The National Pro Bono Celebration is Oct. 25 to 31, 2009. Each weekday in October, Texas Bar Blog will feature a Texas attorney who provides pro bono services in the community. Without lawyers like these, too many of our most vulnerable citizens would go without legal representation. For more on the national celebration, visit CelebrateProBono.org.
Ernesto J. Dominguez admits that for a time, he was a lawyer who was too busy to do pro bono work. Then, he read a pro bono article in the Hidalgo County Bar Association newsletter and something clicked. “I used to say, ‘I don’t have time to do pro bono.’ Then I reached a point in my life — professionally and personally — where I felt that I just needed to give back to my profession,” he says. “I also felt (pro bono) was just a good way to assist someone who needs help.”
Dominguez, a partner in the McAllen firm of Orendain & Dominguez, says he learned about the Community Justice Program (CJP), a partnership between Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the Hidalgo and Cameron county bar associations, through an article in the Hidalgo County Bar Association newsletter. Modeled after the Community Justice Project in San Antonio, the TRLA program focuses on family law cases, helping those in need of divorces. Interested, Dominguez got involved and quickly became immersed in the world of legal aid. (He even served on TRLA’s board of directors from 1998 to 2002.) Dominguez says he was surprised by how easy it was to volunteer. “Volunteering for the Community Justice Program doesn’t take that much time,” he says, adding that TRLA screens cases and prepares divorce petitions before volunteers work on a case. “(TRLA) makes it as easy as possible for the volunteers.”
Last spring, the Texas House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Dominguez and his pro bono work. In May, the Hidalgo County Bar Association awarded Dominguez its John E. Cook Pro Bono Award. Dominguez says he’s surrounded by fellow lawyers deserving of the honor and is constantly amazed to see attorneys of all ages participate in the CJP. He hopes to see more attorneys step up to serve those in need. “I try to encourage others to participate in pro bono. In one way or another, you should just do something for somebody.”