Amidst the social upheaval of the 1960s, attorney Robert Bertisch was enrolled at Hofstra University. “I saw the pursuit of law as a vehicle for creating positive social change, the ability to provide a voice for those who do not have one,” he said. “I believe everyone has the right to be represented if we are to have a fair judicial system.”
Today, Bertisch represents those in need through his work at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. “There are so many individuals in Palm Beach County who need legal assistance to ensure their basic needs to safety, shelter, food and medical care are met, and we do not presently have the resources necessary to assist all those in need of our services,” he said.
In order to overcome this challenge, the agency partners with the private bar through Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Project. In this project, private attorneys provide pro bono legal assistance to those disadvantaged children, families, seniors and individuals the agency is unable to serve.
“When I first started working in the public interest law arena, the national model was providing individual representation to a client in a family, housing, consumer or government benefits law matter,” he said. “Today, in addition to continuing to provide one-on-one services, we are also looking for cases that will create systemic changes in our institutions such as the education, prison, foster care and mental health systems.”
Currently, Bertisch is responsible for overseeing the six core areas the agency focuses on: family, children, elder, health, individual rights and community outreach advocacy.
Bertisch’s work over the years has not gone unnoticed. Nov. 1, 2011, was proclaimed Robert A. Bertisch Day in honor of his 30 years of service as the executive director of the agency. He is most proud, however, to have received the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Inaugural Member of the Year award in 2007.
Looking ahead in his career, Bertisch aims to expand Legal Aid’s services to meet the unmet and emerging needs of those living in Palm Beach County. “There are hundreds of Central American refugee children without legal status who need our assistance, as well as children and adults caught in the vicious cycle of trafficking.”
Inspired by Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Bertisch claims this quote as a principle to live by, “The one place a man ought to get a square deal is in the courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow.” Looking a little closer to home, Bertisch said, “My real life Atticus Finch is attorney Sid Stubbs, of the law firm of Jones, Foster, Johnston and Stubbs. Sid demonstrates every day in his practice of law the skills, professionalism, integrity and compassion all attorneys aspire to. In 2014, the Palm Beach County Bar Association honored Sid by naming their annual Professionalism Award the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Sidney A. Stubbs Professionalism Award.”
Outside the office, Bertisch can be found practicing yoga, horseback riding and reading. He is also a proud board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Beach County and the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches.
As Bertisch looks ahead to 2015, he looks forward to coming to work each day, surrounded by a dedicated staff committed to ensuring the equal access to justice he’s been fighting for since the ‘60s. He is also looking forward to the 27th Annual Pro Bono Recognition Evening in May. “It is an evening in which we honor those private attorneys and other professionals in our community who ensure that the doors to the courthouse are accessible to all residents of Palm Beach County.”