Try it. You’ll like it.
December 1, 2004 Associate Editor Regular News Try it. You’ll like it. Try it. You’ll like it. Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Try it. You’ll like it.That’s Angela Orkin’s message to Florida lawyers: Agree to take on one case as a guardian ad litem and you’ll find it compelling volunteer work.You say you’re a bit leery of visiting the child’s family, investigating the child abuse situation, going to court? Well, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program could still use your help working on appeals, tackling a side issue such as immigration, education, or probate. You could opt to represent the program in court, paired with a lay volunteer who does the legwork and establishes rapport with a child.“Whatever commitment an attorney wants to make, we can match with a child,” said Orkin, the executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.Don’t feel alone, dangling in a whole new world of dependency law. There is a wealth of expertise at the GAL office, the availability of convenient online training, and a new Web page with searchable case law summaries and legal resources.“If I, as a corporate lawyer with no litigation experience, can go in and take it on, anybody can,” said Orkin, describing her decision to represent one child in a pro bono case that would eventually inspire her to trade her high-salary corporate lawyer job for legal services work.“I had no experience whatsoever. Once you meet the kids and realize the problems, you are compelled to act and to advocate. You just have to do it. That’s why I feel so strongly about getting more pro bono attorneys involved. I just don’t think people realize how quickly you get taken in by it and how much of an impact you can make.”In Orkin’s case, she agreed to represent a boy who was on the path to getting kicked out of school. He had an untreated medical condition, an allergy that caused his face to swell up and he looked uncool at school so he just didn’t go. Orkin made a few calls, got his medication, and the problem was gone. She stood with him before the school board officials.“The moment I knew I was in the right place, I looked over at him, while I was talking to the school board, and it was obvious that nobody had ever stood up for him before,” Orkin recalled. “I stood up for him, they listened, and everything turned out fine. It’s not that I changed his life. I don’t mean to oversimplify it. But he was in trouble and some bad things had happened. And he needed to have someone stand up for him. I could be that person. I didn’t have to be a slick litigator to do that.”Orkin wants to reassure you that if you agree to help, the GAL program is there to help you.“We’re going to give you the information you need. We are going to answer your calls. We are going to help you through the process. But it takes a lot of legwork and energy and caring for the kid and identifying issues. That’s where it is so important to have people from the community that will put in the extra time. You can’t ever staff that.”If you just want to stick your toe in the water and not take the total plunge by taking on a case, your expertise in appeals or side issues would be appreciated, as well. Another option is to represent the GAL program. A lay volunteer could do the investigation and legwork, and you could be paired with that volunteer to represent the program in court.“Whatever commitment an attorney wants to make, we can match that with a child,” Orkin said. “These children have so many needs. The point is, if you have time and you care about this group of kids, we will find some work for you.”Orkin speaks from experience when she says: “Maybe you don’t love your day-to-day job, but you are doing something really important. I think there are a lot of lawyers who could stay in what they’re doing, if they had this pro bono piece really connecting them to their community and letting them give back.“I think the person who represents a child takes away as much, if not more, than the child. Because you realize you are doing something real.”The best way to volunteer is to go to the new Web site — www.gal.fl.gov — and click on the volunteer section, and then click on the area in which you live. The local GAL program will match you up with a case or legal work.To contact Orkin or to receive the 2004 progress report on the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, call 850-922-7213.