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Lawyer-referral portal to get start in Clay County

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Floridians who can't afford a lawyer, but aren't poor enough to qualify for free legal aid, might soon have a new tool to help them prepare for their day in court.

A Florida Supreme Court commission is developing an internet portal to connect middle class people with attorneys.

Roughly 85 percent of Floridians represent themselves in family court -- mostly because they can't afford lawyers, said Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, citing a study from the Florida Bar. He said in his 13 years as a trial judge, the situation became painful to watch.

“On the one side you have a very polished, very qualified lawyer representing a bank or a lending institution. Then on the other side you see the husband and wife with a little file with maybe three pieces of paper in it and they’re shaking at their knees because they don't know what to do,” he said.

As a judge, he couldn't intervene, even when he knew the one thing they should say to win the case. That’s why he formed the Commission on Access to Civil Justice in 2014, and -- based on a study by the commission -- announced the development of the online portal Friday.

The portal will include lawyers willing to work pro-bono or at reduced prices. It’ll be completely funded through grants and private donations.

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