NAPLES – Jonathan L. Tolentino received the Florida Bar Pro Bono Award today for his unpaid work assisting low-income families with various financial problems.
Since 2012, Tolentino has helped provide fiscal relief for 21 households; delivering more than 200 hours of cost-free aid.
Tolentino’s legal career began when he obtained his law degree in 1999; starting in Western New England University, and completing his last years at Nova Law School in Fort Lauderdale. His first job was working in intellectual property law. Then, after business slowed down following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, he started a practice with a law school classmate that focused on bankruptcy work. He began his pro bono work soon after that.
Jonathan Tolentino recently won the Florida Bar Pro Bono Award
“I’ve done pro bono work almost the entire time I’ve been practicing," Tolentino told the Florida Record. "You just volunteer and do your pro bono service. Sometimes you’ll have someone whose homestead is being foreclosed on, someone who has been laid-off their job, someone who has had a catastrophic medical event and been left with a lot of bills. Sometimes a spouse dies. There’s so many different cases.”
Tolentino emphasizes that his clients are usually victims of forces out of their control. In an environment with potential for natural disasters and an economy that can still be enormously unstable, the people he helps are often just unlucky. They can fall into a variety of different circumstances.
“There’s a wide array of clients; everyone’s case is different," he said. "A lot of the pro bono clients I’ve picked up are typically single mothers or widows, people with fixed income or no income. We’re talking about a budget that is sometimes a thousand dollars a month.”
Tolentino did not take on pro bono work expecting a reward or any special recognition from his peers. He sees the law not just as a tool for dispensing justice, but as a great equalizer that can help people who can’t help themselves.
“You don’t ever ask for an award or anything," he said. "In the spring of 2015, (a bar official) was going through an accounting of all the pro bono cases. My office went through and gave him the status of all the cases we had done. Maybe a month or two later he called and said, ‘I’m going to nominate you for the award.' He nominated me and next thing I know I’m getting a call from the Florida Bar telling me ‘you’re going to be a recipient of the award.’ It was a surprise.”
This award has propelled Tolentino’s small practice to greater recognition within the law community. He hopes it will grow the firm so that it can have greater resources to pursue more cases and add litigators to the staff. Tolentino was clear, however, that the integrity of his practice and flexibility to be able to take on any clients in need of legal council is paramount.