Meet Legal Services’ CAO, Jeff Hearne

📸 Photo provided by Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.

Howdy, Jeff! Let’s start with the basics — who are you, and what do you do?

I’m the Chief Advocacy Officer at Legal Services of Greater Miami (Legal Services). We’re a nonprofit law firm of 35 lawyers which advances economic opportunity and social justice through effective legal advocacy.

Our attorneys represent low-income families facing the loss of their homes through eviction and foreclosure; they keep families in important programs which give them access to food, medical care, and income; they fight to protect basic income and assets which are protected from garnishment under the law; they help veterans access the benefits they are entitled to receive; they help small businesses and nonprofits transform low-income neighborhoods.

Our work is diverse and impactful, and I’m proud to have worked at Legal Services for nearly 22 years.

Wax poetic for a minute and tell us: what brings you most alive about this city?

It’s a privilege to live in a city with so much diversity. I recently had friends over and there were friends from Colombia, Jamaica, Venezuela, Chile, Italy, Cuba, Canada, Brazil, and Costa Rica — all of whom had decided to call Miami home. There aren’t too many cities where that can happen, and it’s one of the things that makes this city such a special place to live. And, as a Miami Beach resident, each morning and evening I get to drive across the causeway and look across Biscayne Bay. I always remind myself that I’m lucky to live here.

What’s your favorite Miami memory?

Making it my home. I moved from Texas immediately after graduating from law school because Legal Services offered me a job as a housing lawyer. I had no idea it would be my first and only job. I met my husband Mark in Miami Beach, and we soon adopted our son Aidan from Ukraine. He grew up in Miami Beach and is now off to college in Jacksonville. 

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This is a new favorite: The Lion and the Rambler in Coral Gables. The food is creative and delicious. Every meal we’ve had there has been amazing. 

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Miami day.

On Saturday mornings, I meet up with a group of friends for an outdoor bootcamp. We work out along the Miami Beach Marina and in South Pointe Park. There is no better way to start the weekend. Then, an afternoon on the beach with friends. At night, I would catch a show by Zoetic Stage — which puts on some of the best theater in Miami — or catch an outdoor film or concert at Soundscape Park.

What’s your favorite local social media account to follow on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc. and why?

@blackmiamidade and @historymiami. I’m a history nerd and I’m always learning new things about Miami’s past from these Instagram accounts.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Get involved in some organization that is working to make this city a better place to live.

How does Miami influence your work?

In the City of Miami, nearly 70% of households are renters. As someone who has worked for two decades representing tenants, it is a challenging place to do this work. We lack sufficient affordable housing, and the laws often favor the landlord. Despite these challenges, I love my work. The legal issues are always interesting, and I have great clients.

What’s a project you’re working on and how can our readers help you with it?

Miami is one of the most unaffordable places to live and has one of the most competitive rental markets. Evictions are on the rise. Evictions can have a long-lasting impact on a family and it’s often difficult for a tenant to navigate the eviction process without a lawyer.

In Miami, only 2% of tenants have attorneys, but nearly 90% of landlords have lawyers. At Legal Services, this year we are significantly expanding our capacity to help tenants facing eviction. We are doing this in partnership with several other incredible, community organizations.  

If you want to help us expand our work, you can join us at our 14th Annual Heart of Giving Celebration on May 18, 2023 at the Rubell Museum. And of course, we are always looking for volunteer attorneys to represent clients! Our website has information about the event and about becoming a pro bono attorney. 

What are you looking forward to between now and the end of the year?

Expanding Legal Services’ eviction defense work in the upcoming year.

That’s a wrap on this week’s Locals to Know, sponsored by Legal Services of Greater Miami. Know someone who ought to be featured or would like to be featured yourself? Reach out by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line “TNT Locals to Know 2023.” If chosen, you might just see yourself or a friend in a future newsletter.