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Pro Bono Matters: Celebrating the Bow Tie Clinic

By Isabella Roman-Secor, 2L, Florida State College of Law

In 1992 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that lawyers should aspire to do 20 hours of pro bono work a year.[i] This requirement was invoked to combat the need of legal aid to indigent Floridians.[ii] Lawyers can fulfill their pro bono requirement in a variety of ways. A Lawyer can either take one pro bono case or volunteer with the Florida Guardian Ad Litem. A lawyer can even pay $350 in contributions to legal aid organizations. The reality is that “equal justice for all” can only be achieved if every lawyer contributes to ensure people have access to the court room and justice.

Nevertheless, pro bono work should go beyond the minimal 20-hour requirement. Lawyers should strive to make positive impacts in their community. An exceptional example of pro bono service happened at Nims Middle School Law Magnet in Tallahassee, FL. Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper and Attorney David Grimes devoted time to mentor students on valuable legal skills and hosted a Bow Tie Clinic.

Mentoring students is a phenomenal way to serve the community and bolster the legal profession. There are countless of students who aspire to be a lawyer. Most have little guidance and lack a legal role model. There is a vast need for legal mentors. The Bow Tie Clinic demonstrates the impact legal mentors have on students. Three students received a $50 gift card for being able to tie a bow tie without assistance. It is exciting to see how pro bono work taught young middle schoolers a skill most grown men do not have.

Every lawyer has the time to do pro bono work because it is the work that is the most important. Lawyers just need to remember why they went to law school and reflect on all the people that helped them along the way. If you are wanting to engage in pro bono work do not wait to be asked. Instead go out into the community and offer your services to those in need. For inspiration take the time to read David Grimes’s reflection on the Bow Tie Clinic.

David Grimes Reflects on the Bow Tie Clinic, in His Own Words:

It started out innocently enough. I serve on the board of Legal Services of North Florida. The Florida Government Bar Association, of which I have been a proud member for many years, asked if I could donate to the silent action which would benefit LSNF. I’m not the kind of lawyer who can offer a weekend at a beach house; as an attorney for the state who hadn’t reached 10 years for public service loan forgiveness, I was somewhat limited in the types of items or experiences I could donate. I quipped that I would be willing to donate a bow tie clinic. I guess they were hard up for items, because come December, there it was up for auction.

Bow ties became my thing through a confluence of events, but at this point it’s been my brand for a decade now. Anytime anyone is directing someone new my way at the Capitol its “he’s the guy with the bow tie.” I started wearing bow ties in law school. I had always been fascinated by them, especially after my favorite two-hearted Time Lord donned his cool neck wear. I was lucky enough to have Professor Talbot Sandy D’Alembert as my professor. He was a kind man, and a wise man. He had long since earned his right to not be bothered, but any time I would ask for a minute, whether in his seminar, or on the Village Green, or in his office, he always found the time. Sandy was confident in who he was and didn’t feel the need to try and be anyone else. I thought, that’s the kind of professional I want to be. I started wearing bow ties hoping one day they would fit as comfortably for me as they did for him. When he passed, I walked over to the FSU Law School and left a bow tie draped around his statue that sits smiling on a bench. His statue, of course, sports a bow tie.

Skipping ahead a bit in our story, Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper happened to be at the holiday silent auction where my bow tie clinic was on offer. She explained to me that she implemented a program in her courtroom which taught young men how to tie ties. She asked if I would expand my clinic to include those young adults, which I was happy to do. We had some difficulty aligning our schedules, so I was eager to check in with Judge Baker at our Inn of Court meeting the next time we saw each other. This time she asked if we could expand the program a little and present the bow tie clinic to the students at the Nims Middle School Law Magnet. I had been there once before with my Leadership Tallahassee class and was eager to support it. I would not have made my way to law school if my high school coaches hadn’t found me and set me on that path.

We finally set our date. Judge Baker would speak with the students for a bit, and I would close us out with the clinic. Two weeks before I was scheduled to speak, I called the magnet coordinator to see which grade level I would be speaking to. She let me know we were speaking to all three grade levels, 64 students’ total. I panned to provide a bow tie for each student to take home, and I wasn’t quite sure how to make it work. I reached out to my Leadership Tallahassee classmates who visited Nims with me and explained my predicament. They came through and provided funding and in-kind contributions so that we met our mark, each student would get their own bow tie.

The day of the event we met at the school. Judge Baker spoke to the students at length about her experience and the importance of speaking with their authentic voice in the courtroom. We discussed trial presentation and the students delivered mock openings and closings. Then it was time for the clinic.

Teaching 64 middle school students anything was always going to be a challenge. All the more so at the end of the day on a Friday. Still, we gave it our best shot. While all the students filed forward to select their bow tie, we had a little conversation about the law. Specifically, about the oft neglected first branch of government, the Legislature. After briefly explaining what we do at the Capitol and why it is important for what attorneys do in the courtroom, we turned our attention to bow ties. We discussed famous bow tie wearers from Bill Nye to Winston Churchill to Rhianna and Andre 3000. Then we went through the logistics of actually tying the thing. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of frustration, a lot of confusion, and a lot of excitement. Truth be told, it was a lot of fun.

I don’t know how many students actually learned how to lie a bow tie that day. But I do know an entire classroom of students eager to learn about justice learned a thing or two about being their authentic selves. And now they have a bow tie to show for it.

Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper is a Circuit Court Judge in Leon County. In an effort to promote dignity and respect in her courtroom and community, she has implemented a program that allows those placed on probation to gain community service hours by wearing a tie to court, learning how to tie a tie, and teaching someone else how to tie a tie.

David W. Grimes is the staff director of the Florida House of Representatives, Democratic Office. He oversees the operations of the office and specializes is in state and federal constitutional law, appropriations, redistricting, and the rules and customs of the Florida Legislature. David coached the Lawton Chiles High School Mock Trial Team for a decade. He is passionate about youth legal education and, of course, bow ties.

The Nims Academy of Legal Studies at R. Frank Nims Middle School is a concept-based Pre-Law Magnet in Leon County designed to help students from grades six to eight engage in in-depth analysis of the history of law, the judicial system, forensic science, persuasive and legal research, mediation, conflict resolution, policymaking, and global issues. The Academy works is a collaboration with their community partners, the Parks Law Firm, State Attorney’s Office, FAMU University Police Department, and the Florida State University College of Law.

 

[i] Pro Bono Service and Reporting, The Florida Bar, https://www.floridabar.org/member/probono/ [ii] Id.

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