Growing up in the farming town of Lake Panasoffkee in Florida’s heartland, Aaron Irving was influenced by his grandfather, James Veal Sr., a local politician and environmental activist who could strike up a rapport with almost anyone.
“At the end of the day he just wanted to help people, and he instilled that in me as well as my father,” said Irving, who joined Jacksonville Area Legal Aid as pro bono director last fall.
“I have a long history of involvement with JALA, and it has a special place in my heart. So, I guess fate has a plan for you,” said Irving, who is also an adjunct professor of law at Florida State College at Jacksonville. “The JALA pro bono position came at the right time, and it is the perfect way to fulfill my love of helping others.”
Irving had been in private practice for 12 years when longtime JALA Pro Bono Director Kathy Para asked if he’d consider taking on her former role after the departure of her immediate successor, Missy Davenport.
A longtime volunteer with JALA, Irving had worked with both of them, not only taking on individual pro bono cases, but also giving brief advice and presenting at clinics. He even helped launch two JALA programs, a legal name change clinic and Family Law at Reduced Expense (FLARE), a low-bono program he now oversees.
After the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined JALA’s in-person pro bono clinics, Irving’s challenge is not only to bring pro bono attorneys back into the fold and recruit new ones, but also to find new ways to reach a public no longer accustomed to the in-person events.
Among the in-person programs he has revived is the Veterans Legal Collaborative, which is held the second Friday of every month at the VA.
“Generally, it’s been sponsored by a large firm, and they’ll help staff it with about four attorneys,” Irving said. “It’s beneficial to these large firms because young associates—especially if they are in a high commercial litigation-type practice or a transactional practice—are not going to have much opportunity to learn about interacting with the public, so it can be a training session on that. Also, this helps them learn about other areas of the law besides their practice area.”
In addition to bringing back the Veterans Legal Collaborative, Irving has started a twice monthly Lunch and Learn for women veterans in collaboration with the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association, the Jacksonville Bar Association and the Northeast Florida Women Veterans Center.
“There has been such a huge turnout,” Irving said. “A lawyer will give a presentation for an hour on a topic that this particular group of people—women vets—are likely have legal issues with, such as landlord/tenant, probate and family law topics.”
Irving said most lawyers get excited about pro bono, but he still has to convince them to follow through. He makes sure they understand that JALA really gives them the platform to be successful right out of the gate, and that it doesn’t always require a significant time commitment, since lawyers can simply offer brief advice or help staff a clinic.
“Lawyers are 100% covered under JALA’s malpractice insurance when they provide pro bono services through us,” Irving said. “And we offer training in the event an attorney is not quite seasoned in a particular area. We can also pair a lawyer with an expert resource attorney if they need guidance during the course of a pro bono case.”