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Finding Legal Aid May Get Easier

February 3rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legal aid services have never provided help to more than twenty percent of those in need, but since the recession, funding has dropped by 20 percent, Now as Mike Vasilinda tells us, solutions being discussed include a web portal and requiring third year law school students to do more.

Ten million Floridians qualify’s for free legal aid, but there ar only 408 legal aid lawyers statewide.  Donny MacKenzie, past President of the Florida Bar Foundation, says the math doesn’t work.

“That’s about one lawyer for eight thousand clients. You can’t do that” says MacKenzie.

For the last year a commission has been looking for solutions. It was created by Chief Justice Jeorge Labarga, who as a trial judge saw too many people who didn’t have a lawyer or a clue in his courtroom.

“It costs money in Florida to file for divorce. Its a big fee here” says the Chief Justice. “I think its over four hundred dollars, You and I can write a check for four hundred dollars, but a lot of people can’t, so they just stay married when they don’t want to be married.”

A study by the Florida Bar Foundation found that every dollar invested in legal aid provides seven dollars n benefits.

“When a victim of domestic violence gets the help she needs to move on, those around her get the benefit” adds MacKenzie.

A pilot program in Clay County, outside Jacksonville, asks questions and provides answers and help with needed forms online in two areas, Landlord tenant and divorce.

The pilot is being overseen by Jim Kowalski, CEO and President of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

legal aid00000013legal aid00000012“And so this is the digital doorway to the courthouse, tying together on line support have in place. tying together clinics and self help centers that the legal aids manage throughout the state” says Kowalski.

One idea gaining steam is to have third year law students do a lot less classroom work and a whole lot more legal aid.

The Bar and the Court are not asking for cash from the state yet. But for starters they are asking corporations and practicing lawyers to do more.

The Clay County study is also piloting what is being called “Low Bono”. It’s not free help, but lawyers charge just a dollar a minute. Florida is one of only three states that do not budget some dollars for legal aid.

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