Texas corporate counsel community raises $71,026 for civil legal aid

The Texas Access to Justice Commission, in conjunction with the General Counsel Forum, raised $71,026 for civil legal aid during the 3rd Annual Charity Golf Classic held Thursday in San Antonio.

This year’s event exceeded the amount raised during last year’s tournament and is more than double the amount raised in the inaugural tournament. The proceeds will be donated to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

Legal aid organizations funded by foundation help more than 100,000 low-income Texas families each year. Many need help with critical civil legal issues impacting their very existence such as securing safety for victims of domestic abuse, obtaining medical care for veterans and the elderly, and helping families maintain their housing. Due to a lack of resources, only about 20 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income and poor Texans are being met.

Continue Reading...

Texas Bar Foundation Award Nominations

Nominations are being accepted for the 2015 Texas Bar Foundation Awards Program. All nomination packets should be submitted and received in entirety to the Texas Bar Foundation office by Jan. 15, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. For more information, visit www.txbf.org.


 

Foundation provides grants for veterans' legal services

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation has announced that it will provide more than $426,000 in grants among 11 nonprofits in support of legal aid services for Texas veterans.

Groups receiving the financial support include:

  • Baylor University School of Law, Waco - $22,000
  • Cathedral Justice Project, Houston - $22,000
  • Community Justice Program, San Antonio – $22,000
  • Fort Bend Lawyers Care, Richmond - $22,000
  • Houston Bar Foundation, Houston and surrounding area - $60,000
  • Jefferson County Bar Foundation, Beaumont - $22,000
  • Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Fort Worth (also includes Dallas, North Texas, Panhandle, and West Texas) – $50,000
  • Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston (includes Gulf Coast and East Texas) - $64,000
  • Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc. (Texas Civil Rights Project), statewide - $50,000
  • Tarrant County Bar Foundation, Fort Worth - $22,000
  • Texas Legal Services Center, Austin (statewide) - $70,713

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation is the largest state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas and has awarded more than $410 million since 1984. For more information, go to tajf.org.

Registration for Pro Bono Coordinators Retreat is open

Registration for the Pro Bono Coordinators Retreat is open. It will be held Sept. 3-5 at the Texas Law Center in Austin. This two-day event provides valuable training on increasing the quantity and quality of legal services available to the poor through pro bono efforts.

The retreat is designed for staff whose primary roles include coordinating pro bono efforts, recruiting private attorneys to provide direct legal services to the poor, and/or organizing training events so attorneys can deliver civil legal services to poor Texans. This retreat is open to pro bono coordinators in legal services programs and private law firms.

To find out more information and to download the registration form, please visit www.texasbar.com/pbcr.

Justice Guzman appointed new Texas Supreme Court liaison to Texas Access to Justice Commission, Foundation

Justice Eva M. Guzman has been appointed liaison to the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the foundation that supports the commission’s work to provide civil legal services to the poor. Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, who had been liaison to the commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation since 2010, announced Justice Guzman’s new assignment. Her appointment took effect July 1.

Continue Reading...

Texas Access to Justice Commission announces law student summit

Across the Lone Star State, there are nearly 6 million low-income citizens who need and seek help for legal problems. Due to limited resources, assistance is available for less than 20 percent of them.

This October, through a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, the Texas Access to Justice Commission will host the Law Student Leaders Access to Justice Summit, where movers and shakers from each of the state’s law schools will learn about the unique and pressing challenges that low-income Texans face in accessing legal services. The aim is to create a statewide culture of pro bono, as well as leaders in the field.

During the two-day event in Austin, participants will experience a hands-on poverty simulation, in which they will be challenged to budget a limited income under set circumstances. Students will partake in roundtable discussions and receive information on pro bono placements and related internships. They will also pledge to take the information gleaned during the summit back to their respective law schools and to educate their peers.

“The summit with generate greater attention to access to justice issues and eventually lead to more resource for civil legal services,” said Trish McAllister, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission.

For more information on the Law Student Leaders Access to Justice Summit, contact Liza Levine at liza.levine@texasbar.com or (512) 427-1892.

 

Access to Justice Foundation celebrates 30 years of service

Catherine Robb
Catherine Robb, of counsel to Haynes and Boone and granddaughter of the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

On Jan. 23, guests gathered inside the 10th Floor Atrium of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, away from the incoming ice storm, to hear a distinguished group of panelists discuss the history and importance of access to justice. This event kicked off the 30th anniversary celebration of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and was co-sponsored by Legal Services Corporation, LBJ Future Forum, and the State Bar of Texas. The panel was followed by a reception and presentation of awards.

David Smith, chair of the LBJ Library Future Forum, and Catherine Robb, of counsel to the Austin office of Haynes and Boone and granddaughter of the late President Johnson, welcomed the guests to the event, followed by an introduction by Lamont Jefferson, the chair of TAJF’s 30th anniversary events and brother of former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Elizabeth Christian of Elizabeth Christian & Associates Public Relations moderated the panel, which featured Rep. Pete Gallego of the 23rd District of Texas, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Panelists discussed, among other issues, the importance of lawyers in rural towns, the economic recession’s impact on Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts Program, and the important role that law schools can play in encouraging increased access to legal services for underserved populations.

Continue Reading...

RSVP to Texas Access to Justice Foundation's 30th Anniversary Kickoff Event

On Thursday, Jan. 23, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation will kick off the celebration of its 30th anniversary by hosting a panel discussion on the evolution of legal services in Texas. Distinguished members of the panel include U.S. Congressman Pete Gallego of the 23rd District of Texas, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. The event takes place from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. at the 10th Floor Atrium of the LBJ Presidential Library (2313 Red River St., Austin 78705). A reception will follow.

In 1984, the Texas Supreme Court created the nonprofit Texas Access to Justice Foundation to support legal aid efforts throughout the state. Using funding from the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Program, as well as public funding and private donations, TAJF gives millions of dollars each year to various organizations that provide pro bono legal services to low-income populations.    

If you would like to attend the panel discussion and reception, please RSVP by Jan. 15 by contacting Lisa Ayotte at layotte@teajf.org or (512) 320-099, ext. 102. For more information, go to teajf.org.  

New lawyers inducted at Austin ceremony

The Supreme Court of Texas held an induction ceremony for new members of the State Bar of Texas on Monday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.

Tom Owens, the high scorer on the July 2013 bar exam, addressed the crowd before Chief Justice Nathan Hecht led licensees in the lawyer's oath. State Bar of Texas President Lisa M. Tatum and Texas Young Lawyers Association President Kristy Blanchard welcomed the new lawyers to the profession.

Continue Reading...

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Announces Grants for Veterans' Legal Services

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) has announced grants to 11 nonprofit organizations, totaling more than $426,000, which will help fund legal aid for low-income Texas veterans. With these grants, public interest and pro bono lawyers will be able to provide legal representation to Texas veterans with basic civil legal problems such as denial of benefits or disability, family law matters arising from deployment, and other issues that may arise due to a veteran’s absence from home during military service.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission—through its Champions of Justice Gala—raised more than $340,000 in 2013 from law firms and corporate sponsors. Now in its fourth year, the Champions of Justice Gala has raised more than $1.4 million for veterans’ legal services since its inception. Along with funding from the Gala and additional support from the TAJF, the Military Law Section of the State Bar of Texas also donated funds to support the grants to the selected nonprofit organizations.

The nonprofits receiving grant awards include:

  • Baylor University School of Law, Waco
  • Cathedral Justice Project, Houston
  • Community Justice Program, San Antonio
  • Fort Bend Lawyers Care, Richmond
  • Houston Bar Foundation, Houston
  • Jefferson County Bar Foundation, Beaumont
  • Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Fort Worth (also includes North Texas, Panhandle)
  • Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston (includes East Texas)
  • Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido Inc., Austin, South Texas
  • Tarrant County Bar Foundation, Fort Worth
  • Texas Legal Services Center, Austin (statewide)

"These legal aid programs will provide civil legal services for those who have served our country and deserve our attention,” Richard L. Tate, chair of the board of directors of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said.

Continue Reading...

Access to Justice Commission Newsletter Out Now

Last month the Texas Access to Justice Commission added seven new members. Learn who they are and how they will be furthering civil legal aid in this issue of the TAJC Update.

You can also read about how the Commission is using technology to support legal aid providers, see the highlights from our inaugural Champions of Justice Reception, and find out how law students are using their spring break to help underserved communities across the state.

These stories and more are in the summer edition of the TAJC Update. Read the latest newsletter here.

Champions of Justice Gala raises $338,000 for veterans

The Champions of Justice Gala benefiting veterans was held on Tuesday, April 23, at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin. Some of Texas’ most prominent lawyers, members of the Texas Supreme Court, members of the Texas Legislature, and State Bar of Texas leaders gathered for the special event. Texas Access to Justice Commission Chair, Harry Reasoner, thanked them for their continued support to expand access to justice for the underserved.

Guest speakers included Paul Melton, President of Board of Directors of the Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation and Lt. Michael E. Thornton, U.S. Navy Seal (Ret.), Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient.

Lt. Thornton is the only Medal of Honor recipient in over a century to save the life of another Medal of Honor recipient. He reads the U.S. Constitution once a month to ensure he continues to understand its meaning. He thanked the State Bar of Texas and its members for leading the way nationwide to help veterans, and for helping to open the eyes of other state bars about what lawyers can do to help. Lt. Thornton noted how important this mission is to him, “Giving back to the greatest nation in the world that has given me everything in the world.”

Melton spoke about the debt we have to the men and women who are fighting for our country. "We are returning veterans at a faster pace than has been seen since 1945," Melton said. He referred to the people in attendance as the best in the Texas legal profession and emphasized that there is no higher calling than pro bono efforts on behalf of veterans.

The Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Stewart W. Gagnon of Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston for his years of pro bono work. Gagnon advocates for the most vulnerable Texans through the Houston Volunteer Lawyers program, veterans’ legal clinics, and legal helplines. Gagnon thanked the Access to Justice Commission for honoring those who rush to help those in need. 

James C. “Jim” Harrington, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, received the James B. Sales Boots on the Ground award for his singular contributions that have made an extraordinary impact. He has dedicated 40 years to legal service, working tirelessly for equal rights for migrant workers, the handicapped, children’s privacy, and battered women. Harrington said that his clients’ faith in the system gives him the faith to move forward — access to justice is a group effort and all of those in attendance are one community who believe in equal access to justice.

The awards were presented by Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Chief Jefferson acknowledged Chief Justice Jack Pope's 100th birthday last week, and noted that Chief Pope is responsible for inaugurating Texas IOLTA.

For more information, please visit www.texasatj.org

State Bar of Texas, ABA, Lone Star Legal Aid and Local Bar Associations Stand Ready to Assist Texans Impacted by the Disaster in West, Texas

The State Bar of Texas has established a disaster legal hotline – 800.504.7030 – to assist people with basic legal questions following the devastating plant explosion in West, Texas.

The hotline – answered in English and Spanish by Lone Star Legal Aid – is intended to help low-income persons affected by the disaster with such issues as replacing lost documents, insurance questions, landlord-tenant issues, and consumer protection issues such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process. Residents can call and leave a message any time. People who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help. 

A partnership between the State Bar of Texas, Texas Young Lawyers Association, American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, Lone Star Legal Aid, local bar associations, and other legal services providers throughout Texas is making a range of assistance available.

Additional resources are available at www.texasbar.com/disasterresponse and www.texaslawhelp.org.

The State Bar of Texas reminds the public that solicitation of a potential legal case is a crime unless the lawyer has a family relationship with you or you have been a client of the lawyer in the past or are currently a client. Solicitation of you is also a crime if perpetrated by a non-lawyer employee or representative of the lawyer, unless the previous conditions exist. Please report any prohibited contacts by lawyers or their representatives, whether in person, telephone or otherwise, to your local law enforcement authority or the State Bar of Texas at 877.953.5535.

Attorneys who want to volunteer to help may visit our Disaster Relief and Attorney Resources page.

TAJF grant application deadline for legal aid to veterans extended to May 1

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) has extended the application due date until May 1, 2013 for proposals to fund legal aid programs that provide civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans. Proceeds from the Champions of Justice Gala for Veterans have been designated to fund these grants. 

These funds are to address the increased demand for legal services at a time when many veterans are returning from the war in Afghanistan. Selected applicants will help increase, support and deliver free civil legal services that help low-income Texas veterans with many critical civil legal services in matters such as family law, employment, housing, consumer, bankruptcy and probate as well as including filing claims for compensation or pensions from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Legal assistance is also needed for representing veterans in filing claims for indigent veterans suffering from service-connected disabilities. The scope of work to be funded can also help family members of living or deceased veterans apply for VA benefits. 

