History of Legal Aid

Legal Aid was established in 1939 as the Legal Aid Committee of the Dade County Bar Association ("DCBA") to provide legal services to impoverished residents in need who could not otherwise afford them. Then DCBA President W.L. Gray, Jr. noted in his 1940 - 1941 Annual Report that "the Legal Aid Committee was the hardest assignment of all bar committees."  He reported that “the Committee was not endowed and had no funds but had efficiently handled all of the meritorious claims coming to Legal Aid from the underprivileged.” He recommended that the new Legal Aid Society Committee prepare a proposed budget to present to the Dade Community Chest to establish sufficient funds to pay a reasonable salary and hire an attorney. In 1942, at its General Membership Luncheon meeting, DCBA members were asked to “support the Community Chest in every manner possible, particularly in view of the fact that the Community Chest was adding the Legal Aid Committee to its list of dependents.” By 1943, the DCBA Legal Aid Committee "Legal Aid" was affiliated with the Dade County Community Chest, had an annual budget of $1,200 and handled over 2,000 cases annually with the full support of the association. Legal Aid was providing legal advice in areas including Domestic Relations, Returning Veterans' Needs, and Landlord/Tenant Matters. In 1943 - 1944, the Legal Aid Office expanded its priorities to include: Financial (Small Claims, Wage Payment, Wage Claims), Domestic (Family Cases Involving Children, Custody Disputes, Paternities, Child Support and Alimony), and Guardianship (Children Able to Care for their Aging, Indigent Parents). By 1949, Legal Aid had handled thousands of cases, providing desperately needed civil legal services to the indigent in the community. 

In 1949, Dade County established the first full-time staffed Legal Aid Society, supported by Special Act of the Legislature providing $1.00 for Legal Aid from the filing fee from every case filed in a lawsuit in any Court of Record in Dade County Circuit Court.  Robert M. Haverfield served as Legal Aid’s first full-time Staff Attorney with a budget of $15,000 from the County.  The Legal Aid Bill soon increased to provide $1.50 for Legal Aid from the filing fee for every case filed in Dade County Court and, in 1952, Quentin T. Eldred became the second attorney hired to serve as the full-time Legal Aid Attorney.  Eldred advocated for increased access to Legal Aid's services for the indigent stating, “Justice is not a charity work. These people have a right to justice. It is not within your power to grant it or take it away." Before the Dade Bar Building had been erected, the bar rented office space downtown which included space for Legal Aid's attorney, receptionist, and office equipment. The number of cases doubled and Legal Aid was instrumental in collecting $87,000 in child support for clients. In 1954, Legal Aid handled 3,247 clients, and hired an Assistant Legal Aid Attorney. By 1958, with additional support from Dade County, Legal Aid's revenue reached almost $38,000, and later increased to $42,000. Irene Redstone was hired to work on the increasing caseload, eventually succeeding Eldred in 1971 upon his retirement, eventually becoming Legal Aid's first executive director. "I wear many hats," said Redstone, "at Legal Aid we handle family cases, we seek support for children, and arrange adoptions. It is a big responsibility representing our clients, our cases differ widely." By 1979, the need for legal services intensified and the bar formed the Office of Public Service opening the first pro bono program, the Public Interest Law Bank, to recruit pro bono attorneys to work on special projects and to handle Legal Aid's overflow cases. In 1981, the PILB became the Volunteer Lawyers Project to recruit pro bono lawyers to assist Legal Aid in handling civil matters for the indigent.   

In July of 1981, the Florida Supreme Court approved implementation of Florida's IOTA Program, the first in the US. In 1982, following the creation of Florida's IOTA Program, Legal Aid received funding from The Florida Bar Foundation to provide direct legal representation to low income residents and has received funding from the foundation for the last 40+ years changing hundreds of thousands of lives. In 1986, Sharon Langer succeeded Redstone to become executive director of Legal Aid and the Office of Public Service.   As the needs of the poverty community increased, Langer developed and formalized invaluable partnerships with the Eleventh Judicial Circuit ("Put Something Back Pro Bono Project" and "Family Law Self Help"), the Guardian ad Litem Program, DCF, and FACDL.  In 1991, Legal Aid and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit designed a comprehensive plan to provide much needed civil legal services to the poor of the county.  In 1991, Langer hired Karen Josefsberg Ladis to serve as the Pro Bono Coordinator of Put Something Back to further expand and champion the need for greater attorney participation in pro bono activities.  In 1992, the bar's Volunteer Lawyers Project merged into Put Something Back. Since PSB's inception, Langer and Ladis created dozens of pro bono partnerships with a variety of organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Greater Miami Jewish Federation Attorney's Division, the U.S. Attorney's, State Attorney's, County Attorney's, and Public Defender's Offices, The US Bankruptcy Courts, Casa Valentina, Disability Independence Group, Jack and Jill of America, 100% Law Firms, Law School Clinical Programs, and Voluntary Bar Association initiatives such as SMKBA's Hurricane Relief Project, FACDL's Third Degree Felony Project, Wilkie D. Ferguson Bar Association, Haitian Lawyers Association, the Bankruptcy Bar Association Pro Bono Project, and multiple Disaster Relief Projects. Legal Aid applied for multiple grants from The Florida Bar Foundation and others, increasing revenues and expanding the agency over the next few decades. "The demand for legal services has never been greater," said Sharon Langer, "due to the continued economic challenges here in Miami-Dade County.Click Here to Read More.

Robert M. Haverfield, Esq.

Robert M. Haverfield, Esq.

Quentin T. Eldred, Esq.

Quentin T. Eldred, Esq.

Irene A. Redstone, Esq.

Irene A. Redstone, Esq.

Sharon L. Langer, Esq.

Sharon L. Langer, Esq.

Karen J. Ladis, Esq.

Karen J. Ladis, Esq.