Several years ago, I had been driving somewhere in Palm Beach County with the radio on when I heard it again: a public service announcement from Urban Youth Impact about some event the organization would be holding.
"Urban Youth Impact?" I thought. I'd heard other announcements about them, and this time the name stuck with me. I decided to take a closer look.
When I arrived home I went online, found their website, and learned about their awesome programs for West Palm Beach inner city children and families.
I had been contemplating a service project for the newly-minted Christian Legal Society of Palm Beach County. Any worthwhile faith-based organization must serve the community in some way; otherwise, it lacks balance, vision, heart, and soul.
Urban Youth Impact seemed like a fine fit. I picked up the phone and called Bill Hobbs, Urban Youth Impact's founder and president.
Bill Hobbs agreed to meet with me. The result of our meetings was the Legal Consultation Ministry. One evening a month, we would pair volunteer attorneys with parents of the families served by UYI who had legal issues or concerns. We would meet with these parents at UYI, listen to them, and give them advice on how they can address and resolve their own legal issues. We did not offer representation, only advice and direction.
Very quickly I learned that legal resources available for people of modest means were inadequate. All the parents we counseled had already been to the local Legal Aid Society, but had been turned away because of LAS's limited resources. The need for this Legal Consultation Ministry to expand beyond the one-evening-a-month offering was obvious, and the intention to eventually focus my entire law practice on meeting this need grew in me. I surmised I could qualify for grants and obtain donations to support this service.
While I was making those plans, life intervened, and the Legal Consultation Ministry was a heartbreaking casualty.
But the lessons I learned while serving the UYI community never left me. The idea of focusing my practice on helping people solve their own legal problems - instead of leaving people to flounder alone in the legal system - persisted in the back of my mind as I worked to eek out a living in my solo litigation practice.
The idea persisted, and percolated. My vision of the service as a charitable organization matured and developed into a model that could function and even flourish without dependency on grants and donations. After all, such funds can be difficult to come by, and the thought that I might compete with the Legal Aid Society and similar organizations for a share of these limited available funds did not sit well with me; I decided that I would take no steps that could impair the important work they do.
At the same time, I began coaching people who were representing themselves in court. I learned how to do it. I paid attention to their needs, to the outcomes, and to the consequences and celebrations.
All of these things taken together have formed LawYou America. Now we do not merely give some advice and direction. We empower through education, connection, and advocacy.
There is something for everyone here at LawYou America, even if you never represent yourself in court. After all, the courts are the third branch of government, and the third branch belongs to us all.