said that can range from predatory lending activities aimed at service members, credit card problems, financial issues related to VA benefits, and VA health-care issues.

“Many of our veterans are disabled and living on fixed incomes,” he said. “These folks aren’t looking for a handout, but they really appreciate a hand up and that’s our goal, to provide a hand up.”

CLE credit is available for the training and Sardi estimated the total time commitment for both training and meeting with veterans on October 30 will be around three hours.

An extra benefit to the in-person screening, Cassidy and Heaton said, is if veterans have other legal issues beyond financial matters, those can be identified and the vets referred to legal aid or other programs that can help them.

Lawyers interested in volunteering can get more information on the Business Law Section’s website or by emailing Sardi at [email protected].

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