JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Bar Business Law Section has partnered with Florida Legal Services to provide pro bono legal assistance to small non-profits that typically do not have budget allocations for legal services.

These valuable services include assistance on contracts, lease agreements, employment policies, trademark, real estate transactions,and articles and bylaws. Receiving this legal guidance free of charge allows the nonprofits to move forward more effectively with their missions.

Kathy Para, pro bono for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, serves as administrator of the project.

"In our six years of offering this service, we have assisted more than 60 organizations who are mainly committed to filling gaps in our community's social service and educational systems," Para told the Florida Record.  "We've assisted organizations who are trying to solve food insecurity issues of low-income senior citizens, prepare at-risk youth in blighted neighborhoods for jobs, and restore used hearing aids for special needs children and the elderly."

This project was designed six years ago in response to the statewide One Campaign to promote pro bono legal services.  The slogan for One Campaign was One Client. One Attorney. One Promise.

"Though most of our legal guidance is provided at the forum, some pro bono attorneys agree to assist beyond the one hour consultation," Para said. "In one instance, the pro bono attorney helped the non-profit rewrite its employment manual. Another drafted a lease agreement, while another helped the non-profit establish its trademark. These small non-profits would have great difficulty hiring an attorney to do this kind of work."

Although there are no specific qualifications the non-profit needs to qualify and a representative of the non-profit must preregister. The representative provides basic information on the mission of the organization, the kind of legal guidance needed and the contact information of the person attending the forum. After a one-hour consultation with an attorney, the non-profit can request a legal checkup. This evaluation confirms the nonprofit has developed a sound corporate structure according to state requirements, IRS requirements, insurance, record keeping and financial practices.

The sixth annual forum took place Oct. 27 at the Florida Coastal School of Law with the co-ordination of professor Karen Millard.

"If we wanted to describe return on investment, we'd probably start with an estimate of the pro bono time and attorneys' hourly rates, but I don't think that accurately illustrates the value of this service," Para said."It may be more important to imagine the people served by these organizations and the ways they have provided hope and stability. These nonprofits increase the ability to thrive for many in our community,"

Attorneys who want to know more about pro bono opportunities throughout the Fourth Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, Chairperson at Kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org

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