History of Bay Area Legal Services
Fifty years ago, Bay Area Legal Services opened its doors to provide free civil legal services to low-income Tampa residents. We began with a staff of four attorneys in a neighborhood storefront office, working on a shoe-string budget. Today BALS is a nonprofit, public interest law firm with more than 100 attorneys, paralegals, and support staff, operating on a multi-million dollar budget, with locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. Last year we provided legal services and information to more than 17,600 individuals, families, and community groups. Through our offices in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties and our Centralized Telephone Intake program (CTI), we provide a full range of legal services to our clients.
In 2002, BALS increased access to services by establishing our CTI which provides eligibility screening and legal advice over the telephone. Through CTI we have enhanced our partnerships with other legal aid organizations and expanded our service area to include residents of Manatee and Sarasota counties, and seniors statewide. In 2016, we responded to more than 60,000 callers seeking legal help.
Over the years, BALS has established a number of special programs to address specific legal needs in the community. Our current programs include: the Legal Information Center and Family Forms Clinics which provide services to individuals representing themselves in family law matters; the L. David Shear Children’s Law Center which helps children in foster care; and a partnership with The Spring of Tampa Bay which assists survivors of domestic violence. We also assist nonprofits and community groups through the Judge Don Castor Community Law Center. Our newest programs provide legal services to veterans. To commemorate our 50th Anniversary, we have established the Veterans Legal Initiative Endowment Fund to enable us to assist more veterans in our community.
In 1982, BALS established the Bay Area Volunteer Lawyers Program (BAVLP) which has worked with hundreds of volunteer attorneys who have donated their time to provide advice, assistance, and representation to low-income residents by participating in BAVLP pro bono projects. BAVLP has recently expanded to provide pro bono services in Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Throughout our history, BALS has identified areas of legal need and responded with solutions. With our dedicated staff and the support of donors, volunteers, community groups, and funding partners, we strive each day to deliver on our mission to provide the highest quality legal counsel by assisting individuals and community groups with limited access to legal services; resolving the legal problems of our clients; and preserving the independence, hope, and dignity of those we serve.