Grant applications will be submitted online through the TAJF web grants online system which will require applicants who are not existing grantees to register and once approved, complete the online application and submit it by the due date of Wednesday May 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm. You can access the online grants system by going to grants.tajf.org. For more information, contact Jonathan Vickery at jvickery@teajf.org or 1-800-252-3401 ext. 110

Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation announce possible remedies for the legal aid funding shortfall creating risks for low-income Texans and the state

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation hosted a news conference yesterday at the Texas State Capitol to emphasize the ongoing funding crisis in the Texas legal aid system. At the conference, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison to access to justice issues, announced a comprehensive legislative plan to address the funding crisis. In addition, a new economic impact study by The Perryman Group was announced.

Continue Reading...

In Memoriam: Gib Walton of Houston

Gib Walton, past president of the State Bar of Texas and co-leader of Hogan Lovells' global Projects, Engineering, and Construction practice, died suddenly on Feb. 7, 2013.  
 
Walton served as State Bar of Texas president during 2007-2008. His initiatives as president included public education, building diversity in the profession, emphasizing the importance of helping lawyers with depression and mental health issues, and increasing support for legal services to the poor. Walton was an ardent supporter of access to justice issues, having served on the board of directors of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation from 2000 to 2006. He was also a past chair of the Texas Bar Foundation.

State Bar President Buck Files, the State Bar staff, and its volunteer leadership extend their thoughts and condolences to Gib’s wife, Martha, his family, and his many friends. 

Obituary: Houston Chronicle

Read Walton's June 2007 Texas Bar Journal profile [PDF].

FDIC insurance coverage set to change Jan. 1 for IOLTA accounts

Unless Congress takes unanticipated action, as of Jan. 1, 2013, FDIC insurance available to IOLTA accounts will be $250,000 per owner of the funds (client), per financial institution, assuming that the account is properly designated as a trust account and proper accounting of each client’s funds is maintained. Non-interest-bearing trust accounts will have this same level of coverage.

IOLTA and non-interest-bearing accounts currently have unlimited FDIC insurance coverage pursuant to Section 343 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which has a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2012.

For more information, please visit http://www.abanow.org/2012/12/fdic-insurance-coverage-to-change-for-iolta-and-non-interest-bearing-accounts/.

Texas Access to Justice Foundation observes Prime Partner Bank Recognition Month and launches "I Bank on Justice" campaign

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation is recognizing banks and financial institutions that help invest in justice through the Texas Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program during Prime Partner Bank month in November. More than 70 banks and credit unions are committed to being Prime Partners and directly benefit the funding of civil legal services in Texas communities.

Prime Partner banks voluntarily pay higher interest rates on IOLTA accounts, helping close the gap in legal services funding. These banks have contributed millions of dollars in IOLTA revenue throughout Texas.

The Foundation recognizes the 13 banks that have participated in this program since its inception more than five years ago with the Prime Partners in Justice Award. They include:

Bank

First National Bank Southwest

Location(s)

Frisco, Plano

Huntington State Bank

Huntington, Lufkin, Nacogdoches

 

LegacyTexas Bank

Plano, Dallas, Fort Worth, and others

 

Lindale State Bank

Lindale

 

Lone Star National Bank

Pharr, Brownsville, Edinburg, McAllen, and others

 

NewFirst National Bank

El Campo, Houston, Victoria, and others

 

North Dallas Bank & Trust Co.

Dallas, Addison, Frisco, Plano, and others

 

Northstar Bank of Texas

Denton, Grapevine, Lewisville, and others

 

PlainsCapital Bank

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and others

 

Preston State Bank

Dallas

 

Security State Bank

Littlefield, Lubbock, Olton

 

Texas Brand Bank

Garland

 

Town North Bank

Dallas, Carrollton, Farmers Branch

 

Continue Reading...

Veterans Legal Initiative coalition legal clinics

Two legal clinics for veterans in Texas were held last week.

On November 16, the Bell County Bar Association sponsored a legal advice clinic for veterans at American Legion Post 573 in Harker Heights (near Killeen) in Bell County. JoAnn Merica 
(pictured) presented a CLE program for members of the Bell County Bar, then attorneys stayed to volunteer for the clinic. DeLaine Ward of the Austin Bar Association also came down to assist. Ken Valka, president of the Bell County Bar Association, along with Cynthia Champion and Cindi Parker, co-executive directors of the Bell County Bar, facilitated the Bell County Bar’s sponsorship role. 40 veterans received assistance.

On November 17, Prof. Bridget Fusilier held Baylor Law School’s Wills Clinic, where 25 veterans had wills and estate planning documents executed with the help of volunteer attorneys and law students. 11 more are scheduled for execution at Baylor’s December clinic.

These were two successful events as part of the Veterans Legal Initiative coalition and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans
 

Texas Legal Protection Plan turns 40

The Texas Legal Protection Plan (TLPP) is celebrating its 40th anniversary at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin on Friday, November 30th. Forty years ago, the State Bar created the Texas Legal Protection Plan in order to provide the citizens of Texas with access to affordable legal representation. For four decades, the organization has assisted thousands of Texans with their legal needs ranging from simple advice and document preparation to family law matters, estate planning, consumer protection matters, and more. 

The event will pay special tribute to a select group of individuals who have contributed to the success of TLPP as well as organizations that have faithfully served the legal community and beyond. Some of the honorees include the American Bar Association (ABA), the State Bar of Texas, Texas Young Lawyers Association, and the Texas Veterans Commission. Additionally, the event will recognize a few of our long standing provider attorneys from around the state who have worked tirelessly to ensure that Texans get their legal needs met. TLPP will also honor the Honorable Joel Bennett, who has committed his entire life to serving. Finally, the event will recognize the “Founding Father” of the Texas Legal Protection Plan, Franklin Jones, Jr.  

The event will feature remarks from the ABA President-elect, Mr. Jim Silkenat. For more information about this event, please visit http://www.tlpp.org/.

Texas children's hospital and Houston Bar Association partnership to provide legal assistance to low-income patients

Texas Children’s Hospital is first in Houston to introduce new medical-legal partnership to bring sick children critical legal assistance

Houston Volunteer Lawyers and Walmart support launch of program

HOUSTON – (Nov. 1, 2012) – Texas Children’s Hospital and the Houston Bar Association’s Houston Volunteer Lawyers today announced the formation of a medical-legal partnership (MLP) that will provide Texas Children’s low-income patients and patient-families with critical legal assistance. This is the first partnership of its kind to be offered in the Houston area.

Through the program, a dedicated Houston Volunteer Lawyers staff attorney will provide legal advice and representation to Texas Children’s patients and their families with assistance from outside pro bono lawyers.  The project is being funded in part by a donation from Walmart, which created a successful MLP with Arkansas Children’s Hospital last year with plans to expand the benefits of MLPs to other major pediatric hospitals nationwide.

“It has always been our mission to help low-income children with all of their medical needs and this program is just another example of how we are doing that,” said Mark A. Wallace, president and CEO of Texas Children’s Hospital.  “We appreciate the generous gift from Walmart for this beneficial medical-legal partnership that will bring much-needed support to these children who do not have another place to turn for this type of legal assistance.”  

Continue Reading...

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Kelley F. Whalen

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the Legal Hotline for Texans, a program of the Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC), truly appreciates the attorneys within Texas who accept reduced fee cases throughout the year. TLSC would like to spotlight the efforts of Texas attorney Kelley F. Whalen.

Kelley has been a member of our reduced fee panel since 1990, and has since assisted with more than 300 cases. He has proved a huge resource to our clients, offering services not only in the Austin area, but also in the Gonzales area, which is often a difficult region for folks to find a reduced fee or pro bono attorney. In addition to offering services in different geographic regions, he graciously offers our reduced fee clients a wide variety of subject matter for which he will accept cases. This has been extremely helpful over the years, with clients often needing assistance in more than one area of the law.

Recently, TLSC had a client who was in the hospital unable to travel and was seeking assistance with getting a will in order. Kelley and his office offered to meet with the client, and ultimately were able to assist him with his will. The client was thrilled, as they were able to obtain the documents needed to leave their small personal estate to charity. This is just one of the many happy clients who have benefited from this program.

Texas Legal Services Center is thankful to have attorneys such as Kelley, who truly go above and beyond to assist those in need.

If you are interested in becoming a panel attorney or would like more information, please contact Moriah Topolski at mtopolski@tlsc.org or 512-637-6752.

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Lisa Leffingwell

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

It has been our pleasure for the past 14 years to call Lisa Leffingwell one of our own. She is a joy to work with, always taking time out of her busy schedule to provide free legal counsel to our clients.

As a small non-profit law firm serving the terminally Ill and people living with HIV in Dallas and 15 surrounding counties, we rely heavily on Lisa who handles Estate Planning cases for our clients. Her kind and caring demeanor and attention to detail put a client’s mind at ease; they know at signing they can rest assured that their final wishes are in order.

We at Legal Hospice of Texas appreciate the opportunity to showcase Lisa in celebration of this year’s Pro Bono Week. Thanks to the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division for the opportunity to spotlight our fantastic volunteer Lisa Leffingwell! 

“Thanks to Lynne Candler, (another LHT volunteer attorney) I began volunteering at Legal Hospice of Texas so many years ago that I can't remember!” Said Leffingwell. “ I particularly enjoy working with these clients because they are so appreciative and grateful for both Legal Hospice and for my services.  It is a simple way to make a big difference - not only in providing the assistance, but giving these clients peace of mind."

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Charles M. Barnard

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

Despite having an active private practice, Charles M. Barnard has been a pro bono volunteer with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas - Wichita Falls office for more than 12 years. A past recipient of LANWT’s Equal Justice Volunteer Program Attorney of the Year award, Barnard volunteers because he believes in access to justice. “I am proud of my profession,” he says. “I count it as a privilege to provide legal services to those who need legal representation but cannot afford it.”

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Adam G. Schachter

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

Adam G. Schachter is a board certified bankruptcy attorney in Houston Texas. The Schachter Law Firm, P.C. was founded by Adam in September 2004 for the purpose of serving businesses and individuals who were struggling with debt.

Schachter’s philosophy is that people and debts are separate, and that people should be treated with courtesy and respect. Bad debt does not equal bad people. The majority of the firm’s clients have had some major financial crisis such as divorce, illness or death in the family, job loss or, in the case of small businesses, loss of a major client.

Schachter also believes that major financial crises do not equal the end of someone’s life or a complete lack of hope for the future. With that in mind, Schachter and his staff do an extraordinary job of removing the stigma, fear, and pain that people in financial straits experience.

Volunteering is important to Adam as evidenced by his twice-yearly classes on bankruptcy and debt collection as part of the courses offered by Katy and Spring Branch independent school districts. Upcoming classes will take place at Mayde Creek High School (Bankruptcy Oct. 16 and Debt on Oct. 23). Schachter also volunteers at Lone Star Legal Aid where he teaches other volunteer lawyers how to process Chapter 7 Bankruptcy cases.  Dana Bias of Lone Star Legal Aid, who recruited Schachter to help other pro bono lawyers, reports great satisfaction with the CLE-approved training classes.

"I regularly speak to the public about debt issues and bankruptcy. I provide seminars on the collection laws, the myths and facts related to bankruptcy, and how bankruptcy works generally.” Schachter said. “It's an opportunity to learn and to find out that some lawyers out there are kind and approachable. About 80 percent to 90 percent of the people who come to my classes are struggling financially. The other 10 percent to 20 percent are often non-bankruptcy lawyers or their staff hoping to learn more about a complicated and specialized area of law. If you are struggling financially, or just interested in learning more, coming to one of my talks is a no-risk, no-obligation way to learn more about the rights someone has when their finances are taking a beating."

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Beth Handschuh

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

The Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas – McKinney Office would like to spotlight pro bono attorney Beth Handschuh during the National Pro Bono Celebration. Beth has been volunteering with LANWT since the early 2000’s, taking a variety of cases ranging from divorce to consumer fraud. She states that pro bono is some of the most rewarding work she does and she believes that it should be a part of any attorneys’ practice.

Beth’s most memorable pro bono experience involves navigating the world of foreclosures, the home owner’s modification program, and how big banks and mortgage companies have little internal communication. Beth zealously advocated for a 79 year-old widowed client in Rockwall County against the client's mortgage company. After breaking their promise to the client to defer her property taxes, Beth’s client was in real danger of losing her home. Beth spent more than 100 hours advocating for her client, and ultimately saved her home.

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Tammy Wincott

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

For those of us who manage pro bono legal programs, we have heard of those rare volunteers who come to every clinic; take whatever cases you have (regardless of how difficult or complicated); will take more than one case at each clinic; and thought to ourselves, “How do we find one those volunteers?” The San Antonio Bar Association’s Community Justice Program was lucky enough to have one of those volunteers find us. Tammy Wincott is a model volunteer attorney who all pro bono legal programs dream of having on their team. Tammy has been volunteering with the program since 2009 and has rarely missed an opportunity to participate in one of the many monthly pro bono legal clinics the Community Justice Program facilitates each year, yet still finds time to manage her own successful legal practice. Tammy was honored this year as the 2012 CJP Pro Bono Attorney of the Year for taking 22 pro bono cases throughout the year — an award she also won last year for taking 19 pro bono cases. 

