The University of Miami School of Law's legal and community outreach programs – particularly its highly successful Legal Corps – were at the center of Legal Services of Greater Miami's third annual "Heart of Giving" event on Thursday evening.
With those programs in mind, University of Miami School of Law Dean Patricia D. White received the 2012 Equal Justice Leadership Award from Lance A. Harke, a Miami Law alumnus who is President of the Board of Directors of Legal Services of Greater Miami. The award recognizes excellence in protecting the rights of South Florida's most vulnerable individuals and families.
In presenting the award to Dean White, Harke said: "It is not just the vision, and not just the financial commitment, but also the substantial investment of school resources, its very talented professors, students and graduates, and the administrative assistance and direction necessary to get these projects off the ground and into our community, where talented and capable UM students and graduates are directly serving those of us who most need legal representation, access to the courts and equal justice under the law."
Also at the event, the 2012 Equal Justice Judicial Leadership Award was presented to U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett, who sits on the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Prior to that, she was Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, the first woman to serve on that bench.
Dean White, who became Miami Law's eleventh dean in July 2009, has been instrumental in expanding the clinics offered at Miami Law. The ten clinics give students practical, hands-on lawyering skills while helping needy and under-represented individuals in Miami and its surroundings.
Legal Corps was created under Dean White's leadership. It is a postgraduate fellowship program that has been extremely successful at filling the gaps at understaffed public agencies by providing them, for a six-month period, with paid attorneys who have recently graduated and passed a bar exam. Several Legal Corps Fellows have worked under the auspices of Legal Services of Greater Miami.
In his remarks, Harke said that several of Miami Law's clinics are housed in the Legal Services building, creating what he called "fantastic outreach into our community." He mentioned as examples the Tenants' Rights Clinic, the Innocence Clinic and the Investor Rights Clinic, which assists seniors and others who have been the victims of financial fraud. Harke noted that the University of Miami School of Law was recently honored by the American Bar Association with its Public Interest award, in recognition of the law school's strong commitment to public interest through the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center.
"It is Dean White's vision, leadership and commitment to a law school and its graduates actively involved in improving the community and assisting those less fortunate that has led to her receiving this award tonight," said Harke, who graduated cum laude from Miami Law in 1990 and is a founding partner and trial lawyer at Harke Clasby & Bushman LLP in Miami.
Tracy A. Nichols, a partner at Holland & Knight in Miami, gave the welcoming remarks at the "Heart of Giving" event. "We have many reasons to celebrate tonight," she said. "We are here to celebrate and honor the significant contributions of our honorees, Judge Rosemary Barkett and Dean Patricia White, to ensuring the equal justice of law for those in our society who cannot afford lawyers. Their lifetime commitments to this cause should inspire us, and more importantly, cause us to follow their examples."
Legal Services of Greater Miami is the largest provider of broad-based civil legal services for the poor in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Each year, the agency handles civil legal matters benefiting more than 30,000 individuals and families, according to its website. "We recover almost $1.5 million for clients in disability, unemployment, child support and government benefits," it says, adding that in most cases, eligibility for services is based on an annual income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.