If there’s a phrase that perfectly describes Legal Aid of Manasota Pro Bono Coordinator Pam Fields, it’s “tenacious matchmaker.” Warm, open and inviting, Pam connects pro bono attorneys with Legal Aid clients in need of services, and she also calls on other local nonprofits to partner with Legal Aid, as well.

Pam has always believed in giving back to the community. She graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 2006.  After running her own law practice, Pam heard about a position open at Legal Aid handling foreclosures and, with her background in real estate, Pam was able to step in and help.  She handled foreclosures for income-eligible clients in South Sarasota County from 2009 – 2014. In 2014, she accepted the position of Pro Bono Coordinator.

Today, as Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Coordinator, her focus is matching clients’ cases with a skilled pro bono attorney and developing meaningful projects for attorneys who want the opportunity to do pro bono work outside of their areas of expertise.

“I enjoy client interactions,” she says. “I feel lucky that the wide range of services Legal Aid provides allows me to learn a little about a lot of things.”

That said, finding an attorney to take on a client’s case can be challenging. Licensed lawyers are the only pool of people she can recruit to help clients with legal issues. However, nationwide, only 20 percent of the eligible clients who walk through a legal aid organization’s doors are able to receive legal help. Too many are turned away due to lack of resources. To make matters even more difficult, Florida is one of only two states that does not provide state funding for legal aid. Finding matches is critical.

“Many people in our community need help,” Pam says. “We don’t see—or understand—how many of our neighbors experience domestic violence, lose the roof over their head, or have wages garnished from an aggressive debt collector.” Many of these people previously had decent jobs, homes and healthcare, but did not have a robust financial safety net, meaning they’re just a paycheck away from being homeless.

“It’s hard to hear someone say that a client needs to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’ or ‘go get a job,’ or that they don’t want the government to give a handout to anyone,” she continues. “There are many misconceptions about poverty.”

On top of that, “the pandemic changed many people’s lives,” Pam says. “One couple I recently helped was behind on their HOA fees after the primary breadwinner got hurt on the job during Covid. A foreclosure case had been filed and they needed help understanding their legal options.” Luckily, Pam was able to match them with a skilled pro bono attorney. Another elderly veteran client needed help with a foreclosure but could not complete the paperwork due to his severe arthritis. Pam found a pro bono attorney to represent him in the lawsuit and Pam went to his house several times to assist him with the paperwork needed to apply for financial assistance. The case ended up being dismissed, and the client kept his residence.

“I feel good at the end of the day. I really like helping people,” Pam says. “Many clients are very appreciative, even if the outcome isn’t exactly what they hoped for. They’re happy to have a lawyer who will provide advice. We get thank-you letters, flowers, even cupcakes from our clients.”

In addition to her work with Legal Aid, Pam is an avid gardener who studies native plant species and is working on planting an all-native yard. “My therapy is mowing my own lawn, and especially weeding!” she says. “I have a bookcase filled with gardening books.”  Her 20-year-old cat is very tolerant of her gardening passion, she says.

Thank you, Pam, for your tireless work on behalf of Legal Aid of Manasota and its clients!