Legal Aid was established in 1939 as a 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 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 Legal Aid to its list of dependents.” By 1943, Legal Aid was affiliated with the Dade County Community Chest, had an annual budget of $1,200 and handled over 2,000 cases annually providing legal advice to low-income residents of the County in areas including Domestic Relations, Returning Veterans' Needs, and Landlord/Tenant Matters.
In 1943-1944, Legal Aid 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, the County established the Legal Aid Society with support by Special Act of the Legislature which provided funding for Legal Aid to hire its first full-time Staff Attorney with funding from the filing fees from all cases filed in any lawsuit in any Court of Record in Dade County Circuit Court. With a budget of $15,000 from the County, Robert M. Haverfield became Legal Aid’s first full-time attorney. The Legal Aid Bill soon increased the amount of funding from filing fees for Legal Aid for every case filed in Dade County Court and, in 1952, Quentin T. Eldred became the second full-time Legal Aid attorney. The number of cases quickly 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 for the heavy caseload.
By 1958, with additional financial support from the 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, 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 an Office of Public Service and opened 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, it became the Volunteer Lawyers Project and continued to recruit pro bono lawyers to assist Legal Aid in handling conflict and overflow 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 IOTA funding from The Florida Bar Foundation to provide direct legal representation to low income residents and has received funding from the foundation ever since changing hundreds of thousands of lives. In 1986, Sharon Langer succeeded Redstone as executive director of Legal Aid and the Office of Public Service. As the needs of the poverty community increased, Langer increased sources of funding, developing and formalizing invaluable partnerships with the Eleventh Judicial Circuit ("Put Something Back Pro Bono Project" and "Family Law Self Help"), Miami-Dade County, the Guardian ad Litem Program, DCF, FACDL, SMKB, MBBA, NWBA and Dade County Bar Association. In 1991, under her administration, Legal Aid and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit designed a comprehensive pro bono project with the support of bar leadership to expand much needed civil legal services to the poor of the county. Chief Judge Wetherington and Langer were instrumental in achieving the first Pro Bono Plan in the State, known as "Dade County Comprehensive Pro Bono Project," prior to the Florida Supreme Court's mandate that each circuit devise a pro bono plan. In 1991, Langer hired Karen Josefsberg Ladis to implement the circuit wide plan, serving as the Comprehensive Pro Bono Project Coordinator/Attorney to further expand and champion the need for greater attorney and 100% Law Firm participation in pro bono activities.
In 1992, Legal Aid's Comprehensive Pro Bono Plan was re-named Put Something Back Pro Bono Project ("PSB"), the largest provider of pro bono services in the state. Since its inception, Langer and Ladis created and administered dozens of PSB pro bono partnerships over the decades with dozens 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. Under her leadership and with the support of the DCBA, Legal Aid applied for multiple grants from The Florida Bar Foundation, Knight Foundation, and others, increasing revenues and expanding the agency over the next few decades. In 1993, following Hurricane Andrew, Langer and Ladis applied for We Will Relief Funding and they hired Bruce Levine to become Disaster Relied Project Attorney expanding Put Something Back's Hurricane Relief Efforts. "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.