JACKSONVILLE – The Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation held its' annual Health and Neighborhood Day event on June 18. Amid the blood pressure checks, eye exams and diabetes awareness presentations was the "Ask-A-Lawyer" session.
It's an event that has grown in popularity and importance to community residents since its inception. Ask-A-Lawyer is an opportunity presented by the Florida Bar and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) to provide legal guidance to those who may not have the means to otherwise receive it. For some, legal advice has a financial barrier and others simply don't even realize how a lawyer can help them. That's why this session has grown, because it offers a chance, at no cost, to just talk out concerns and learn the available next steps.
Any resident who wants can have a private session with one of the participating lawyers, many of whom have made this event an annual date on their calendar. The lawyer will listen to the resident's issues and then help them draft a set of next steps. Sometimes the resident is able to take action on their own while for other issues they are referred to a lawyer who they would see outside of the event.
"People started contacting us months ago to ensure that the lawyers would be there this year for them," Paul Tutwiler, the executive director at Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corp., told the Florida Record.
On the day of the event, lawyers from across Jacksonville offered advice and next steps to participants on topics ranging from landlord disputes, marital concerns, contamination issues, and home ownership for more than four hours. It's not intended to be an in-depth legal review of each individual case, but for the participants there is a great value to be had.
"It's an initial consultation, an opportunity to have people vet their concerns," Tutwiler said.
While the participants don't tend to share what their next steps following the consultations are, Tutwiler believes that most leave with positive impressions.
This event has grown increasingly important to a growing number of new community members.
"While Jacksonville Area Legal Aid offers services like this once a quarter around the city, this event is one of the largest because it's the only one that features lawyers who can speak Spanish," Tutwiler said.
The Health and Neighborhood Day event started 12 years ago as an opportunity for residents to connect with health and social service organizations. As it grew, so did the number of local organizations being represented. Five years in, JALA and the Florida Bar expressed an interest in becoming a presence at the event. In the seven years that the Ask-A-Lawyer event has been held, it has grown in both the number of lawyers participating and the number of residents receiving help. Tutwiler expressed a clear admiration for both groups
"I offer the strongest endorsement I can offer to JALA. They are clearly able to see the needs of our community and they have stepped up. Kudos to them," he said.