A trailblazer is someone who envisions a pathway to positive life-changing experiences for others. Andrew Banyai never set out to be a trailblazer, but his work as executive director of the Lee County Legal Aid Society, Inc., is changing lives.
For his work, the business arm of the Daily Business Review is honoring Banyai with the Florida Trailblazers Award, which recognizes those who have “made significant marks on the practice, policy and technological advancements in their sector.”
Lee County Legal Aid Society is a not-for-profit agency, which provides advice, counsel and legal representation on a pro bono basis. Banyai’s mission is straight-forward and focused: “What we are trying to do is make the weak equal to the powerful in terms of access to the justice system,” Banyai said.
It’s working. His team, which includes himself, three other staff attorneys and other volunteer attorneys, regularly helps about 1,000 people a year, through an application process and walk-in clinics, where clients are screened through the Lee County Clerk of Courts and directed to the right legal advice. That partnership was key because Clerk of Courts Linda Doggett was searching for someone to provide free legal services through the Self Help Center and Banyai and his team stepped up.
Michael Healy, general counsel for the clerk’s office, said in the nomination letter Banyai “hears out their problems and quickly works to find a solution or, if the matter is too complicated to resolve in such a brief time, issues guidance for taking the next step.”
“There is no way I could do this myself,” Banyai said. “I need an entire team. We have volunteer attorneys who come in every single week. They have smiles on their faces. They hear stories and help people.”
There is something “pure,” Banyai says, about helping someone, who knows they can count on the right legal advice and representation without the financial stress. “There is so much negative sentiment in the legal practice in general, sentiment that lawyers are only out for the cash,” Banyai said. “We can say ‘we are not charging you a dime.’ There is a genuineness because you are trying to help them.”
Much of their work protects the rights and safety of children, who could be victims of custody battles or other difficult circumstances. “Somebody who is weak, being exploited or taken advantage of by a powerful person, a family can suffer,” Banyai said. “We are making a difference in people’s lives.”
Banyai and other honorees will be featured in a future issue of the Daily Business Review.
Learn about Banyai’s background and his work with the Lee County Legal Aid Society at leecountylegalaid.org.