116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - The news of significant federal budget cuts to legal aid back in 1996 provoked the ire of Stephen B. Jackson Sr., making him jump in his car and drive to the Cedar Rapids legal aid regional office.
'I asked them, ‘What more can I do?' ”
Jackson, who has been practicing law for 50 years, had been a member of Iowa Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Project since 1987, but the budget cuts in 1996 encouraged him to give more time to help those who can't afford a lawyer for a divorce, custody or any other family law issue.
He started volunteering one afternoon a month at the legal aid office, which became known as the 'Jackson Intake Project.” It quickly expanded once he recruited his son. Now, there about 25 to 30 family law attorneys giving their time every Wednesday afternoon as part of the 'Linn County Family Law Intake Project.”
Jackson, a lawyer with Shuttleworth and Ingersoll, has put in nearly 540 hours of pro bono time over the years.
In June, during the Iowa State Bar Association annual meeting, Jackson was presented the 'prestigious” Rolland E. Grefe Pro Bono Publico Award for his service. The award recognizes a legal professional who has committed his or her talent and training to improve the quality of justice in the community and around the state, according to the bar association.
The Grefe award honors an 'attorney who has enhanced the human dignity of others by improving or delivering pro bono legal services to those who, for one reason or another, are unable to afford a lawyer,” according to bar association officials.
'I feel honored and humbled to receive this award,” Jackson said last week. 'I get more out of it (volunteering) than I give. It's about helping people and seeing the results. ... It's a lot of fun.”
Matt Brandes, lawyer at Simmons, Perrine, Moyer and Bergman, said his friend is the 'most deserving person” of this award.
'He's just inspiring. Steve got me involved and he's responsible for getting other attorneys from the bar involved in volunteering. There are so many families who need this help.”
Jim Kringlen, managing partner at the Cedar Rapids legal aid office, said Jackson is a 'consummate professional, willing to go the extra mile to help.” Legal services for family law issues is one of the highest in demand. There are more cases than attorneys in this area. The cases are the 'most intensive” and account for one-third of total cases in the Cedar Rapids office and 'take more than one-third of the time” to resolve, he added.
Jackson was on the forefront of recruiting family law attorneys for the intake project as the chairman of the Linn County Bar Association's Family Law Committee at the time, Kringlen pointed out.
'The volunteer lawyers meet a tremendous need for family law matters,” Kringlen said. 'We refer clients to the family law volunteers and they receive the same quality services as someone who is paying.”
Kringlen said the office relies on volunteer lawyers in all civil cases, especially in times of the budget cuts or during the recession in 2008. There are an estimated 235 lawyers in Linn County who volunteer their time at legal aid, helping hundreds in Linn County, he noted.
As an example of why he enjoys the work and encourages others to join in, Jackson recalled an interaction about four or five years ago.
A young mother with a daughter in elementary school came to the legal aid office needing help with a divorce and requesting protection from an abusive husband. During the interview process, he learned she had lived in three residences and her daughter had attended three different schools that month.
'I looked her in the eye and stated that I would help her, but she would have to pay me for the services,” Jackson said.
She seemed shocked, but Jackson said his payment was that she stay in her current residence and keep her daughter in the same school. She agreed.
Jackson obtained a dissolution of marriage and a protection order for her and her daughter.
Later that year, Jackson ran into the woman at his grandson's school holiday program. She pointed out her daughter on stage.
'She's up there because of you,” she told Jackson.
Her daughter was smiling and singing on the stage, right next to his grandson.
Jackson said seeing those results was the 'best gift” he could receive.
And yes, he's still recruiting.
l Comments: (319) 398-8318; firstname.lastname@example.org