Jacksonville young lawyers help hurricane victims in Blountstown
Around 20 members of the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, or “helping angels” as one beneficiary of the event might have put it, made a long round trip to Blountstown on April 5 to operate a legal aid clinic for the many residents still struggling with a variety of legal problems following Hurricane Michael.
Staffers from Legal Services of North Florida set up for the event and acted as intake, screening clients and, based on their needs, referring them to various volunteer lawyers.
The free clinic was scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., but the attorneys arrived early, people were already waiting, and so the work began an hour earlier.
“We were able to help many folks on the spot. However, some clients raised issues that required further assistance. These clients were referred back to LSNF for next steps,” said Alexandria Hill, general counsel for Maple Street Biscuit Company and who helped organize the trip.
“Client needs varied across the board. We saw several FEMA denials and insurance disputes as well as construction matters, a medical malpractice claim, probate and title issues, and even a domestic violence issue. Fortunately, we had a former state attorney on the team to help with that one,” Hill said. “In addition, we were set up to help people with advance directives, thanks to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid who shared their advance directives program with us. People were in shock that we were willing to do this all for free! In total, we helped 25 clients.”
The last client stepped in at the 2:30 p.m. scheduled end of the clinic.
“I personally helped one lady with a title issue. She was very emotional and told me that all morning she prayed for an angel to help and we were her angels. That alone was worth the 3.5 hour drive! This lady is also a pastor at another church and specifically asked if we could come back to her congregation to help. She said people have just lost all hope; they were already a struggling community and the hurricane was a punch to the face when they were already down. Just having us present, showing we cared, was enough to give some hope to people.”
Hill noted that Blountstown and the surround area is rural and generally a lower income area, which exacerbates their legal and other problems as they struggle to recover from the devastating storm.
The participating lawyers, she said, discussed returning for a follow-up clinic in six months — with more lawyers.