Missy Davenport went to law school because she believes lawyers are among those with the greatest potential to make a positive impact on a community.
As pro bono director for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA), her job is all about maximizing that potential for lawyers in Northeast Florida, who contribute more than $2 million in free services each year.
“I feel like my role is really assessing what the need is and what the pool of volunteers are wanting to contribute and putting it all together,” Davenport said. “That’s a dream for me.”
Davenport works to make lawyers aware of a wide range of pro bono opportunities, including what she calls “traditional” pro bono work in which a lawyer takes a client’s case and sees it through to completion.
“But there are also many other opportunities for attorneys to help out if they don’t have time at this point to take on a full case,” Davenport said. “We have Ask-A-Lawyer clinics that involve a commitment of just a couple of hours where people can come in and give brief counsel and advice.”
Clinics are regularly scheduled in bankruptcy, family law, landlord/tenant issues, legal name changes, advance directives, estate planning and wills, and veterans’ outreach.
Davenport points out that attorneys don’t have to be experts in any of these areas to volunteer. JALA supports pro bono attorneys in a variety of ways, including offering continuing legal education on topics that might be outside their normal practice area, connecting them with experienced attorneys who can provide guidance, and covering their pro bono work under the organization’s liability malpractice insurance.
“That’s especially helpful for new attorneys who have not yet joined a firm, or for those attorneys who may be volunteering for the first time in an area that they are not particularly well-versed in,” Davenport said.
Davenport is new to the pro bono director role, but not new to JALA, where she interned and completed a fellowship in the Family Law Unit while in law school nearly 10 years ago.
“I knew then that I really wanted to work at JALA,” said Davenport, who joined the staff as intake director in 2016.
From her days as an intern, one of the people Davenport has most looked up to is her predecessor, Kathy Para, who retired at the end of January after 10 years in the pro bono director position.
“Kathy Para has been a personal hero of mine for as long as I’ve had the opportunity to know her,” Davenport said. “I know that I have enormous shoes to fill, but she has done absolutely everything to make the transition as easy as possible for me. I’m a little bit nervous and humbled that I’m moving into the position in which she’s done such an amazing job for such a long time, but I’m excited. I am hoping to continue her legacy and build on the foundation she has left and make things even better for the future.”