I am a lifelong Floridian, and I truly love my state. How could I not? I grew up near Orlando, watching shuttles launch, visiting theme parks, and swimming in the ocean. I was privileged, so my childhood felt like a permanent vacation. Despite the affection I feel for my state, I feel frustration as well.
When I was a student at the University of Florida, I interned with a public interest firm called Southern Legal Counsel. Many of my assignments and interactions at SLC involved serving clients without housing and revealed to me the perils of criminalizing homelessness. I also helped with efforts to raise money for SLC, which had recently experienced major reductions in funding. Through this work, I realized two major issues with the state I thought (or wanted to think) could do no wrong: 1) the ways in which many of our laws harm low-income people and 2) the crisis of funding civil legal aid organizations.
Florida is a huge state, the third largest in terms of population, and we have several million people living below the poverty line. Unfortunately, because of dwindling funds, our civil legal aid organizations have been forced to drastically cut budgets, attorneys, and caseloads in recent years. More and more people have been left without access to justice, having to face oppressive policies and biased institutions alone. Meanwhile, Florida ranks among the worst in the country with regard to health insurance coverage, unemployment insurance, and affordable housing. I love my state; I love our diversity and our sunshine and our oranges, but I wish we were farther along the path to addressing injustice in the civil legal system.
It was this frustration that convinced me that, after law school, I need to go home. When I started thinking about life after law school, places like New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. were initially appealing to me because of their well-established, well-known civil legal aid organizations, but when I thought deeply about the population I would like to serve one day, my mind always drifted back to Florida – the Orlando area in particular. I soon realized that what I truly want is to give back to the people and the community who made me who I am. In whatever capacity I perform public service work in the future, either full-time or pro bono, I know that I will be happiest at home, helping to improve access to justice and to alleviate the burden on low-income people in Florida’s civil legal system.
Jasmine Esmailbegui is a second-year law student from Melbourne, Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2014 with degrees in Psychology and Criminology and a minor in Women’s Studies. This summer, she will be working at Foley & Lardner in Orlando, Florida, the office where the firm’s national pro bono chair is a partner. Jasmine loves Netflix and Publix.