Tammy is able to assist the low-income residents in our community because of her vast legal knowledge and experience in many different areas of law — including bankruptcy, family law and immigration. She is particularly compassionate with our indigent veterans who attend the program’s monthly Veterans Legal Clinic. A former member of the U.S. Air Force, Tammy understands the struggles that many veterans and their families face upon leaving active duty and often takes two or three cases during a veterans clinic. 

Tammy also leads by example and is an inspiration to other attorneys by emphasizing the importance of giving back and making a commitment to service. She is one of those rare jewels in the world of pro bono legal services — she is the attorney who never says no, keeps coming back to each clinic, and is always willing to go above and beyond the volunteer requirements. We are grateful and fortunate to consider Tammy a friend of the CJP and look forward to seeing her each month at one of our family law, wills, or veteran clinics. We thank her for her continued support of the program and dedication to helping low-income residents in our community access legal services.

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Alberto Guerrero

It's National Pro Bono Week! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

ProBAR Children's Project would like to recognize Alberto Guerrero as a pro bono volunteer. Guerrero has, without hesitation, volunteered to handle a number of cases for our office, has advised us on cases he hasn't directly handled — helped to connect us with other experts on the relevant issues — and has trained and mentored other pro bono attorneys interested in taking cases through our office. 

Guerrero takes special interest and care in developing a rapport with the children he works with — whether it's chatting with them about soccer or showing them web pages of their hometown on his iPad — he's always able to bring smiles to their faces. Most important, he's a reliable and caring figure in the lives of children for whom adults have more frequently been a source of tragic abuse and neglect.

It's an honor to work with him and to watch him make a difference in the lives of these children. Regarding pro bono work, Guerrero has said, "It's not often even as a lawyer that you have the opportunity to have a life-altering impact on a young person. Helping a child have the opportunity to live in this country, free from an environment of abuse or neglect, and to obtain education, is hugely rewarding."

ProBAR Children's Project is a project of the American Bar Association Fund for Justice and Education

Texas Access to Justice Foundation names 2012 Texas Equal Justice Works Fellows

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF), in partnership with Equal Justice Works, has announced its 2012 class of Fellows who have developed new and innovative legal projects that will impact lives and serve communities in desperate need of legal assistance. The two-year fellowship projects began in September.

Since 2002, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, as part of its commitment to ensuring access to justice for the poor, has sponsored these innovative fellowship projects. This year, the Foundation is fortunate to co-sponsor a Fellow with the law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP and to have received a grant from the John M. O’Quinn Foundation to help fund the work of another fellow.

Supported by partners like the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Equal Justice Works is the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the nation. Each year, hundreds of talented law school graduates apply to Equal Justice Works having designed their “dream job” with a nonprofit organization that has agreed to host the applicant, if awarded a fellowship. Sponsors like TAJF then review project proposals and select candidates who meet general criteria or otherwise complement their philanthropic and pro bono interests.

The Texas Equal Justice Works Fellow Class of 2012 includes:

Sarah Loeffler
Host Organization: Montgomery County Women’s Center, Conroe
Issue area: Domestic Violence

Christine Nishimura
Host Organization: Disability Rights Texas, Austin
Issue area: Education, Children/Youth

Meghan Kempf
Host Organization: Family Violence Prevention Services, San Antonio
Issue area: Domestic Violence

Keegan Warren-Clem
Host Organization: Texas Legal Services Center, Austin
Issue area:  Health Care/Medical-Legal Collaborative

Continuing Fellows from the 2011 Fellowship class sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation are: Adriana Rodriquez, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Laredo, and Michelle Smith, Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin.

Contact: Erin Moore or Lia Pette, 512-472-9599
emoore@echristianpr.com or lpette@echristianpr.com
Elizabeth Christian & Associates Public Relations

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (www.teajf.org), created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the primary state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texans each year.

Equal Justice Works is the national leader in creating public interest opportunities for law students and lawyers. Collaborating with the nation’s leading law schools, law firms, corporate legal departments and nonprofit organizations, Equal Justice Works offers a continuum of opportunities that provide the training and skills that enable attorneys to provide effective representation to underserved communities and causes. Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For additional information about Equal Justice Works, please visit www.equaljusticeworks.org.

ATJ Commission Co-hosts Inaugural Charity Golf Classic

The Texas General Counsel Forum and the Texas Access to Justice Commission are hosting an Inaugural Charity Golf Classic benefitting the Texas Access to Justice Commission. The tournament will be held on Thursday, Nov, 8, 2012 at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort.

The tournament is limited to just 144 players, and there are multiple sponsorship opportunities — at least 67 to be specific, ranging from as low as $200 to be a Hole-Sign Sponsor and as high as $7,500 to be a Presenting Sponsor.

For more information, visit http://www.tgcf.org/attachments/files/3473/2012%20Charity%20Golf%20Tounament-AW_revised.pdf.

Bar Associations Honored with Hankinson Awards

The Texas Access to Justice Commission's Pro Bono Service Awards and Deborah G. Hankinson Access to Justice Awards were presented at the Bar Leaders Conference in Houston on July 14, 2012. These awards honor the local bar associations and Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) affiliates whose attorneys contributed at the highest rates through annual State Bar dues to the Access to Justice (ATJ) Campaign.

Each year, Texas attorneys choose to contribute to the Access to Justice (ATJ) Campaign through their annual State Bar dues statements. All funds generated by the campaign are earmarked for civil legal aid. The donations of Texas lawyers play a vital role in the effort to meet the critical legal needs of poor and low-income Texans in civil matters.

This year's Hankinson awards were presented to:
• Austin Bar Association — Large City Bar Association (This is the ninth year in a row the Austin Bar has received this award.)
• Austin Young Lawyers Association — Large City TYLA affiliate
• Midland County Bar Association — Small City Bar Association
• Midland County Young Lawyers Association — Small City TYLA affiliate

Named for former Supreme Court of Texas Justice Deborah G. Hankinson, an outstanding advocate of access to justice, the awards are meant to encourage competition between local bar associations and TYLA affiliates in the ATJ Campaign.

The Pro Bono Service Award are designed to recognize organizations that have created self-sustaining pro bono projects that motivate lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance to poor Texans.

This year's Pro Bono Service Awards were presented to:
• State Bar Family Law Section — Large Category recipient
• Houston Bar Foundation — Large Category recipient
• El Paso Bar Association — Medium Category recipient

More than 6.1 million Texans currently qualify for civil legal aid. However, due to a lack of resources, only about 20 to 25 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income and poor Texans are being met. To be eligible for civil legal aid, an individual must earn no more than $13,963 a year. For a family of four, the household income cannot exceed $28,813. The Texas Access to Justice Commission works to increase resources for legal aid and encourages the pro bono involvement of Texas lawyers in its efforts to expand access to justice.

Champions of Justice Gala Raises $413,000 for Veterans

The Texas Access to Justice Commission honored the service of veterans throughout the state at the Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans on Tuesday, May 1, at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin. More than $413,000 was raised to help provide civil legal services to low-income Texas veterans.

“The Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans honored the service of the brave men and women who have sacrificed for our country,” said Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison for access to justice issues. “These individuals dedicate their lives to our country, yet many do not receive assistance with civil legal matters, including improper denial of health benefits. With the funds raised at the gala, we are able to continue the fight to improve access to justice for all Texans.”

For more information, please visit www.texasatj.org. 

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas honored with 2012 ABA Justice Award

Last night, April 17, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was honored with a 2012 ABA Justice Award. Sen. Hutchison was honored for her efforts to preserve funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). She was instrumental in ensuring that the LSC budget was cut only 2 percent when others were calling for much deeper cuts. She is pictured here with the President of the ABA William T. Robinson III, ABA Day Chair William C. Hubbard, and members of the Texas delegation to ABA Days.

ABA Honors Betty Balli Torres, Texas Supreme Court

Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation in Austin, has been recognized with the American Bar Association (ABA) Grassroots Advocacy Award. The award, which honors her efforts in securing legal aid funding and ensuring access to justice for low-income Americans, will be presented April 18 during a reception at the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Every day, families go without much-needed protection from abuse, benefits to which they are entitled, and they lose homes because they are unable to access the justice system due to inability to afford a lawyer," Torres said. "As lawyers, we each have a role to play to ensure that everyone has access to our judicial system. That access is not possible without critical funding of legal aid programs that do the day-to-day work and provide the infrastructure and support to thousands of lawyers doing pro bono work in this country."

Torres will receive one of five ABA Grassroots Advocacy Awards. Among the other recipients is the Texas Supreme Court, which is being recognized for its key role in obtaining funding for legal services during the last legislative session.

"The justices of the Supreme Court of Texas deserve special recognition for their outspoken support of legal services. Every community in Texas is a beneficiary of their dedication to equal access. The justices demonstrate yet again their commitment to be the ultimate guardians of our liberty,” said ABA President William T. "Bill" Robinson III.

Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas 60th anniversary celebration

The Texas Access to Justice Commission and Texas Access to Justice Foundation will present the Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award  to Rep. Jim Pitts on Feb. 24, in Waxahachie. Justice Nathan L. Hecht will make the award presentation at 5:30 p.m. during the 60th Anniversary Celebration and Open House of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. Please join us for this event.

What: LANWT Turns 60 Celebration: Waxahachie. Special Guests: Justice Nathan L. Hecht will present the Access to Justice Legislative Hero Award to Representative Jim Pitts. The presentation will begin at 5:30 pm.

Where: 110 E. Main Street, Suite 200, Waxahachie

When: Friday, February 24, 2012 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm

Description: Our journey began 60 years ago, when 11 lawyers decided that legal advice and aid should be available to anyone, regardless of ability to pay. From that vision came Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, the fifth-largest legal services program in the United States. Please join our Chief Executive Officer, staff, attorneys, board members, volunteers and members of the community in celebrating the vision of our founders while learning more about our firm and the work that we do in the Waxahachie and surrounding communities.

Contacts: Jane Fritz, 817-339-5309 or fritzj@lanwt.org.

Click here for more information.

Dallas volunteer attorney program hosts free divorce legal clinic for low-income

The Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP), a joint initiative of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, will hold a free Divorce Legal Clinic for Dallas County residents who meet certain financial guidelines, on Tuesday, January 24, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Belo Mansion (2101 Ross Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201).

Volunteer attorneys will provide free divorce legal assistance for low-income Dallas County residents to assist with their simple uncontested divorces. To qualify for assistance, residents must apply for help and meet certain financial guidelines, including:

  • Must be a Dallas County resident and
  • Must be a legal resident or citizen of the USA and
  • Must have an agreement on property division and a minimal amount of property and
  • Spouse must not contest anything about the divorce and
  • Must be no family violence within the prior two months and
  • Must be able to attend three daytime classes.

The Dallas Bar Association is a professional, voluntary organization of approximately 10,000 Dallas-area attorneys. For more information, go to www.dallasbar.org.

Poverty Law Conference - April 18-20, 2012

This three-day event provides valuable training on poverty law issues affecting low-income and poor Texans.

The conference offers targeted continuing legal education with a specific public interest focus. The conference will feature presentations from some of the most knowledgeable poverty law practitioners and private attorneys in their respective fields.

Get more details at www.texasbar.com.

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Anne Shuttee

It's National Pro Bono Week again! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

Frank MaldonadoLegal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT) would like to highlight the amazing work that Anne Shuttee provides as a volunteer attorney. In addition to being active in the Dallas, Plano, Collin County, and the State Bar Associations, Shuttee gives her time generously to helping low-income Texans with their legal needs. As an active volunteer for nonprofit organizations since junior high, she has shown her dedication to helping people for years. She served on LANWT’s Board of Directors for 6 years and was chair for part of that time. She is a zealous volunteer who takes on numerous cases, and is currently offering her services for pro bono mediations.

Shuttee plays a key role in coordinating corporate pro bono attorneys with Legal Aid, and is active in urging the Collin County Bar Association’s pro bono involvement. As past president of the Collin County Bar Association, she was instrumental in creating the Collin County All Bar Coordinating Committee. This committee encourages attorneys from the different sections to volunteer at clinics, take cases, be mentors, and make presentations. This committee also serves to inform the various Bar Associations about what the others are doing so they can plan activities accordingly. Most recently Shuttee chaired a new committee with the Center for Non-Profit Management. They plan to hold a law forum to serve Non-Profits in Collin County. This initiative involves the efforts of Texas C-Bar and LANWT. She has done so much and keeps doing more - it is impossible to keep up with her contributions.

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Allan DuBois

It's National Pro Bono Week again! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

Allan DuBois has been an instrumental supporter of the Community Justice Program and all of their pro bono efforts, in particular the Veterans Legal Clinics. He was critical in helping to secure grant funding from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to expand and sustain the Veterans Legal Clinics. While he has always been a volunteer and big supporter of pro bono clinics, because he is a veteran himself, Alan has taken a special interest in the veterans’ clinics. He was on the committee that helped to found these clinics and attends every one. He works tirelessly to make sure every client has been served and goes above and beyond to obtain the services for them that they need and/or are entitled to. For example, he recently assisted a veteran with an eviction/housing issue. Along with some law students, Alan went to the veteran’s house and helped him move his belongings out before they were lost forever.

