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

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 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.

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.

Pro Bono Coordinators Retreat - Sept. 7-9, 2011

The Pro Bono Coordinators 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 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 will be held Sept. 7th - 9th, 2011 at the Texas Law Center in Austin.

This year's retreat room block is at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel - Austin University. The room block discount closes August 19th. The deadline to register for the retreat is August 24th. Download the registration form and agenda (both are in pdf format).

New grant will expand legal help for Texas veterans

The Texas Veterans Commission today announced the recipients of more than $2 million in grants for veterans' assistance.

Among the awards is a $95,000 grant to the Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) for the purpose of expanding its Veterans Legal Hotline for Texas veterans who do not have access to civil legal services. According to TLSC's Randall Chapman, the grant will allow it to increase hotline hours and hire additional staff to help provide the service.

Legal services provided to veterans primarily address issues relating to family, employment, housing, consumer, probate, and access to health care and benefits.

For details on State Bar of Texas efforts to provide legal help to Texas veterans, see Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans.

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.

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.

In my case I teamed up with another volunteer and we dealt with cases as varied as a woman living in a rat-infested apartment looking for help to deal with an unresponsive landlord; a long-divorced woman facing eviction and whose car was about to be repossessed by creditors, who wanted to find a way to force her ex-husband to provide her with a replacement car because years ago while they were married he had totaled another car of hers; an unmarried young mother who wanted to surrender visitation rights to her son (who was living with her ex-boyfriend) on the mistaken belief that she would thereby automatically be relieved of her child support obligations (how she became saddled with court-ordered child support obligations when she was unemployed and raising three children on her own on food stamps remained a mystery); and a destitute unmarried couple looking for ways to enforce a divorce decree against the man’s ex-wife (whose whereabouts were unknown) in order to collect the divorce settlements payments she promised to make but never did.

We found that much of our time was spent trying to understand their situation. Frequently what they told us didn’t fit together, or didn’t match the documents they had with them, and it took time and patience to unravel their stories. In some cases we needed translators because they didn’t speak English. Most of these cases were heartbreaking because they involve individuals with few resources, who are living on the edge, and who have little or no understanding of the legal system which had burdened their lives or which they hoped could dramatically improve their prospects. Many of the conversations ended up focused on long-ago grievances and wrongs which could not be fixed, and frequently we discovered uninformed mistakes they made earlier in the legal process which left them with little or no recourse. As each story emerged many of us would think to ourselves: if only they had come in and gotten advice before X, Y or Z happened, we could have done something more for them.

Still, in some cases we were able to refer them to formal legal representation, and in other cases we provided them with self-help information – such as small-claims court forms and a list of help-line phone numbers – to enable them to take the matters forward on their own. Where the situation was without hope, we would honestly but diplomatically inform them that they were likely at the end of the road on that issue, and should consider moving on with their lives and leaving that in the past.

Despite their troubles and predicaments, almost all we met carried themselves with remarkable grace and composure and, regardless of the outcome or advice they received, they seemed genuinely appreciative of the time and effort we gave them and thanked us repeatedly for listening to their problems. We were later told by the legal aid lawyers that for many individuals, just the fact that someone took the time to listen seriously and respectfully to them was valuable in itself, and also because in some cases it helped them reach closure on problems that had no solutions. I also came away deeply impressed by the legal aid professionals, who brought to their jobs a mix of technical and legal skills, deep empathy, and pragmatic realism. Even with that, I imagine that their jobs must be physically and emotionally draining.

I want to thank all of my colleagues in-house and at law firms who have found the time to participate in activities such as these. For those of you who haven’t had the chance yet, I would encourage you to sign up and try it out – you will be surprised by how much you get out of it.
 

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.

Random Profile - Viki Martino, Beeville

For Random Profiles, we randomly pick one of our 80,000-plus attorneys, call them, and do a Q&A. We've found that every Texas lawyer has an interesting story. Will yours be next?

Family: Son, Travis and daughter, Chelsea.

Areas of practice: criminal, juvenile, misdemeanor, criminal.

Best thing about being a lawyer: The opportunity to help people.

Bet you didn't know: I help my daughter raise goats for show!

Most important career lesson: document everything.

Part of my job I do best: defending motions to revoke.

Biggest challenge facing attorneys today: for criminal defense lawyers, the zero tolerance society  holds for criminals, especially juveniles, that doesn't allow for forgiveness even though they've paid their dues.

Pet Peeve: A client who believes, that because my services are free, I am not a good lawyer.

When not practicing law what do you like to do: I coach a club volleyball team, help my daughter raise goats for show, and I enjoy photography.

Favorite saying: "Life is too short to be lived in fear," and also "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal  or greater benefit."

Favorite movie: To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you weren't an attorney, what profession do you think you'd be in? Teaching.

What was the turning point that made you decide to become an attorney? I was teaching at the time and would talk about how I wanted to go to law school. Some of the people I told would tell me that teaching was a good job with a good summer schedule. But one day someone said to me, "well then why don't you?" It sounds cliche but I thought to myself, "why don't I?" It was what I wanted to do and at that moment I decided I would.

Viki Martino works for the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid office in Bee County.

You can also view Viki's TexasBar.com profile.


Prizes

It's not every day that you're randomly picked from among 80,000 peers. To commemorate, randomly-profiled attorneys receive a TexasBar.com t-shirt and a law firm link.

Update Your Online Profile

Have you updated your attorney profile lately? Go to MyBarPage on TexasBar.com, log in, and click "Update My Profile."

Once on your MyBarPage on TexasBar.com under the "Update My Profile" section, click "Edit" under "My Directory Options" to add your photo for free. While you're there, consider adding a law firm link too. This is a hyperlink from your profile in our Find-a-Lawyer directory to your own law firm website. At only $50/yr, law firm links are a great way to drive traffic to your site.

Opinions and statements expressed in these profiles are those of their subjects - not the State Bar of Texas.

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!