From Sept. 3-5, 2014, approximately 43 attorneys from across the state met in Austin at the Texas Law Center to receive training and share ideas as part of the annual Pro Bono Coordinators Retreat, put on by the Legal Access Division of the State Bar of Texas.
The retreat aimed to give the attendees—who are responsible for coordinating pro bono efforts for their firms, corporate legal departments, legal aid groups, and local bar associations—the interpersonal and leadership skills they need to work effectively and efficiently with clients and volunteers. Coordinators learned about innovative pro bono models, fundraising strategies, and policy trends that are being used around the state and country. They also brainstormed tried-and-true as well as new strategies and planned events, such as the American Bar Association’s pro bono celebration, taking place Oct. 19-25, 2014, in various locations nationwide.
According to Cathryn Ibarra, a program attorney for the Legal Access Division, nearly 5.8 million people in Texas qualify for legal aid but legal aid organizations are able to help only about 100,000 of them—or 20 percent—each year. “Legal aid has only one lawyer for about 11,000 Texans who qualify,” said Ibarra. “When you compare that to the fact that there is one private lawyer for every 400 Texans, it’s a pretty stark picture. Participation in pro bono programs is a critical part of the delivery of civil legal services. These coordinators play a vital role in this process.”
Ibarra said that highlights from this year included a pro bono “Jeopardy” game, a session on fundraising presented by award-winning grant writer Amy Price of Bat Conservation International, and a screening of American Winter, an HBO documentary film about eight families experiencing unemployment and struggling to get by before receiving help from a social services nonprofit.
For more information on volunteering as a pro bono attorney, go to texasbar.com/legalaccessdivision.