He is revered and respected in the legal community and always seeks to serve others. He is a past president of the San Antonio Bar Association and actively involved in many facets of the State Bar of Texas. He was personally picked by Terry Tottenham to help launch the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative in the San Antonio area and, according to Tottenham, has helped to make the “San Antonio project the premier one in the state.” Tottenham added, “Allan has done an outstanding job and is to be commended for his efforts in serving the veterans of San Antonio.”

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Anita Provo

It's National Pro Bono Week again! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

Anita Provo is an active volunteer attorney with the Jefferson County Bar Association Pro Bono Program. Since the inception of the Jefferson County Pro Bono Program, hundreds of lawyers have donated their time and expertise to low-income individuals and nonprofit organizations. Attorneys from Jefferson, Hardin, Orange, and Liberty counties participate in the program to provide civil legal services to thousands of individuals in the Southeast Texas community who would have otherwise been unable to afford legal services. Provo has multiple cases open at a time, diligently serving the indigent in Southeast Texas. Because of her incredible dedication, she was chosen to be the 2011 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year for donating 109 hours to the program in 2010. She has been a strong supporter of the program for many years, and the Pro Bono Program is grateful to have her.     

Spotlight on pro bono volunteer Frank Maldonado

It’s National Pro Bono Week again! In celebration, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and the State Bar – Legal Services Support Division would like to spotlight a few star pro bono volunteers from across the state.

Frank MaldonadoFrank Maldonado (pictured in the back row and far left) with a group of low-wage construction worker-clients after Frank had helped them recover over $63,000 in wages that their employer had failed to pay over a period of several months.

Maldonado, a volunteer paralegal with the Equal Justice Center, is a retired career army officer, school teacher, and Austin City departmental manager whose illustrious career includes more specifically:

  • Retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Army, where he served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and later commanded various units, including an airfield in Germany;
  • Taught middle school and high school in Austin; and
  • Served as Manager of Operation and Maintenance for the City of Austin Aviation Department, helping to manage construction of Austin Bergstrom International Airport.

In his retirement, Maldonado became interested in civil legal services for the poor, so he completed the Paralegal Studies Program at Austin Community College. During this time, he volunteered extensively with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, where he continues to volunteer weekly in addition to his work at the Equal Justice Center. 

In June 2010, Maldonado joined the Equal Justice Center as a volunteer paralegal intake coordinator. He now works 20 to 30 hours per week as a volunteer paralegal directing EJC’s intake process, and interviews new clients every day, in Spanish and English, before meeting with EJC attorneys in a weekly intake review to analyze and determine how EJC can best handle their claims. He supervises interns and volunteers who assist him in the intake process. He assists EJC attorneys in direct legal representation in active cases. Maldonado comments regularly to the staff at EJC that he “just loves talking to people,” and realizes that it is helpful and satisfying simply to orient people to the legal system and explain their rights and options. However, his work often accomplishes so much more because it is the first step in recovering unpaid wages for the working men and women that EJC serves. Not only does he fulfill a vital professional role at EJC, but he also motivates the rest of the staff with his unwavering enthusiasm, cheerful disposition, and grandfatherly poise and wisdom.

Lone Star Legal Aid offers free veterans law CLE

Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans logoLone Star Legal Aid’s Longview branch office is conducting a day-long CLE for Texas attorneys who would like to assist veterans with their legal issues. The CLE takes place Friday, Aug. 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Institute for Healthy Living, 611 E. Hawkins Pkwy., in Longview. “These are critically tough economic times for everyone and we are working to identify and serve low-income veterans who need important legal help but cannot afford it,” said Dorman Brumbelow, Pro Bono Litigation Coordinator in the Longview office. “Our partnerships with private attorneys are vital to ensuring that more low-income Texans have access to justice.”

The event is free to attorneys who agree to accept at least one civil case on a pro bono basis from Lone Star Legal Aid for a low-income veteran. The program includes an overview of veterans benefits, federal and state protections for active service members, and other issues such as IRS considerations. Attorneys can earn up to 7.5 hours of MCLE credit. For more information or to register, contact Tammy Self or Sheila Timberlake in Lone Star Legal Aid’s Longview office at (903) 758-9123.

Lawyers rockin' for pro bono!

Law Jam 3 is a benefit concert for pro bono legal aid. The concernt is a joint program of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas that benefits the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP).

This event will be held on August 20, 2011 at the Granada Theater in Dallas. Doors will open at 5:30pm with the event beginning at 6pm. Seven bands will be performing: Big Wheel, The Usuals, Black Dirt Tango, The Catdaddies, Blue Collar Crime, The Wrecking Crew, and Texas Rock Association. All of the bands are comprised of Dallas-area lawyers and judges Click here for ticket information.

The mission of DVAP is to increase and enhance pro bono legal services to the poor in Dallas through the recruitment, training, and support of volunteer attorneys.

Texas Legislature issues resolution commending Texas Supreme Court for its access to justice efforts

A resolution was presented to the Texas Supreme Court Monday, June 27, in recognition of their efforts to preserve funding for the state’s legal aid system. Rep. Jerry Madden (Plano), Rep. Will Harnett (Dallas) and Rep. Jim Pitts (Waxahachie) presented the resolution to the Court in the House Chamber. Sen. José Rodríguez (El Paso), Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (McAllen), Sen. Rodney Ellis (Houston), Sen. Steve Ogden (Bryan), Sen. John Carona (Dallas) and Sen. Jeff Wentworth (San Antonio) acknowledged the Court’s efforts on the Senate floor.In part, the resolution reads: “RESOLVED, That the 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas, 1st Called Session, hereby commend the members of the Texas Supreme Court for their actions in support of legal aid services and honor them for their work in promoting access to justice for the state’s most vulnerable citizens; and, be it further RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for the Texas Supreme Court as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives and Senate.”

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison for access to justice issues, was in attendance for the historic proclamations, along with fellow justices from the Court.

"Continued support for basic civil legal services for the poor is a high priority for the Texas Supreme Court,” Justice Hecht said. "With more than 5.7 million Texans qualifying for legal aid, the Supreme Court is proud to have been able to work with the Legislature to ensure access to justice for struggling Texans."

The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources and awareness of legal aid. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.

Texas Supreme Court urges budget item for legal aid for the poor

In an analysis Wednesday responding to a legislative request, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson and Justice Nathan L. Hecht urged a $20 million budget item for Texas legal-aid programs that was omitted in the waning-days budget debate in the regular legislative session.

Without the $20 million, Jefferson and Hecht told state Sen. Royce West, as many as 25,000 low-income Texas residents would be denied basic legal services now provided to 104,000 families - and, they added, that figure could mean more than 75,000 people affected because of the disproportionate number of single-parent households. They estimated the need for legal assistance at 5.7 million people in the state.

To read the full press release, please visit the Texas Supreme Court website.

Access to Justice Commission Gala to benefit veterans Tuesday night

The Texas Access to Justice Commission will host the Champions of Justice for Veterans Gala featuring keynote speaker Col. David W. Sutherland, special assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin.

The gala will celebrate the Texas Access to Justice Commission's 10-year anniversary and raise funds for civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans and their families.

Law Students selected for Texas Access to Justice Commission internships

Texas Access to Justice Commission Logo

Fourteen law students from around the country have been selected to participate in the Access to Justice Summer Internship Program sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Commission, in partnership with six Texas legal aid providers. The program encourages students to help address the civil legal problems of underserved individuals and communities, and to educate future attorneys about those problems.

The Access to Justice Internship Program provides a unique opportunity for law students to participate in an internship with nonprofit providers of civil legal services located in areas without a local law school. The program particularly benefits rural and underserved parts of Texas that receive much needed help in the delivery of legal aid for low-income Texans.

Continue Reading...

ATJ Commission proposes legislative plan to legal aid funding crisis

At a press conference held today at the State Capitol, representatives of the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the Supreme Court of Texas announced four legislative proposals to address the funding crisis in the Texas legal aid system.

To highlight an expected reduction of 51 percent in funding for legal aid — a decline of $23 million — the Commission will propose to the 82nd Legislature:

• To increase state district court filing fees by $10;
• To establish a dedicated Judicial Access and Improvement Fund, which would include a $2 recording fee on all non-judicial filings with a county clerk (exception would be motor vehicle filings) and a $10 court cost at justice courts and municipal courts in misdemeanors;
• To create a Consumer Assistance Fund from payments of restitution arising from consumer protection suits; and
• To include a $95 fee for creditors in the mortgage foreclosure process for property lenders of second and third resort.

"We all know that there are some problems with our budget, but I am going to do whatever I can to make the case that, whatever cuts we have to make, [access to justice] is not an area that we should go back on," said Sen. José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, who authored Senate Bill 726, the Judicial Access and Improvement Fund Act. "If we are going to live up to the promise of [equal justice for all], we are going to have to invest in our legal justice system."

Pictured are State Bar President Terry Tottenham, former Commission Chair James Sales, Commission Chair Harry Reasoner, Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, ATJ Commissioner Dick Tate and Jacqueline Pontello, executive director of Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA), and former AVDA client Crystal B., who spoke about how legal aid services helped her escape an abusive relationship.

Registration is open for the 2011 Poverty Law Conference

This year's Poverty Law Conference will be April 6th-8th, 2011 at the Hilton Downtown Austin. The annual conference is a three-day event that provides valuable training on poverty law issues affecting low-income and poor Texans. The conference offers targeted continuing legal education with a specific public interest focus and will feature presentations from some of the most knowledgeable poverty law practitioners and private attorneys in their respective fields.

For more information and to register online, you may visit www.texasbar.com/plc.

State Bar Board Passes Resolution Supporting Prime Partner Banks

On Jan. 28, during its quarterly meeting in Austin, the State Bar Board of Directors passed a resolution supporting Prime Partner banks. The resolution urges lawyer organizations in Texas to move their business to Prime Partner banks because they voluntarily provide millions in additional funding to legal aid programs in Texas.

Click here for a list of Prime Partner banks. 

After interest rates crashed to nearly zero percent in 2008, Prime Partner banks voluntarily agreed to offer one percent interest on lawyer trust accounts. The interest on those accounts — known as IOLTA (Interest On Lawyer Trust Accounts) — funds legal aid programs throughout Texas. These legal aid programs assist low-income families through domestic violence, housing, disability, and other legal problems.

Continue Reading...

Nominations are open for the 2011 Pro Bono Excellence Awards

Nominations are open for the 2011 Pro Bono Excellence Awards. Each year, the State Bar's Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee gives Pro Bono Excellence Awards, which recognize dedicated members of our legal profession who are committed to providing legal services to the poor in Texas. 

The awards include the W. Frank Newton Award, J. Chrys Dougherty Legal Services Award, Frank J. Scurlock Award, Pro Bono Award, and Pro Bono Coordinator Award. Nominations for the 2011 awards are due on February 25, 2011.

To download the nomination forms, please visit www.texasbar.com/probonoawards.

Talking with the Texas Veterans Commission

We caught up with Tina Carnes, general counsel to the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC), and spoke with her about the Commission’s work with veterans, her own commitment to servicemembers, and what’s next for TVC.

What kind of work does TVC do?

Texas Veterans Commission is an advocacy agency with more than 340 employees in over 75 cities around the state that help Texas veterans receive the benefits they so richly deserve.

The Texas Veterans Commission is nationally recognized for its expertise in helping veterans get the most benefits they are entitled to and the State of Texas leads the nation in monetary recovery of veterans’ compensation. Last year, approximately 2.1 billion was paid in compensation and pension benefits to Texas veterans and eligible surviving family members represented by the Texas Veterans Commission. 

Texas also leads the nation in putting veterans to work. According to recent data provided by the Department of Labor, the Texas Veterans Commission assisted 47,556 veterans enter the workforce in a 12-month period, helping more veterans get jobs than any other state in the country.

The Texas Veterans Commission assists veterans in securing their educational benefits, such as the GI Bill and Hazelwood Exemption, by working with over 1,100 Texas schools and employers.

The Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans’ Assistance awards grants to veteran service organizations, charities, and local government agencies that provide direct assistant to veterans and their families. Since February 2010, the Fund has awarded over $6.7 million in grants.

 

Continue Reading...

Pro Bono Profile: Kara Gehan

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

Kara Gehan has been a faithful volunteer for Catholic Charities Immigration and Legal Services (ILS) since April 2009. “I believe I have a moral obligation to contribute pro bono services to those in our society who are marginalized, but more importantly it is a privilege to be able to serve others in this way,” Ms. Gehan said about her service.

Although Kara’s legal career has been in corporate law, ILS Director Vanna Slaughter says she has been undaunted by even the most novel immigration cases ILS has assigned her. “Kara has literally taken on any and all types of cases that walk in the door.”

