Solo and Small Firm Section awards pro bono grants
Since 1990, the Solo & Small Firm Section has awarded $180,500 in grants to Florida pro bono organizations
Venture Law Project of Dade Legal Aid is this year’s winner of the Solo & Small Firm Section L. Michael Roffino Pro Bono Award and has received a $4,000 grant.
Venture Law Project of Dade Legal Aid provides legal services related to all things business. A sample of clients includes small businesses, artists, creative groups, inventors, and veteran entrepreneurs who are helped with incorporation, taxation, contracts, leases, employment agreements, and licensing issues. With the onset of the pandemic and ensuing shutdowns, the project adapted to address the needs of the clients with unemployment, eviction, immigration, and various federal grants (CARES Act & PPP). More than 150 clients were aided by the volunteer attorneys and law students, according to the section.
Finalists Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association each received $2,000. The awards were presented during the Bar’s recent Annual Convention.
The annual L. Michael Roffino Pro Bono Award — previously known as the Bill Jacob Award — is given to the pro bono organization in Florida that has created the “best pro bono service program during the past year.” Originally named the Bill Jacob Award in honor of the section’s first chair, it was renamed in 2004 after the untimely death of former section Chair L. Michael Roffino.
The Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association annually accepts applications, and the Solo & Small Firm Section Awards Committee selects three to five programs for a vote by the section’s executive council. Applicants are evaluated on the novelty of their programs and the number of clients served. Ongoing viability is also a factor, so the committee evaluates whether programs have increased volunteer attorney participation from previous years.
Since 1990, the Solo & Small Firm Section has awarded $180,500 in grants to Florida pro bono organizations.
The Roffino Award recognizes pro bono programs that are making a significant difference in the lives of Floridians who otherwise would not have access to legal services, according to Awards Committee Chair John Maceluch.
“Finding legal assistance is especially difficult for those with little resources or knowledge on how to deal with those issues,” said Maceluch of Sunshine Legacy Law in Panama City. “Solo and small law firms know first-hand about lower-income Floridians’ need for access to justice, and the section is thrilled to assist the wonderful Florida pro bono organizations that are dedicated to that cause. These programs connect clients with knowledgeable staff and volunteer lawyers who are willing to contribute their time and expertise. The Roffino grants help foster continued service and improvement in our local communities.”
The other pro bono programs honored this year included:
- Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, which set up a virtual legal clinic to serve the 12 counties in rural Florida. Working with the tools they had, they hosted weekly clinics and doubled the number of clients helped from last year to almost 250 people. In addition, the program recruited 62 unique volunteers, almost a 4.5-time increase from the prior year. They also incorporated a call center that was available for clients who needed help with housing issues.
- Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, which created its own “COVID-19 Eviction Consultation Clinic” that was 100% virtual. They maximized their outreach to volunteers and found 45 lawyers who were willing to participate, including some from other areas of the state. They were able to serve more than 900 clients since the start of the pandemic and continue to do so.
The section will again award the L. Michael Roffino Pro Bono Award in 2023 and applications will be available this fall.