Join DCBA/YLS for Community Service Nationwide
By Joshua Spector and Gisela M. Munoz
Joshua Spector practices with the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, firm of Perlman, Yevoli & Albright, P.L. and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Young Lawyers Section of the Dade County Bar Association.Gisela M. Munoz is an associate with the Miami, Florida, firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP and President of the Young Lawyers Section of the Dade County Bar Association.
The Dade County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (DCBA/YLS) invites all local affiliates of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) to join in “Service Juris America” during Law Week 2009 and in years to come! Service Juris is a half-day of service to the community performed by volunteers who are members of the legal profession. The DCBA/YLS inaugurated the first Service Juris Miami, together with Hands On Miami and other local bar associations, in 2006. The Young Lawyers have since held the event as a component of its Law Week activities and would like to see legal professionals from around the country come together for a morning of volunteer service to local communities across the nation on Saturday, May 2, 2009.
In the early months of 2005, Patrick Morris, the Executive Director of Hands On Miami, searched for a project to foster interest and involvement on the part of the legal community in Miami. Hands On Miami is a nonprofit that works in partnership with the United Way of Miami-Dade, conducting over 1,000 service projects per year. Morris did not have to search long before meeting Maria DiGiorgio, a DCBA/YLS member active in the Pro Bono Services Committee looking for a non-legal service project to organize for lawyers. DiGiorgio and Morris soon pitched the idea of replicating the great program started by Hands On Atlanta: Service Juris.
Initially, Hands On Miami and the DCBA/YLS selected sites with some legal significance or connection to partner with for community service. In 2008, the organizers decided to beautify Miami-Dade County’s Juvenile Justice Center. Volunteers planted thousands of plants outside the dependency courthouse and detention facility and painted murals designed by Miami artist, attorney, and children’s advocate, Xavier Cortada. The efforts of Hands On Miami, the DCBA/YLS, the Cuban-American Bar Association, and sponsoring firms like Bilzin Sumberg resulted in a dramatic transformation of the Juvenile Justice Center.
During the program’s first three years, Hands On Miami, the DCBA/YLS, and other voluntary bar associations and sponsors have grown this program steadily. Service Juris Miami started with less than 150 volunteers, and in three years has doubled to more than 300 volunteers from the legal community in 2008, including twenty judges—the equivalent of more than 1,200 volunteer hours. A video of the event is available on YouTube.com, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=inDBBr0Cgq4&feature=email
The comments of the judges and participants from Service Juris Miami 2008 that can be seen in the above-referenced video are a testament to the profound effect the event has had on volunteers and on communities. Although there is simply no substitute for providing pro bono legal services, the notion of a hands-on service project presents a unique opportunity for the legal community to give something back to the community at large, while also providing meaningful interactions with fellow lawyers, legal professionals, and judges. In addition to providing a sustained venue for interaction, participants enjoy a relaxed atmosphere that is even more conducive to dialogue than the sometimes forced and staid setting of a cocktail mixer, the most common nexus of practitioners and jurists. Moreover, the project has an incredible impact. After spending a half-day on a beautification project, a participant leaves with new relationships and the sustained satisfaction of having helped transform a site and left an indelible, positive mark on the community.
Service Juris Miami gains steam every year, aspiring to replicate the success of Service Juris Atlanta, which grew to 800 volunteers in 2008. Without the professionals with the skills, contacts, and resources of Morris’s team at Hands On Miami, there simply could be no Service Juris Miami as it exists today. When such an able partner is not available, however, opportunities still abound for this form of project. Other community organizations may prove to be able partners or organizers for such events, or in certain locales, the affiliate bar association may be able to organize the entire event.
For that reason and because the impact of Service Juris is so significant, the DCBA/YLS has decided to spread the word about the project in the hopes that bar associations across the nation will organize a Service Juris Day in their local communities on Saturday, May 2, 2009, as part of Law Week activities. There are bound to be many needs in each local community that we, the members of the legal profession, can help fill by providing a few hours of hands-on service in our respective communities, whether provided to a law-related organization or otherwise.