Earlier this year, one of those cases that walked in the door was a frantic plea from a mother trying to reconnect with her seven-year-old son after the earthquake in Haiti. After political violence against her in Haiti five years before, the mother had been granted political asylum in the US, and her son had remained in Haiti with his aunt. When the aunt died in the 2010 earthquake, the son was left to live alone on the streets, and his desperate mother sought the help of ILS to bring him to the US. 

As the mother’s pro bono attorney, Ms. Gehan swept into action, contacting officials at the State Department, Homeland Security, and the American Embassy in Port au Prince. Navigating these governmental channels, Ms. Gehan successfully obtained Humanitarian Parole for her client’s son, who joyously reunited with his mother in Dallas.

“The devastation of the earthquake in Haiti was so overwhelming that I felt like any financial contribution I could make would just be a drop in the bucket.,” Ms. Gehan said. “But I knew that my legal skills could dramatically impact this family. Because of the dedication and commitment of the many individuals who support Catholic Charities and its agencies, we were able to effect a magnificent reunification of a family that will forever positively impact the lives of my client and her son.”


Pro Bono Profile: Quanah Parker

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

In 25 years of pro bono service with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT), Quanah Parker has represented low-income clients in every one of the seventeen counties served by the Abilene LANWT branch office. He knows more than most the challenges faced by low-income families in rural areas of Texas. Pro bono service is a lifeline for these Texans who live a long distance from many services.

“Quanah’s commitment to pro bono services and the clients LANWT serves has opened the doors of justice for individuals and families who otherwise could not afford an attorney. He is truly a role model for attorneys interested in doing pro bono work,” said Lupe Elizondo, Pro Bono Coordinator for the Abilene office.

In addition to accepting pro bono referrals, Mr. Parker serves as a mentor and co-counsel on pro bono cases, volunteers at LANWT legal clinics, and participates in CLE seminars for pro bono and legal aid. Lupe Elizondo said that Mr. Parker’s strong commitment to pro bono has made him a reliable partner for LANWT and its low-income clients. “He routinely accepts pro bono referrals and has accepted every pro bono referral by the Abilene pro bono program since 1991,” Elizondo said. 

Pro Bono Profile: Robert Black

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

In addition to a busy solo practice, Robert Black finds time to donate his pro bono services regularly to Volunteer Legal Services (VLS) in Austin. For the past two decades, Mr. Black has led attendance at the twice weekly evening clinics hosted by VLS, and he has also ranked near the highest among volunteers for acceptance of pro bono cases for representation.

“Everyone has an obligation to serve their community,” Mr. Black said. “Only attorneys have the education and the skills to address the legal needs of their community. When I take cases with Volunteer Legal Services, I have the opportunity to help people in need in a way that few others can.”

Mr. Black has used those legal skills to meet the legal needs of many low-income families in Austin. When VLS had a large number of clients in need of Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, Mr. Black decided to become a bankruptcy practitioner solely to serve those clients. Through his outstanding pro bono work with VLS, he has brought relief to many of the people in his community who are going through very difficult financial times. “This is community service that only attorneys can provide, and we should be mindful of that obligation,” he said. 

Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans Legal Clinics

What better way to honor the National Pro Bono Celebration than to volunteer for a pro bono legal advice clinic for veterans? These clinics are at the heart of the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative. Local bar associations and legal aid organizations across the state have answered State Bar President Terry Tottenham’s call to assist veterans who otherwise cannot afford or do not have access to the legal services they need.

In November, to commemorate Veterans Day (Nov. 11), legal advice clinics for veterans are taking place all across the state thanks to the efforts of countless volunteer attorneys who want to give back to those who have given so much to this country.

If you would like to get involved, there are several ways you can participate: Volunteer for a morning or afternoon at a clinic, take a veteran’s case pro bono, serve as a substantive law expert for clinics, or become accredited through the VA to help with veterans’ disability benefits claims.

For a schedule of upcoming clinics or to learn more about Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, visit www.texasbar.com/veterans.

Pro Bono Profile: Lyla Malolepszy

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

Public service has always been a major part of Lyla Malolepszy’s career. Even before she obtained her paralegal degree in 2003, she started volunteering with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT), and every year since then she has continued to contribute enough pro bono service to be a member of the Texas Pro Bono College. Her exemplary service earned Ms. Malolepszy the 2010 Paralegal Division Exceptional Pro Bono Service Award.

Ms. Malolepszy has worked hard to encourage pro bono service from attorneys and paralegals in her community. In addition to assisting on pro bono cases with LANWT, she recruits and trains other volunteers for its pro bono program. While working full time as a paralegal for Donald Johnston in Sherman, she also serves on the Professional Development Committee and Pro Bono Ad Hoc Committee of the Paralegal Division, and she is the Executive Coordinator of the Grayson County Bar Association. As a result of her efforts, many more attorneys and paralegals in Grayson County have volunteered their services after learning how they can help meet the legal needs of low-income families in their community.

“Lyla is the epitome of pro bono service,” wrote Debbie Oaks Guerra. “She inspires everyone around her with her dedication and caring. Her pro bono volunteerism is making a real difference in her community and should serve as an example to others in the profession of what can be achieved when we use our special skills as paralegals for those less fortunate than ourselves.” 

Pro Bono Profile: Michelle Reed

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

At a pro bono opportunities panel in 2006, Michelle Reed was deeply moved by the stories of ProBAR, an organization that provides pro bono legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas. That panel inspired her to volunteer with ProBAR, and since then she has served as the primary attorney on four pro bono cases and has won asylum grants for all of her clients. 

“When I met Meredith Linsky, Director of ProBAR, at the Bar Leaders Conference, she impressed me greatly with what everlasting benefit we can provide to asylum seekers. Since then, each person I have helped has helped me appreciate the safety and freedom of the United States, and each has caused me to renew my promise to always help people who are often at the lowest time in their life. In the end, it is really community lawyering that makes a difference—one case at a time,” Ms Reed said.

Counsel at Akin Gump in Dallas, Ms. Reed contributes her pro bono services because she believes that attorneys are obligated to use their skills and license to serve those less fortunate. Meredith Linsky says that Ms. Reed’s passion is evident to everyone she works with. “She is a highly skilled lawyer who puts in the time and effort to prepare her cases with care and precision. Besides her skill as a lawyer, what makes Ms. Reed special is the genuine kindness and compassion she shows her clients. She is visibly moved by their stories and humbled by their gratitude,” Ms. Linsky said.

Ms. Reed has also supported and inspired the pro bono service of others. At ProBAR, she has served as an attorney mentor to associates on several asylum cases. And although her practice and responsibilities as a mother of three small children keep her very busy, she makes sure to take time for pro bono as an example to her children. “When I started practicing seven years ago, I was so busy with my billable work that I didn’t know how to keep up,” Ms. Reed said. “I decided right then that I would simply always commit to carrying at least one active pro bono matter at all times – a promise I kept even through two maternity leaves. That way, I would always know that my hard work was paying off.”

Guest Post: Dell Inc. GC shares pro bono story

Editor's note: Lawrence Tu originally posted this piece on a blog for Dell lawyers. It is re-published here with his permission in recognition of Celebrate Pro Bono Week.

By Lawrence P. Tu, senior vice president and general counsel of Dell Inc.

I recently had the privilege of joining a group of Dell attorneys who volunteered to help staff a legal clinic run by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, which provides free legal assistance to low-income Central Texans. This is a long-standing program which Dell Legal has supported for over 5 years. The clinic itself operates twice a week, and on the third Wednesday of every month Vinson & Elkins, Dell Legal, and Austin ACC collaborate to provide legal volunteers. It was a sobering and uplifting experiencing, and it made me proud of Dell Legal’s support of this pro bono effort.

The setting was a cafeteria in a middle school located off the highway just north of downtown Austin, over-flowing with dozens of individuals (in some cases couples or entire families) spanning all ages and races. Many had brought documents, pictures, receipts and other files to plead their case. By the time we arrived at 6 PM, each person or group had already filled out a brief in-take form describing why they were there, and these forms were stacked up at the tables at the front of the room staffed by legal aid professionals. The volunteer lawyers go the tables, each is handed a case-form, briefly reviews it, and then calls out the individual’s name; they meet up and then spend as much time as is needed to move the matter forward to the next stage.  We are instructed to conduct an in-depth interview to identify and clarify the client’s issue, and then either help qualifying attendees get their cases referred to Legal Aid or Volunteer Legal Services for formal legal representation, or provide basic advice about next steps for those who do not qualify. A team of professionals from local legal aid organizations is present throughout the evening to advise and guide the volunteers on substantive and procedural questions. As we wrapped up each matter, we would return to the table for another in-take form and start the process with the next “client.” By around 8:30 PM the volunteers had worked through all the stacks of in-take forms and the room had emptied out.

Continue Reading...

Pro Bono Profile: Nancy Hui

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

Nancy Hui has been a very active volunteer with Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) in Houston since she was admitted to the bar in 2004. In the Consumer and Home Protection Units, she has assisted twelve low-income clients through trial preparations and court appearances in complex cases, one of which involved eleven defendants, lasted six years, and ended finally in a favorable settlement for her client. These clients could not have afforded an attorney, and Ms. Hui’s pro bono service allowed them to successfully navigate complicated legal procedures and protect their rights.

Although Ms. Hui’s job in medical research requires long work weeks, she takes advantage of whatever time she can manage to help her pro bono clients. She also tries to find other ways that she can assist LSLA – by translating documents for Chinese-speaking clients, for example. “I believe attorneys belong to a privileged group who are in a position to help those in need. Every day we see those who needed legal help but just could not have access to it due to their financial situation. It is only right for us to do what we can to help them out. It is the right thing to do,” she said. 

Besides pro bono, Ms. Hui’s other passion is her two dogs, and just like her, they are long-time volunteers. The dogs serve as therapy dogs and visit nursing home residents every month – like master, like dog!

Pro Bono Profile: Michael Stukenberg

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

For more than 18 years, Michael Stukenberg has served on the pro bono panel of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) in Corpus Christi. In that time, he has never turned down a request from TRLA to assist a client. He has served many in his community, including non-English speaking clients and a local homeless coalition seeking to obtain articles of incorporation.

It is this continued connection to his community, including individuals and families without much money, that has motivated Mr. Stukenberg in his pro bono service. “I have always felt that it was part of our mission and duty as lawyers to offer our services to the broader community, and I have found the volunteer lawyer program at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid to be a wonderful way to do that,” he says. “I spend most of my professional time helping people who have much pass their wealth on to their heirs in ways that minimize taxes and complications. Our professional rates have gotten so high that we have effectively priced ourselves out of the market for those with less means. Thus I don’t get much of an opportunity to work with the less fortunate except in a volunteer capacity.”

In addition to his individual pro bono service, Mr. Stukenberg has coordinated his law firm’s participation in TRLA’s pro bono program. In this partnership between law firm and legal aid, he sees value for everyone involved. “The clients are always very appreciative and you feel so wonderful that you have been able to help make their life a little easier in some small way.  I also find that I frequently learn something new that I can apply in my practice - so it’s a win-win. It’s a great program and I’m proud and grateful to be a participant.”

Pro Bono Profile: Prof. Larry Spain

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

Larry Spain, Professor of Law at Texas Tech University, has taken hundreds of pro bono cases with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT) since he began volunteering with them in 2001. Speaking of his service, Professor Spain says he believes pro bono is both a professional obligation of every attorney and an absolute necessity for low-income families in need. “For those who are aware of the tremendous unmet need for critical legal services for those individuals unable to afford counsel, every lawyer’s contribution is necessary to realize the ideal of equal access to justice,” he says. Limited resources force legal aid offices in Texas to turn away half of the eligible clients who come to their offices seeking help, and pro bono attorneys are the only ones with the training and license to fill that gap.

At Texas Tech School of Law, Professor Spain serves as the faculty sponsor for three student organizations supporting legal services to low-income Texans: the Student Public Interest Initiative, Volunteer Law Student Association, and Family Law Society. In the evenings, Professor Spain contributes hundreds of hours to legal clinics held monthly by LANWT. And when he’s not providing advice to low-income clients, he’s organizing an annual CLE program by law school faculty for legal aid and pro bono attorneys, serving as chair of the Bar’s Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee, or serving on the Law School Advisory Committee of the Texas Access to Justice Commission.

Through it all, Professor Spain is motivated by the students he teaches: “The satisfaction of impacting the lives of individual clients in a positive and lasting way on a matter which is of utmost importance to them is a reward in and of itself. More importantly, as a faculty member, I hope to serve as a role model to law students of the importance of pro bono service and the ethical obligation they have to contribute their services on a pro bono basis throughout their professional career.”

Pro Bono Profile: Starlett Carter

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

Starlett Carter is a transactional attorney at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, where she represents large institutional clients in mergers and acquisitions. She is also a pro bono attorney with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, where she represents very different clients – low-income families and individuals – in a wide range of legal issues. In pro bono cases and at DVAP legal clinics, she has assisted clients with divorces, adoptions, asylums, wills, contract disputes, and other claims.

