TALLAHASSEE – A North Florida consumer protection attorney was selected to receive the Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award for the state's 4th Judicial Circuit.
Laura Boeckman, the North Florida Consumer Protection Bureau chief at the Office of the Florida Attorney General, feels humbled receive the award.
"There's a lot of unsung heroes in the 4th Circuit and throughout the state who do some pretty incredible work and don't report it, or people don't know (that) they're doing it," Boeckman told the Florida Record. "So, I think it's just a testament to their humility, that they're probably not getting recognized for this award when they rightfully should be."
Boeckman, who resides in Duval County, began doing volunteer pro bono work in 2005, the year she began teaching law at the Florida Coastal School of Law.
"I taught a consumer law clinic," Boeckman said. "So, the students would work on cases that we got from (Jacksonville Area) Legal Aid."
Boeckman helped her students prepare to represent the clients in the cases they worked on. She taught at the school from July 2005 to July 2013. While she taught, her pro bono work involved directly representing private clients.
"While I was at the law school, the cases that we would take in the clinic were all cases from Legal Aid or from other nonprofit sources," Boeckman said. "And sometimes the cases were too complicated for the students to work on, or it was just a particularly compelling case. And so I had my own caseload of pro bono cases that I worked on the side."
Boeckman worked many pro bono cases for military members. Boeckman, whose husband is retired from the military, said her military-family background made her sympathetic toward military members who experienced consumer issues.
"Quite a few of them were military members, but not all of them," Boeckman said. "I was on a pro bono list with the American Bar Association for military members. And so, every week they sent out a list of cases of people who were looking for help. And so, if there was somebody in Jacksonville who had a consumer issue, I would try to take that case."
She also helped out other clients who didn't make a lot of money.
Since becoming the North Florida Consumer Protection Bureau chief at the Office of the Florida Attorney General in September 2013, Boeckman has had to take on a different role in her pro bono work.
"Now that I'm with government, I can't do direct representation anymore," she said. "I serve on a couple of pro bono committees in our town, and I also serve as a coach for attorneys who are taking consumer cases. So if they're not familiar with the subject area, I'm a resource for them for questions."
Boeckman still wants to involve herself in pro bono work now even though directly representing clients is not an option for her.
"I can't do the direct representation because it's a conflict with my current position," she said. "I'm always looking for other ways to be able to help out. I'll do outreach, like go and speak to groups of people about consumer-protection issues or things like that."
Boeckman misses directly representing clients, but she still looks for ways to help those less fortunate.
"It really tugs at the heart strings when I'll see a pro bono case advertised, and I think, 'Oh, I could help that person. I could do that,' and I know I can't," she said. "And so, I still work closely with Legal Aid and just look for different opportunities. ... There's a lot of other ways that I've kind of gotten creative to be able to find ways to give back and try to help."
Boeckman knew when she went to law school that she wanted to practice law in the public sector.
"It's incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to me to help somebody who otherwise would not have any help," Boeckman said.
Boeckman loved being able to explain how the legal processes works and help them understand the outcomes of their decisions.
"Most of them always felt like they were fighting an uphill battle," Boeckman said. "And so, to feel like they had somebody on their side to ... . And they weren't having to pay me, so I had nothing to gain ... . So it was nice for them to know that they could trust me because I'm just doing this because I want to help you."
Boeckman said many clients appreciated what she did to help them.
"When you're doing foreclosure defense, you're helping somebody save their home, or not, if that's the best decision," she said. "But you're navigating through these really difficult life choices with people. And sometimes, people would be really scared about something, and I could explain to them that that's not going to happen. That's not how the system works. Or I can make sure that that's not going to happen."
Boeckman, who has three 9-year-olds and a 5-year-old girl, tries to balance her pro bono work with her full-time job and other responsibilities that come with raising her family. She said she puts in 40 hours a week for her full-time job and an additional two to three hours a week on volunteer pro bono work currently.
"Attending meetings where I can both network for pro-bono purposes and do work for the office as well," Boeckman said. "Or just try to work during a lunch hour and get stuff done or after hours and things like that, but yeah, it's a daily, weekly balance."
She tries to balance family time, but said she probably doesn't balance that well.
"I'm fortunate that my position does give me flexibility to be able to take some time off for doctor's appointments or school events and then make that time up later," she said. "I travel quite a bit for my job, and so, that can throw a wrench in things. So it's a lot of scheduling, a lot of planning and coordinating and a lot of help from other people outside our family."
Along with all her responsibilities, Boeckman still finds time for personal hobbies.
"That happens about 5 o'clock in the morning," Boeckman said. "It's an early start to the day and usually a late end to the day just to try to squeeze everything in. But yeah, I love to run, do some triathlons, and have a book club that I belong to, which is a source for some fellowship."
Boeckman received the award for the 4th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. The award ceremony was held Thursday at the Florida Supreme Court.