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 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.

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. 

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.

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.
 

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.”