Ms. Carter has always been passionate about giving back to those less fortunate and utilizing her law degree to those in her community in legal need. “There is no better feeling than when your pro bono client is on the verge of tears and is hugging you and thanking you for the positive outcome you achieved for him or her,” she says. Two moments in her pro bono service stand out to her: Obtaining asylum for a client that had endured years of abuse in his native country based on his sexual orientation; and successfully completing an adoption for grandparents who desperately needed to get their grandchildren legally adopted for medical reasons.

This year, Ms. Carter has also served as a 2010 Lend-a-Lawyer in the DVAP office. The Lend-a-Lawyer program allows attorneys to practice at DVAP full-time while receiving salary and benefits from their firm. Ms. Carter said her experience as a Lend-a-Lawyer was exceptional. “DVAP is a wonderful place to work and help out those who could not otherwise afford legal assistance. As an attorney in the DVAP office, I got to personally witness how much the DVAP employees can change their clients’ lives for the better. I am truly fortunate that Weil and DVAP afforded me such a wonderful opportunity.”

Pro Bono Profile: Naomi J. Bang

This week is the National Pro Bono Celebration. Each day this week, Texas Bar Blog will feature Texas attorneys who provide pro bono services in their communities. The service of these attorneys, and the hundreds of pro bono attorneys like them in Texas, ensures access to justice for many of the most vulnerable Texans. For a list of Pro Bono Celebration events in your area, click here.

At the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance in Houston, Naomi Bang provides pro bono legal services to some of the most vulnerable clients – unaccompanied immigrant children. These unaccompanied children are victims of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, and without an attorney like Ms. Bang, these children would have to navigate the complicated immigration system alone.

“I believe that every lawyer has a duty to give back to the community with our training and tools,” Ms. Bang says. “For me, I choose to defend the ‘least of these’ – unaccompanied minors, young victims of trafficking, domestic abuse, and gang violence. These children have suffered more than anyone of us will in a lifetime.”

In addition to her pro bono service, Ms. Bang is an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law and a senior attorney at the FosterQuan law firm. At the Immigration Clinic, she supervises law students taking juvenile immigrant cases in family and immigration court.  “These cases are not only rewarding, they are excellent opportunities to use and improve practical litigation skills and become great advocates for the people in our community who need us,” Ms. Bang says. “I am very proud of FosterQuan and South Texas College of Law for their dedication to and support of this worthy cause.”

The enormous impact of Ms. Bang’s pro bono service is perhaps best summarized by one of her child clients who said, “She gave me hope to live a better life in this country. She believed in me.”

Texas Supreme Court Amends Law-Practice Rule for Military Attorneys

In an order posted Thursday, the Supreme Court of Texas amended law-practice rules to allow military attorneys stationed in Texas but licensed elsewhere to represent military service members or their dependents in certain civil matters in state courts or tribunals. 

The new rule, limited to lower-grade military personnel or their immediate family members, takes effect Friday. It allows military attorneys licensed and in good standing in other states, the District of Columbia, or U.S. territories to register with the Texas Board of Legal Examiners. Military attorneys cannot be paid for these cases and must obtain approval from a supervising military attorney before taking a case under the rule. 

 

"This effort is another step by the Court to help people without financial resources find legal help when they might otherwise go without," said Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson. "The common legal problems these military personnel and their families face are beyond the reach of legal aid organizations, which are facing their own financial struggles."

 

State Bar President Terry Tottenham said the Supreme Court's military limited-practice rule "will complement the State Bar's initiative, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, and better enable our service members to receive the necessary legal assistance they deserve and have earned through their sacrifices in defense of our country." 

For more information about the order, click here. Or read the entire order here.

 

Chairman of LSC Board of Directors urges lawyers to observe National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. John G. Levi, Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors, made a statement urging lawyers to join the LSC in observing this month, asking lawyers for their continuing support of local legal aid programs.

His statement explains that domestic violence occurs more often in households facing economic distress. This is especially prominent during our current economic downturn. Levi explains that a third of all cases handled by LSC-funded programs throughout the country involve family law issues, including domestic violence. He says that "at the local level, legal aid programs are partners in efforts to provide comprehensive, coordinated services to assist victims in attaining long-term self-sufficiency and independence from abuse."

Levi states that legal aid lawyers who work throughout the country in the non-profit programs funded by the LSC are "on the front lines in our nation's effort to protect victims of domestic violence and restore them to lives of safety and security." He explains, "Our partners at the national level include the United States Department of Justice, which provides funding to many of our programs through the Violence Against Women Act. Still, the nonprofit programs funded by LSC need far greater resources to adequately address this serious national problem. Access to civil legal aid is vital to our continuing progress to reduce and prevent domestic abuse."

For more information on the Legal Services Corporation and how you can help, please visit the LSC website at http://www.lsc.gov/index.php.

Legal Services Corporation chair comments on poverty data

John G. Levi, chairman to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), posted a statement on the LSC website today regarding the 2009 statistics on poverty released by the Census Bureau. According to the report, more Americans qualify for LSC assistance due to lower incomes than in previous years.

Levi points out that LSC-funded agencies already don't have enough resources to offer assistance to everyone who seeks legal help. He encourages "the national legal community to increase its volunteer pro bono work at LSC programs."

Read the entire statement at the LSC website.

Pro Bono Coordinators Retreat - Sept. 22 -24, 2010

This two-day event provides valuable training on increasing the quantity and quality of legal services available to the poor through pro bono efforts.

This year's retreat will provide excellent training and networking opportunities for anyone responsible for coordinating pro bono efforts for a legal services program or a law firm. Discussion will be focused on how to effectively deliver legal services to low-income Texans.

The deadline to register is Sept. 6, 2010. Get more details including a registration form and agenda.

TexasBarCLE Webcast Offers Veterans Benefits Law Training

As part of the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative, TexasBarCLE is offering a live webcast on the Basics of Veterans Benefits Law. The webcast, scheduled for Tuesday, August 24, from 9 a.m. to noon, is designed to give attorneys who have an interest in representing veteran claimants seeking U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits a primer in this growing area of practice. Attorneys who want to represent a veteran on a VA benefits claim must be accredited by the VA.

For attorneys who are already approved by the VA to represent veteran claimants, this webcast also provides the three hours of CLE necessary to maintain their accreditation. The course will focus on VA disability benefits, the rules regarding attorney representation of a veteran with benefits claims, basic eligibility for VA benefits, claims procedures, etc.

Attorneys who agree to take one VA benefits case pro bono within one year can take the course at no charge. Visit TexasBarCLE.com to learn more or to register.

Trial Tips from Harry Reasoner

The summer edition of News for the Bar, the newsletter of the State Bar Litigation Section, includes trial tips from and an interview with legendary Houston lawyer Harry Reasoner. The longtime Vinson & Elkins partner recently took over as chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission. Among Reasoner's kernels of wisdom:

I think it's very important to learn from the lawyers with whom you work. But never miss an opportunity to learn from your opponents — to think about what you would have done if you were in their place.

For more information about the Litigation Section, click here. For more information about the Access to Justice Commission, click here.

 

Texas Access to Justice Commission to hold Gala for Veterans

The Texas Access to Justice Commission is holding a gala next month to raise funds for the provision of civil legal services for veterans. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation will distribute these funds to programs providing civil legal services for veterans in Texas.

The Champions of Justice Gala for Veterans will be held on May 4, 2010 at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin. Individual tickets are available, and sponsorships to reserve tables are also available at different levels. For more information, to download a packet, or to sponsor or donate online, please visit http://www.texasatj.org/gala.

State Bar seeks outstanding pro bono attorneys

You've probably come across plenty of attorneys in your legal career who are great at what they do. But what about those that stand out from the crowd a bit? You know, the ones who handle a full load, and still have the time, energy, and resources to help those in need. 

And we're sure you've wanted to say "good job" without sounding trite. What better way to honor those who help low-income Texans who cannot afford access to the legal system than to nominate them for a 2010 Pro Bono Excellence Award? Now's your chance to tell us about that attorney who goes above and beyond in the name of justice.

The State Bar Committee on Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters is seeking nominations for the following awards: Pro Bono Coordinator Award, the Frank J. Scurlock Award, the Pro Bono Award, the J. Chrys Dougherty Legal Services Award, and the W. Frank Newton Award.

Nominations must be submitted on award nomination forms. Each attorney nominee must be a member in good standing with the State Bar of Texas. Award nomination forms and supporting materials should be sent to the Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee, c/o Texas Lawyers Care, State Bar of Texas, 1414 Colorado, 4th Fl., Austin 78701-1627 or to tlcmail@texasbar.com.

All nominations must be received by 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 11. A postmark of March 11 will be insufficient. For more information about these awards or for an award nomination form, contact Texas Lawyers Care at tlcmail@texasbar.com or (800)204-2222, ext. 1855 or (512)427-1855.

The 2010 Pro Bono Excellence Awards will be presented at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Fort Worth in June. Award announcements will be made in May, and honorees will be profiled in the July issue of the Texas Bar Journal.

 

Providing access to justice to those who protect our country

The U.S. Armed Forces protect citizens’ rights, including the right to access to justice. The Houston Bar Association and Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program have found a way to ensure that Houston veterans receive access to justice in return.

Approximately 1/3 of Houston veterans are homeless and many more are living on modest means, unable to afford an attorney. Recognizing the severity of this issue, the Houston Bar Association implemented a program to aid our nation’s heroes. Every Friday from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., volunteers from the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program staff a free legal clinic held at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. Any veteran who attends receives a free legal consultation. Many times, questions are basic and the legal need is fulfilled. If by chance a veteran has an ongoing legal issue, the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program determines if the veteran is eligible for free representation and connects qualified veterans with a volunteer attorney.

The attendance at the legal clinics has grown - attorneys are now seeing 30 attorneys a week. As the clinics’ success grew, the Houston Bar has expanded the program to include services at veteran transition homes and other special legal clinics. Houston lawyers agree that the volunteer efforts are very fulfilling and that attorneys are building close bonds with local veterans.

Volunteer attorney Denise Scofield described the relationships, “We know our clients, we receive Christmas cards, announcements about grandchildren, and emails. “

The Houston Bar Association held a training seminar on Friday, November 13 to assist with a statewide initiative. Speakers included volunteer attorneys who have experience siding veterans, Judge Mark Cater who developed the first veterans court  in Texas, and executive staff members of the Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center. The State Bar of Texas will implement a program in June of 2010, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans.

Above: On November 13, State Bar Director Allan DuBois of San Antonio discusses his experience handling a VA disability case.
 

PLI disclosure hearing report: Austin, November 9

The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors held its seventh and final public hearing on whether lawyers should be required to disclose to clients if they carry professional liability insurance. Seven attendees chose to testify publicly — two in favor of requiring disclosure, five opposed to the idea. The Board will vote in January to make a recommendation to the Supreme Court of Texas. The Court sent a letter to the Board asking for its recommendation.

Several State Bar directors participated in the hearing, including Steve Benesh and Randy Howry of Austin; Guy Choate of San Angelo; David Copeland of Midland; and Barbara Young of Temple. State Bar President-elect Terry Tottenham of Austin introduced the meeting. Jonathan Smaby, executive director of the Texas Center for Legal Ethics, moderated. Audio recordings of the seven hearings, as well as background materials, are available at www.texasbar.com/plidisclosure.

Among the points raised during public testimony:

Continue Reading...

Pro Bono Profile: Jim Hunter

 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.

Jim Hunter knows how fortunate he is. As a volunteer with the Cameron County Community Justice Program, he takes on family law cases. A current client is a terminally ill woman whose husband abandoned her and their three children. “When I look at the problems she has, I know that mine pale in comparison,” says Hunter, a partner in Royston Rayzor in the Rio Grande Valley. “As attorneys, we have been blessed with law degrees and great careers — we have a duty to help people.”

Hunter, who practices maritime, commercial and injury litigation, is serving as the 2009–10 president of the Cameron County Bar Association. He says he is using his presidency as a way to get more attorneys in Cameron and Willacy counties on board to do pro bono work. “My mantra this year is to get lawyers to understand how fortunate we are and that we have an obligation not only to our clients and to the public, but to our profession, to improve the perception of lawyers.”

Hunter plugs pro bono wherever he goes and has been successful in recruiting many attorneys to participate in the Community Justice Program. The beauty in the program, he says, lies in the resources offered to volunteer attorneys not familiar with family law. “The nice things about the program is that we have mentors,” he says. “They make it as easy as possible. We have had lawyers who have never taken a family law case and they end up taking more because they have such a wonderful experience in the program.”

Pro Bono Profile: Chris Wrampelmeier of Amarillo

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.

For Amarillo attorney Chris Wrampelmeier, pro bono work is an imperative. “When you’re given certain blessings, it’s incumbent on you to use them wisely and help other people,” he says.

