How many people in South Florida represent themselves in court? How many people don’t have access a lawyer?
The short answer is we don’t know, but an effort by the Florida Bar Foundation is trying to change that with an initiative called Everyone Counts Day, which will be held on Monday in Miami-Dade County.
Throughout the day, lawyers will fan out to courtrooms across the county and count:
- How many people are without a lawyer?
- What kind of cases are they navigating?
- What are the outcomes of those cases?
“It’s a well known fact: there are many individuals who can not get an attorney. Whether it’s because they can’t afford to, or whether it’s because they don’t know… where [to] find an attorney,” said Anais Taboas, South Florida Pro Bono Program Officer for the Florida Bar Foundation. “It’s extremely helpful if every single person going into court has access to an attorney and it’s part of the access to justice issue.”
She says once people in the legal profession see the final result of the county, she thinks people will be more willing to engage in a discussion about funding for legal services and increasing pro bono contributions.
“It’s a hard issue to grasp unless you see either a face associated with it, or a number associated with it,” said Taboas.
This is the first count of its kind in the country, but the hope is this serves as the first of more counts to come across the state.
As funding for legal services for the poor continues to drop, the Florida Bar Foundation has been embarking on a concerted effort to trying to figure out what kind of legal help people actually need and then how to fill it. Earlier this year, the foundation released a report that says increasing funds for legal aid services has a rippling positive economic impact on the community.
“We’re only hitting about 10 percent of those that really need the work,” said Bill Schifino, president of the Florida Bar.
The full results of the count will be released on April 20.