There’s a “justice gap” in the family court system between families eligible to receive free legal services and families who don’t qualify but still cannot afford thousands of dollars in legal fees. To bridge this gap, the FIU College of Law is launching a legal assistance program for families who represent themselves in the Family Division of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.
The Pro Se Litigant Project will provide services that include workshops, brief advice sessions, and “low bono” representation on a sliding fee schedule based on income and type of legal need. Income parameters will be based upon the federal poverty guidelines, which are $12,760 for an individual to $44,120 for a family of eight. Households that earn 125 and 200 percent of the federal poverty income level may qualify for this program, and would pay reduced fees ranging from $100 (workshop) to $1,500 (simple divorce with no trial). Normally, these services cost considerably more.
At least 80 percent of the cases in the Family Division (Miami) involve someone who cannot afford an attorney, according to 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Scott Bernstein.
“FIU’s program will help close the gap in legal services and allow many more people to access the courts to seek justice for themselves and their children,” Bernstein said. “We are grateful to FIU Law for stepping up to assist families in our community.”
Judge Bernstein and his colleague, 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Judith Kreeger, proposed the idea to FIU Law. The Pro Se Litigant Project supports the Family Division Court’s existing self-help services. As an initiative of the FIU Law Practice, the clinic will be staffed entirely by FIU law students, faculty, and attorneys. It will not be managed by the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.
Michelle Mason, senior associate dean for experiential learning, will serve as the project’s community liaison. Attorneys Karim Batista and Jordan Dollar, both FIU alumni, will supervise the project.
“It is an opportunity for students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real-world situations,” said FIU Law Dean Antony Page. “FIU Law is committed both to offering a quality education to our students as well as to developing programming that successfully addresses legal and social problems faced by our Miami-Dade neighbors. Last year, we provided over 30,000 hours in pro bono legal services. We anticipate the Pro Se Litigant Project will significantly increase this number.”