Wrampelmeier is a family lawyer with Underwood, Wilson, Berry, Stein & Johnson, P.C., where he is a shareholder and responsible for guiding the firm’s associates as they begin their careers. To that end he involves associates in a local legal aid clinic that the firm sponsors, where they gain experience outside their regular practice areas. “I have been pleasantly surprised how, to the man and woman, they thoroughly enjoy working at the clinics and are willing to do it again and again,” he related.

Early in his career, Wrampelmeier became active in the State Bar of Texas Family Law Section, serving as a course director, committee member, and now council member. He combines that service with local pro bono work, including legal clinics where attorneys earn CLE credit by agreeing to take pro bono cases. He says he loves family law, even though he once vowed it was the one area of law he would never practice. “What makes is great is that the people who do family are wonderful, both in Amarillo and around the state,” he says.

Throughout his career Wrampelmeier has handled pro bono cases through Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. The organization named him pro bono attorney of the year in 2001 and 2004.

Wrampelmeier says most of his pro bono clients are very grateful, but receiving thanks is not why he does the work. “Deep in all of our hearts we believe everyone should have the same chance, start at the same line, and pull ahead or fall back due to their own skills or faults - not their economic circumstances,” he says. “Sometimes people just need a level playing field.”

 

Pro Bono Profile: Ken Fuller of Dallas

Ken FullerThe 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.

Ken Fuller has been called a “godsend” to the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, and it’s easy to see why. He has devoted at least two days of pro bono services per week through DVAP for the past seven years and has won numerous awards for his efforts, including the State Bar’s Frank J. Scurlock Award and DVAP’s Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year.

The honors are more than justified because Fuller’s contributions run deep. A long-time name partner in Koons, Fuller, Vanden Eykel & Robertson, P.C., Fuller has drawn on his years of family law expertise to become a trusted and invaluable mentor to DVAP’s volunteer and staff attorneys. In 2002, he stepped in as a mentor when the program’s mentor staff attorney resigned, then continued to volunteer in various capacities after a full-time mentoring attorney was hired. DVAP staff members have found that attorneys seem more eager to volunteer when they know Fuller will be on hand to help.

Fuller, who has been board certified in family law since 1975, also works with DVAP’s pro se program, which provides classes for low-income persons to learn how to represent themselves in simple family law matters. He has contributed to the written instructions and has helped update the program’s pleadings. In addition, he assists in training volunteer attorneys through various classes offered through DVAP and does not hesitate to refer pro bono cases, especially more difficult ones, to his colleagues. 

 

Pro Bono Profile: Ernesto J. Dominguez

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.” 

Pro Bono Profile: Jeffrey H. Kilgore of Galveston

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.

As Texans living along the Gulf Coast can attest, hurricanes teach resourcefulness. For Galveston lawyer Jeff Kilgore, who was president of the Galveston County Bar Association when Hurricane Ike devastated the island, hurricanes can also impart lessons on how to resolve seemingly intractable legal disputes.

Kilgore, who has been practicing law for 35 years, is passionate about access to justice. He was instrumental in establishing the Galveston County Bar Association’s pro bono program and seeks constantly to persuade other lawyers to accept pro bono cases.

Kilgore is also passionate about mediation. A credentialed distinguished mediator, he has served multiple terms as president of the Mediators’ Association of Galveston County, is the current chair of the board of Galveston Mediation Services, and has been an officer of the State Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution Section.

When Hurricane Ike left Kilgore without an office, he made the most of the situation. Even though the hurricane had wreaked havoc on residents’ lives, he and other Galveston lawyers committed themselves to ensuring that residents’ legal needs were as unimpeded as possible. Kilgore spent countless hours coordinating with Lone Star Legal Aid, FEMA, and Galveston County Bar Association members to bring as much normalcy as possible.

He arranged to meet clients in coffee shops or gas stations that had withstood the storm. Out of necessity, he even volunteered to conduct a mediation in his car. While Kilgore’s generosity may be larger than life, his car is a Mini Cooper. When he pointed in the direction of his Mini, the two parties, who had been at each other’s throats, asked for a few moments alone. They quickly settled.

The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors recently passed a resolution honoring Kilgore for his tireless work on behalf of Galveston’s lawyers and residents following Hurricane Ike.  With humility and grace, he accepted it on behalf of all of Galveston’s lawyers.

 

Pro Bono Profile - Lan Nguyen of Houston

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.

Volunteerism is a family tradition, says Lan Nguyen. “Our parents serve, we serve, and our children will continue to serve since for each of us, a skill was endowed with an expressed obligation to serve.” For instance, shares Nguyen, her sons speak, read, and write five languages and can be found volunteering regularly as translators at several legal clinic workshops sponsored by the Houston Volunteers Lawyers Programs (HVLP).

Nguyen is committed to giving back to a community that gave so much to her family when they first arrived in the U.S. in 1975. “We immigrated to Fairhope, Alabama [from Vietnam] and people were generous with their attitudes and welcome,” says Nguyen, “that was enough to smooth our assimilation process and made that difficult period of our lives easier to handle.”

Many of Nguyen’s cases are handled with the HVLP, however she also handles cases for various local churches, temples and other non-profit groups.

Nguyen is also involved with the Vietnamese LegalLine which she founded in 2001 to help the public get simple legal advice and referrals to helpful resources. The program was established, says Nguyen, because although “Vietnamese immigrants have successfully assimilated into the general community, there are individuals who continue to struggle along the edges of the mainstream community because of the language or cultural barriers.”

Nguyen adds, “To this group of individuals the Vietnamese LegalLine was designed to assist, but to our pleasant delight we have reached more and more individuals even though they were not the ‘intended’ audience.”

Of her pro bono work, Nguyen says, “There are a lot of resources and help available when you are undertaking a pro bono case. Yes, it takes a little time, but the friendships that you make, the goodwill that you create, and the synergy that you contribute will last a lifetime. The returns are priceless.”

Pro Bono Profile: Jeffrey Stocks of Houston

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.

Jeffrey Stocks was reading an article about the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) in the October 2006 Texas Bar Journal and saw a list of upcoming training sessions. One was in Houston at the South Texas College of Law that December. He decided to attend. The next year, he took his first case for ProBAR, an asylum case involving a boy from Guatemala named Darwin (pictured with Stocks). Stocks won the case, earning the boy the opportunity to start anew in the United States.

Since then, Stocks has represented eight unaccompanied children in their asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile status cases (he’s working on cases seven and eight now). In doing so, he’s had to learn about the intricacies of immigration law and working with clients who have come from situations of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, and abandonment.

“These are all unaccompanied minors,” said Stocks, who is a graduate of South Texas College of Law and CEO and owner of Gen-Tech Construction in Houston. “Many do not have family here or any family at all. It takes a lot of gumption for these kids to leave their country at age 15 and come here.”

To handle ProBAR cases, he commutes to the Rio Grande Valley, where children who have made their way from Central and South America are detained at the border. “There is such a need for volunteer attorneys down there. It’s a more remote location, so they don’t have as many resources,” Stocks said.

The cases can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete, but the benefits more than make up for the long hours or commute time. “It’s very rewarding. I stay in touch with every one of [the children] and encourage them to pursue an education. Three from more recent cases were placed in long-term foster care here in Houston, so I get to see them more often.

“The older I get, the more this kind of work is so important to me. This is very compelling to me. This makes a difference. I’m happy to do it.”

Pro Bono Profile: Mandy Childs

The National Pro Bono Celebration is Oct. 25 to 31, 2009. Each weekday in October, the 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.

When Mandy Childs was interviewing for an associate position at Jones Day, she wanted to get one thing straight. “I was looking for law firms that honored pro bono work,” Childs says. “One of the first questions I asked was, ‘What kind of pro bono initiatives do you have?’ ” Childs found her dream firm in Jones Day, which she says supports and encourages pro bono work. Jones Day, she says, treats all pro bono cases just as paid cases.

In fact, last year Childs was the firm’s first attorney to participate in the Lend-A-Lawyer program with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, an experience she calls amazing. For three months, the firm “loaned” her to DVAP full-time while she still received her Jones Day salary and benefits. Her time in the program brought her the most rewarding case of her career: helping a mother reunite with her kidnapped son. She was so moved by the experience that she was compelled to help found her firm’s Associate Pro Bono Committee, which pairs associates with partners, to help DVAP staff emergency pro bono cases. “(Jones Day) was immediately on board to take these on,” she says.

Childs, who received her J.D. from Southern Methodist University, co-chairs the 2009–10 Ask-A-Lawyer Committee of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. Childs also volunteers as a crisis counselor at the Suicide and Crisis Center of Dallas. “I kind of feel I’m at my best when I’m helping someone who is in crisis,” Child says. “I feel like that is where I shine the most.”

Pro Bono Profile: Sharon Steckler of Rosenberg

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.

For family lawyers, “attorney and counselor” requires an emphasis on “counselor,” a role that Sharon Steckler relishes. In her pro bono work this often means giving clients the sense that they deserve better than an abusive relationship.

“Some of them are so beaten down by the abuse that they have no self esteem, so you try to raise them up,” said Steckler.

Steckler recently closed her private practice but is far from retired in any sense. She is an active volunteer with Fort Bend Lawyers Care (FBLC), where she serves as treasurer, answers calls on its LegalLine, and works at the Women’s Legal Forum to counsel battered women on their legal issues and rights.

Steckler also handles complex pro bono cases for FBLC. One of the most rewarding, she recalls, involved a young Nigerian woman whose abusive husband withheld support for her immigration to the United States as a way of controlling her. With Steckler’s help the woman was able to live on her own. The woman’s mother was so appreciative that she made Steckler a Nigerian tribal dress. “I truly treasure that,” said Steckler.

The return she receives from pro bono work is more often not material, but just as gratifying. “The best feeling, particularly with cases that involve spousal or child abuse, is having truly helped someone who without your efforts would be facing a very unfortunate situation,” she said.

Steckler’s outlet from the difficult issues of family law is serving as a judge in dog shows around the country and the world – she was recently invited to judge a show in Australia in 2011. She judges boxers and Doberman pinschers in junior showmanship and serves as treasurer of the American Boxer Club and legal counsel to the American Boxer Charitable Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to researching health issues affecting boxers. “It’s fun,” says Steckler. “A real change of pace.”

Pro Bono Profile: David E. Grove of Beaumont

David E. GroveThe 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.

For Beaumont sole practitioner David E. Grove, pro bono work makes up an important part of his practice. He’s volunteered with the Jefferson County Bar Association Foundation’s Pro Bono Program for more than nine years, and this year, the foundation recognized his efforts by presenting him with the Mickey Mehaffy Pro Bono Attorney of the Year award.

His practice focuses mainly on criminal defense along with some family law and mediation work. He usually maintains four to five pro bono cases at a time and sees the work as an opportunity to expand his legal knowledge into new areas as the need arises, just as he did when he first started taking family law pro bono cases.

“Before I was doing more family law [in his practice], pro bono cases gave me a way to do things I hadn’t done before,” Grove said.

Balancing his regular caseload with the pro bono work can be a challenge but Grove seems to take it in stride. “It’s definitely something you have to try to work around,” he said, adding that pro bono cases are like everything else. “Some cases take longer to get through. You just have to balance it.”

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Grove and other Jefferson County-area attorneys focused on helping people affected by the natural disasters. The hurricanes provided particular challenges to completing cases, though, due to people being dislocated because of the storms. “It can make it difficult to finalize a case if you can’t find the person.” But the storms also provided opportunities to help in unexpected ways. “We found out that many disaster first responders in our area didn’t have wills, so we had several lawyers doing wills for them.”

It’s this chance to give back to the community that means so much to Grove. “A lot of times the only things people hear about lawyers are the bad things, but there are many things lawyers do to give back to the community. With pro bono work, we just have to keep doing it. The more people you can get involved, the better it’s going to be.”

 

 

Pro Bono Profile: L. Clifford Davis of Fort Worth

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.

In 1949, when L. Clifford Davis started practicing law, the minimum wage was $0.40 an hour. For much of Davis’ career, his hourly rate has been even lower.

Davis, 84, has had a storied legal career. As a young lawyer, he worked with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Putting into practice what he learned from the future Supreme Court justice, Davis was integral to the integration of the Mansfield and Fort Worth independent school districts. For two decades, he was a district judge on the Tarrant County bench. Among the honors and awards that have sought to pay tribute to Davis' accomplishments is the L. Clifford Davis Elementary School in Fort Worth.

Today, Davis, who serves of counsel to Johnson, Vaughn & Heiskell in Fort Worth, continues to help those in need. He volunteers with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and the NAACP Justice Project and assists old friends when they need a hand.

“I’ve known a lot of people around here for a long time,” he said. "If I can help them out, I help them out. If they can pay something, that’s good. If not, I’ll do it anyway.”

Davis tries to minimize work that may land him in court. "At my age, I don't want to take on any lengthy litigation because I always want my work to be up to my standards," he said.

Where does he find motivation? “The community has been good to me,” Davis said. “I've been able to make a living and I’ve been supported for public office. I’m basically trying to give back.”

