Community Profiles: Kathy Para, Pro Bono Development Coordinator, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid

This week we had an opportunity to speak with Kathy Para of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid about her pro bono experience and the many organizations with which she serves to further the impact of pro bono representation in the Jacksonville area.

What led you to your current pro bono position?

I had been involved in public service from a non attorney perspective right out of college in various capacities in my adult life. Based upon that experience I came at social service and public interest concerns from a couple of different angles. I knew when I went to law school that I wanted to be involved in pro bono work and made sure to participate in pro bono while obtaining my degree. Upon graduating from law school I was consistently involved in providing pro bono for many years and truly enjoyed the work. Finally, I got to a point in my legal career where I felt like I wanted to concentrate on pro bono law full time. When my current position as Pro Bono Development Coordinator at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) became available I jumped at the opportunity.

I feel very privileged to be where I am today. With all of the challenges of pro bono coordination, I really think it is the best seat in the house as far as the legal profession because we have an opportunity to see generous, compassionate attorneys stepping up to serve every day. The only thing discouraging about pro bono coordination is that the need is just so great and we are not able to help everyone. But there are dozens and really hundreds of attorneys willing to step up, it is just that we need thousands.

Tell us about Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s pro bono program and how it is unique?

We present our pro bono opportunities here in two broad categories. The first category is case representation which is always the area of greatest need. In our full representation cases we ask attorneys to help one client with one legal issue. One client-One Issue is our way of defining the level of expectation we have of our volunteers. This helps us with recruitment because we are not asking volunteers to help one client forever with whatever issue may arise, we are asking them to deal with just one legal matter. In this way, our pro bono attorneys are accepting a matter with parameters and not a client without parameters. This approach is promoted statewide through the “One Campaign” launched in 2010 by the Florida Bar Foundation, the Florida Bar, and the Florida Supreme Court.  The slogan for the campaign is “One Client. One Attorney. One Promise.”

The second category of pro bono available at JALA is what we call project participation. Project participation includes many types of outreach events, serving as an expert resource for other pro bono attorneys, providing local non-profits with legal assistance they could not otherwise afford and teaching webinars or CLEs for other pro bono attorneys. Project participation also includes a whole variety of one day events we provide including pro se info clinics and ask-a-lawyer programs where volunteers go out into low income communities and provide brief counsel and advice.  For several of our projects we also have the support and participation of Florida Coastal School of Law and the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association.

You serve on Jacksonville Bar Association Pro Bono Committee as Chair. Can you tell me what the pro bono arm of the association looks like? How does it function?

The Jacksonville Bar Association (JBA) is very supportive of legal aid efforts and has been a partner with JALA on many projects. As Pro Bono Committee Chair one of my main responsibilities is to coordinate articles for a weekly column that our committee submits to the Financial News and Daily Record every Monday in a section dedicated to the JBA. The column is called the Pro Bono Spotlight. Thanks to this wonderful community collaboration both the Financial News and Daily Record and the JBA provide space which serves as a great vehicle for us to get the word out about the specific pro bono and public service needs in the Jacksonville area. Through the column we print pro bono success stories highlighting the work of a pro bono attorney and the outcome he or she was able achieve. We also recognize a Pro Bono Attorney of the Month and publicize pro bono attorney support such as CLEs or other training events. We also use this column to feature the needs and work of many other organizations working to assist those most in need. The Pro Bono Spotlight has served as a tremendous vehicle for us to say thank you to our supporters and to recruit future volunteers.

You currently serve on the Equal Justice Conference (EJC) Host Committee for this year’s upcoming conference. Tell us a little about your role on the committee and what unique perspective you feel you bring to the group.

I have had the honor to serve as one of several liaisons on the host committee for the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference. One of my main responsibilities as liaison is to facilitate calls and plans for the conference reception that will take place Friday evening May 18th. Some of the elements of the event are still being finalized but I can say that we will be joining the Northeast Florida legal community at the annual JBA year-end party at the Jaguar stadium.  We look forward to welcoming EJC attendees to this great party and to Jacksonville! I also assist with facilitating Florida specific topics for workshops throughout the conference.

My perspective as a member of the host committee is unique in that my professional experience touches on several different facets of the pro bono community throughout the state of Florida. In addition to my work at JALA and on the JBA Pro Bono Committee I also serve as the current president of the Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association as well as the Chair of one of the subcommittees of the Fourth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee. I believe this gives me a unique perspective in terms of pro bono in Florida. Working with the bar association, legal aid community, local law school and state coordinators, and the judiciary has provided me with a pretty broad view.

What was the greatest lesson you learned about managing a pro bono organization or pro bono work generally?

I’m reminded daily that, in general, people really want to help. I also believe that collaboration and listening, to clients, to volunteers and to legal services staff are very important aspects of providing effective pro bono services. We are conduits, as coordinators, so it is important for us to pay attention to where we can make matches between what is needed and what our willing volunteers have to offers.

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