Legal Aid/Put Something Back Facts


FACT In 1939, Legal Aid was initially organized as a Committee of the Dade County Bar Association ("DCBA") to provide pro bono legal services to impoverished residents in need of legal assistance in the areas of family law, guardianship, housing and small claims.

FACT In 1949, Legal Aid Society was established by the County with support by Special Act of the Legislature which provided funding for Legal Aid from filing fees from all cases filed in any lawsuit in any Court of Record in Dade County Circuit Court. Legal Aid Attorneys handled hundreds of cases for low-income residents for decades.

FACT By 1978, the need for pro bono legal services intensified, and the Dade County Bar Association began its Public Interest Law Bank to assist Legal Aid overflow clients. Judge Clyde C. Atkins met with then President of the Dade County Bar Association, James F. Crowder, Jr., to ask for the bar's assistance with the growing numbers of people in need of free legal help that appeared before the Court. The President and Board of Directors unanimously approved of this idea and began the Public Interest Law Bank, to recruit members to handle cases that came before the Court and Legal Aid. The next bar president witnessed the importance of the Dade Bar's leadership and appointed a Committee to carry out the bar's vision to improve the delivery of legal services to the poor. 

FACT In 1979, the Dade County Bar Association was awarded the highest honors by the ABA for best new pro bono program in the country. The Dade Bar's model of recruiting members and referring cases was so successful that the bar hired a coordinator to oversee the program's operations at the bar building. 

FACT In 1981, the bar re-named their program the Volunteer Lawyers Project which had 550 members and assisted numerous indigent residents until 1991.


FACT In 1990, Legal Aid and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit created a comprehensive new pro bono project to recruit attorneys practicing in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit to meet the growing client demands. The new project was designed to expand much needed civil legal services to the poor of the county and focused on extensive recruitment of pro bono attorneys. The new program, originally called "Dade County Comprehensive Pro Bono Project," was implemented by then Chief Judge Wetherington in partnership with Legal Aid, under the direction of Sharon Langer and with the bar's support.

FACT In 1991, Langer hired Karen Josefsberg as Coordinator of Dade County Comprehensive Pro Bono Project with funding from the Courts to expand pro bono efforts. 

FACT On October 1, 1991, the project opened and conducted client intake four days a week, Monday - Thursday, at regional branch courthouses, the South Dade Branch Courthouse, Joseph Caleb Center, North Dade Justice Center, and Hialeah Courthouse. Hundreds of residents of the county were able to gain access to services in their own neighborhoods through the program's extensive outreach efforts coordinated in partnership with the Courts and the County. With the support of the Court's recruitment efforts, the project quickly grew and further expanded individual attorney and 100% Law Firm participation to 3,500 volunteers and 150 Law Firms.

FACT This newly formed comprehensive Circuit Pro Bono Project was created prior to the mandate of the Florida Supreme Court that each circuit devise a formalized Pro Bono Plan. In anticipation of this ruling, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit created a Pro Bono Committee and its Plan was filed by Legal Aid with the Florida Supreme Court prior to the Court's mandate that each circuit formulate a pro bono plan. To implement the Circuit Pro Bono Plan, the Circuit Pro Bono Committee was convened under the administration of Chief Judge Leonard Rivkind, who appointed Honorable Eugene J. Fierro to administer the project, Langer as its Director and Josefsberg as Coordinator. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Plan served as the statewide model for many jurisdictions.

FACT In 1992, following Hurricane Andrew, the program was  renamed "Put Something Back" a Joint Pro Bono Project of the Courts, Bar, and Dade's Legal Aid, serving as the Official Pro Bono Program of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. "Put Something Back" quickly became the largest provider of pro bono services in the state garnering wide recognition. The Project expanded in Hurricane Andrew's aftermath and in 1993, Bruce Levine joined as Disaster Relief Pro Bono Project Attorney, helping countless residents in the most hard-hit areas by the storm.

In creating innovative programs in partnership with the Court such as "Put Something Back Pro Bono Project," followed by The Family Court Self Help Program, The Third Degree Felony Project, and The Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project, Legal Aid's Langer was instrumental in designing projects to assist greater numbers of low-income pro se litigants helping to further the administration of justice. Under Langer's leadership, the programs strengthened and grew to include projects with Miami-Dade County, the Courts, the Statewide Office of the Guardian ad Litem Program, The Florida Bar Foundation, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Miami-Dade FACDL, Miami-Dade FAWL, The Miami Foundation, The Bankruptcy Bar Association, The Business Law Section of the Florida Bar, MUJER, Survivors Pathway, Children's Trust, City of Homestead, Law Firms, Law Schools, National Women's Bar Association, Miami Beach Bar Association, the Dade County Bar Association, Habitat for Humanity, Wills on Wheels, Veterans Affairs, The Child Advocacy Project, and other state and federal programs.

Annually, Put Something Back assists thousands of low-income residents including the elderly, veterans, foster youth, persons experiencing housing insecurity, victims of domestic violence and many more vulnerable populations.  If you are an attorney in Miami-Dade, we urge you to Put Something Back and take a pro bono case today!  Areas of greatest need are family law, housing, probate, real property, collections, guardian ad litem, bankruptcy, foreclosure and consumer law.

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