Surveying the legal landscape, Davis is pleased with how the commitment to pro bono work has evolved. “Pro bono has become a much more acceptable part of the practice of law, especially at large law firms. Almost every lawyer at some point will do some kind of pro bono work. It’s a great idea and a great service.”

After 60 years as a lawyer, Davis has no plans to let up. “I have a little saying: 'Never stop because it’s hard to get started.' " 

 

 

Sign Up Fund has an extra $6K for sign-language costs

For the past two years, the Disability Issues Committee of the State Bar of Texas has sponsored the Sign Up Fund, which helps attorneys, nonprofits, and bar associations cover sign-language interpreting costs incurred while representing individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Texas Bar Foundation provided monies for the fund, which started with $20,000. According to committee chair Rosa E. Torres, the fund ended this summer but still has $6,000 to disburse. If you could use this funding, please click here for details and contact information.

Pro Bono Profile - Ryan Solis of McAllen

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.

Once a week, Ryan Solis travels from McAllen to Raymondville to a small office he set up to do pro bono work and meets with as many people as he can in one evening. The cases typically deal with civil litigation, personal injury, commercial disputes and more recently divorce. Solis offers services in Spanish and says that about a third of his cases are with Spanish speaking clients.

Originally from Raymondville, Solis chooses to do pro bono work for residents of Willacy County because growing up there he knew families and friends who lacked the means by which to obtain legal aid. “I saw first hand the urgency and also the lack of resources for legal assistance,” said Solis.

Solis finds it rewarding to help people who are not familiar with the legal system and help put things in perspective for them. There are times when Solis sees a client on more than one occasion. “The people I help may need assistance with a will and then return because they need help with a real estate matter,” said Solis.

When asked what motivates him to do pro bono work Solis said, “It may sound cliché but it’s rewarding in and of itself. I enjoy helping people.” People, he says, who would otherwise not have access to legal aid.

Solis makes his home in McAllen but has a private law practice, Law Office of Ryan C. Solis, in Edinburg. He established his law practice almost a year after graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 2005.

Outside of his practice and pro bono work, Solis is involved with Friends for Hope which is an organization in the upper Rio Grande Valley that raises funds for the Vannie E. Cook Cancer Clinic. He also enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his wife, Rebecca, also an attorney, his sons Tyler, 10 and Asa, 4 and daughter Helena, 20 months. One of his outdoor activities is coaching Asa’s soccer team. “I’m enjoying that very much,” says Solis of his coaching duties, “even though there are times when the boys are interested in everything but what’s going on in the game.”

Pro Bono Profile: Judge Migdalia Lopez of Brownsville

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.

Judge Migdalia Lopez of the 197th District Court of  Cameron County has done pro bono work since she began practicing law. Lopez, who has a masters in social work, says the need is always there so it is part of her everyday routine. She was appointed to the Texas Access to Justice Commission (TATJC) from 2004-2007 because of her pro bono work.

Helping children is Judge Lopez’s passion. She is a past chair of the Juvenile Dept. in Cameron County and a former member of the school board. The Governor’s Office recently appointed her to a term on the Juvenile Probation Commission. Lopez believes that more resources should go toward helping juveniles, and that to prevent crime, the starting point is in helping them. Lopez related that she once took three juveniles with her to Corpus Christi to participate in a triathlon, so that they could see that they could accomplish something and be proud of the work they did – and they were.
 
Judge Lopez related that the local legal community is committed to those in need. She often asks local bar associations and individual attorneys for help with pro bono cases, and always gets a great response. She also hears a lot of foreclosure cases, and asks attorneys to help out in cases where she sees a real need.

Lopez is one of the judges for the Cameron County pro bono divorce clinic. They just started their first clinic in Willacy County recently, and she is the only judge for that clinic. The clinics in Willacy are held every third month, and they have 10 to 15 cases every clinic. She says there is a “great need” for pro bono there, and the clinic makes the handling of the cases more efficient.

Pro Bono Profile: Jeff Actkinson of Farwell

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.

Jeff Actkinson
had no idea he would return to his hometown to practice law. But as soon as he joined Aldridge, Aycock, Actkinson & Rutter, L.L.P., he knew exactly what was expected of him — to represent the legal needs of anyone who walked through the door.

Farwell (pop. 1,364) is an agricultural community on the Texas-New Mexico border.  It is equidistant from the Plainview and Amarillo offices of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, each of which is 80 miles away. “We take everything they send us,” Actkinson said.

The firm’s commitment to pro bono started with the brothers who founded the firm 70 years ago. It became further ingrained under the leadership of Actkinson’s father, Johnny, and Charles Aycock, a former president of the State Bar of Texas.

For Jeff Actkinson, the firm’s youngest partner, accepting pro bono and reduced-fee cases has always been a way of life. Asked to name his most memorable pro bono case, Actkinson paused. “They’re all people who need help and they all need the same amount of help,” he said.

In January, Actkinson began serving as Parmer County Attorney, a position Aycock once held, in addition to his general practice, which consists primarily of real estate, personal injury, and agricultural law. 

Actkinson attended Texas Tech University for both undergraduate and law school. When he sat down with his father to discuss the offers he had received, his father asked if he had considered his firm and if he’d be interested in talking with the partners.

“Dad certainly didn’t put any pressure on me,” Actkinson said. “I didn’t even know it was an option.” Actkinson and his wife, Robbie, who also grew up in Farwell, considered what life would be like in the big city. “Coming home is absolutely the best thing we could have done,” he said.

Texas Legal Community Loses Legend, Emily C. Jones

Emily C. Jones, former director of Texas Lawyers Care, the State Bar’s legal services/pro bono support, and former director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, passed away early this morning after a five-year battle with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Known as a feisty and strong-spirited advocate for access to justice initiatives in Texas, Emily committed her entire career to helping low-income Texans gain access to legal assistance. More than that, Emily led by example — even while facing personal health obstacles — inspiring other Texas attorneys to do pro bono work.

Emily began her career as a legal aid attorney, working with East Texas Legal Services right out of law school. She later went into private practice as a civil rights attorney. Emily left law for a while, teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. She joined the State Bar in 1996 as a program attorney with Texas Lawyers Care and became the second executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, which was created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 2001. In addition to her duties as director of the Commission and Texas Lawyers Care, Emily continued taking pro bono cases. She retired as director of Texas Lawyers Care in May 2008 and as director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission in December 2008 due to health reasons. In May, the Texas Access to Justice Commission honored Emily with the inaugural Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award for her work. The award recognizes an outstanding individual whose extraodinary spirit — like Emily's — and demonstrated commitment to legal services has improved society and inspired others. 

Plans for Emily’s memorial service are pending.

UPDATE: A memorial gathering for Emily will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22 at the Texas AFL-CIO building (1106 Lavaca St. in Austin, near the corner of Lavaca and 11th streets). For more information, visit Emily's Caring Bridge website at www.caringbridge.org/visit/emilyjones/journal.

Texas Access to Justice Foundation's 25th Anniversary Gala

Jim Sales Presenting Emily Jones with the Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award

Jim Sales Presenting Emily Jones with the Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award

 

What cause can gather some of the most successful lawyers in the state, all of the members of the Supreme Court of Texas, and dozens of judges, elected officials, and past presidents of the State Bar of Texas in the same room at the same time? Legal services to the poor!

Last night, I attended the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Gala. The evening was magical, not because of the fancy dinner, keynote speaker Jeffrey Toobin, or the preparation that enabled a flawless event. The evening was magical because of the presence of the true champions of Texas’ legal community - those who tirelessly give their energy, time, and resources to provide access to justice for low-income Texans. Most important, the event raised more than $300,000 for civil legal services to the poor.

When you work at the State Bar of Texas, you quickly learn that one of the most respected volunteers is James B. Sales of Houston. Everyone refers to Jim Sales as Mr. Sales, because his military background coupled with his strong presence, command ultimate respect. He is widely admired for his tireless service to the Access to Justice Commission, which he served as chair from 2004 to 2009. Mr. Sales received the 2009 Harold F. Kleinman Award, an award named after the first Access to Justice Foundation chairman and established to confer prestige and honor upon leaders who advocate for access to justice. A well-deserved recipient indeed! Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson shared an anecdote from the Court. When the Court approached Mr. Sales to be Chair of the Access to Justice Commission, he looked every justice in the eye and asked for their commitment before he would agree to take the position. Every justice looked Mr. Sales back in the eye and said, “Yes, sir.” Since 2004, Mr. Sales has encouraged Texas lawyers to “put their boots on the ground” to fight for access to justice. He has increased funding, recruited numerous volunteers, and put into place a solid infrastructure that will continue to grow in years to come.

Emily Jones, the first executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, is known for her strong spirit, feisty personality, and her ability to be a strong advocate for access to justice initiatives. No one is a better advocate than Emily, for she knows the facts, the cause is instilled in her heart, she is smart, and her actions speak louder than her words. As Mr. Sales honored Emily with the inaugural Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award, he shared examples of Emily taking on pro bono cases despite personal health obstacles that would have prohibited most from doing so. There were few dry eyes in the room as Emily accepted her namesake award, which will be used to recognize lawyers like her who have an extraordinary spirit, have demonstrated a strong commitment to legal services in Texas, and have inspired others. (Side note: Even after working with Jim Sales every day for years, Emily still refers to her friend as Mr. Sales.) 

Three Texas attorneys were recognized for their significant contribution to the Cy Pres Awards Campaign. The cy pres awards are residual funds from class action settlements that were not claimed by class members, so responsible attorneys donate the funds to bolster legal services to the poor. Jeff Rasansky of Dallas, Michael E. Smith of Marshall, and Jeremi K. Young of Amarillo donated $230,160 of residual funds from a federal case to the Access to Justice Foundation. This was the first major donation to the fund. 

The heroes mentioned in this post have truly made a difference in the lives of low-income Texans, but much remains to be done. Consider the following statistics: 

  • Today, 5.1 million Texans qualify for legal aid.
  • There is one legal aid lawyer for every 11,512 Texans who qualify for legal aid.
  • Legal aid turns away half of all qualified clients due to lack of resources.

Hopefully these facts will encourage you to put your boots on the ground!

Texas Access to Justice Foundation 25th Anniversary

The Texas Access to Justice Commission will host a 25th Anniversary Gala benefiting the Texas Access to Justice Foundation on Wednesday, May 27, at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin. The gala celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, which funds legal aid programs throughout the state.

The evening will include CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin as the keynote speaker and Austin's own Marcia Ball as featured entertainment. Guests will enjoy a cocktail reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:15 p.m. Click here to read more details.

PLS Honors Legal Aid Attorneys

The State Bar Poverty Law Section honored five attorneys at its annual conference, which concludes today. The section awarded its Noble Award for Lifetime Achievements in Poverty to Texas Legal Services Center attorney Randall D. Chapman, which was presented by Texas Access to Justice Commission Chair Jim Sales. Sales lauded Chapman for his work in the Texas Legislature and his work on behalf of poor Texans.

Impact Awards, which honor Texas attorneys or poverty law professionals for a significant poverty law case, were given to Kevin Paul Dietz of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, John W. Kennedy of Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, attorney and Texas Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin), and Susanne C. Seré of Lone Star Legal Aid. Dietz and Kennedy were honored for their work representing families of the Yearning to Zion Ranch in the FLDS case last year. Seré was championed for her efforts to help those affected by Hurricane Ike obtain housing. Naishtat was awarded for his work in the Texas Legislature on behalf of poor Texans.

Legal aid attorneys from around the state who attended the conference received presentations on such subjects as dealing with ethical dilemmas in everyday practice, debt collection, and assisting identity theft victims. The conference featured speakers Gerald McIntyre, a directing attorney at the National Senior Citizen Law Center in California, and Houston attorney Rich Tomlinson.

Rutgers Law spring breakers help the poor in Austin

A group of New Jersey students spent their spring break not at the beach, but in Austin helping Texas RioGrande Legal Aid provide legal services to the poor .

The trip was funded by the Association for Public Interest Law at Rutgers-Camden School of Law, which sends students on a legal services spring break trip every year. The bill for this years' trip was about $20,000, raised through a series of fundraisers at the school.

The students left Austin this afternoon after completing 10 projects planned for them by TRLA volunteer coordinator April Kubik on cases involving home foreclosures, child custody, and more. "It was great having them in our office," said TRLA communications director Cynthia Martinez. "They were here today at 8:00 a.m. to be sure they had everything done."

New digs for TRLA

On March 5, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) will mark the completion of renovations to its Edinburg office with a special grand-reopening and dedication ceremony.

Originally built in 1980, the office was in serious need of an update. Over the last year the project doubled the work area for TRLA staff (pictured here in the new building), replaced the plumbing, and created a new waiting area for clients.

"To say that this has boosted morale among staff would be a big understatement," related TRLA communications director Cynthia Martinez.

The office, which serves more than 1,800 low-income residents of the Rio Grande Valley each year, will be dedicated to the memory of John E. Cook, a former TRLA employee and long-time champion of legal rights for the poor.

Read TRLA's press release