Pro bono efforts are always important to members of the State Bar of Texas but this week even more so.
That’s because it’s Celebrate Pro Bono Week—a national event October 23-29— that aims to underscore the importance of pro bono and showcase efforts by attorneys across the country. This year, the celebration also highlights helping veterans specifically, tied to American Bar Association President Linda Klein’s Veterans Legal Services Initiative.
Learn more about what the State Bar is doing to help our service members through Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans at texasbar.com/veterans.
To commemorate the week, we reached out to attorneys, paralegals, and coordinators across the state and they shared success stories, tips for lawyers interested in helping out, and why they believe free legal help is vital.
Read on to hear from Texas lawyers and share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #ProBonoTX.
Why is pro bono work important to you?
Priscilla Portillo de Mata of Blanco Ordoñez Mata & Wallace in El Paso
“Pro bono work is important to me, and should be for all fellow attorneys, because justice would otherwise be inaccessible to a large segment of our population: women, children, elderly, homeless, and persons experiencing financial hardship to name a few. Pro bono volunteers collectively shape and improve the American judicial system with each case or project they undertake.”
Chuck Ruesink of Ruesink Law in Austin
“Because God has blessed me with a brain, health, and a law license—I want to share that blessing with others.”
Seth Reich of Sidley Austin in Dallas
“Pro bono is important to me for a number of reasons. First, I believe every person has inherent dignity and is made in the image and likeness of God. Because of this common bond, we as people should concern and care for the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. As a lawyer, this means providing quality legal services to our community and access to justice to those who cannot afford it. Second, pro bono provides me with the opportunity to gain practical legal experience and develop my legal skills. Third, in doing pro bono, I have been able to work with others within the Dallas Bar to promote awareness of pro bono opportunities and to foster pro bono development within my firm and the bar.”
Susan Haney of the Haney Law Firm in Austin
“I am very much aware that lawyers and legal advice are too expensive for not only low income folks but working folks who live paycheck to paycheck. The legal system should be accessible to everyone in our community.”
Lauren Brogdon of Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston
“Pro bono is part of the lifeblood of our profession and a proud tradition at my firm Norton Rose Fulbright, where greats like Leon Jaworski, Gibson Gayle, Jim Sales, Stewart Gagnon, and so many others have led by example. I have always considered it a personal responsibility to serve my community, and as lawyers, we are in a uniquely skilled position to do so. Pro bono isn’t something ‘extra’ that I do in addition to my work at the firm: It is part and parcel of my work as a lawyer.”
Linda Good of Lone Star Legal Aid
“Without equal access to the law, there can be no equal justice under the law. As there is never enough funding to hire adequate staff to meet the needs of the low income, pro bono is a vital resource for closing the justice gap.”
Michael McBride of Fort Worth, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans volunteer
“Whether at the monthly clinic or by taking a pro bono case, volunteering for Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans is a great way for lawyers to help those that have given so much in the service to our country. Using my legal knowledge and expertise to help someone else who may not otherwise have the opportunity to get legal advice is rewarding. I also enjoy talking with veterans and listening to their stories. It’s our country’s history that is passed down from individual to individual.”
Abby Parsons of King & Spalding in Houston
“My work has made a big impact in the lives of those I represent. I enjoy directly and positively affecting the lives of those in my own communities. The work is rewarding, and I view it as my duty; it is an honor to be able to help others in this way.”
Omar J. Alaniz of Baker Botts in Dallas
“I believe that we as professionals have a responsibility to help those in need. Poverty is a barrier to the legal system, which skews the scales of justice. We can help restore the proper balance.”
Annette Glod of Shell Oil Company in Houston
“Pro bono is a means by which we can help others less fortunate. My client was so excited when she finally got her tax refund from the IRS that she told me that if she had a million dollars, she would give it to me. The pro bono work also gave me the opportunity to gain new experience that was different from my typical day-to-day work.”
Jackie Kelso of Kirkland & Ellis in Houston
“Pro bono work is important because it allows us to give back to the community in a unique way and develop our skills as young lawyers.”
Anthony Colton, solo attorney in San Antonio
“I enjoy doing pro bono and working with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services because it gives me an opportunity to work on cases where I can focus on trying to help people. The staff at RAICES has always been friendly and willing to provide resources even on cases that aren’t pro bono related. It is great to hear from former clients about how their lives have benefited from gaining immigration status.”
Share a pro bono success story.
Catherine Mauzy of Mauzy & Tucker in Austin
“I represented a woman with a third-grade education and was able to prove up a 20-year common law marriage. As a result, my client was awarded two pieces of real estate and was able to provide a stable home for her children and grandchildren.”
Carol A. Moylan, Smith County Bar Foundation volunteer coordinator
“Last year one of our new volunteer attorneys assisted a client in getting a guardianship for her grandson. She was the only person he had, and she wanted to secure his future care. It meant so much to her that she spoke at our volunteer attorney luncheon last year, and the impact was felt throughout the room. It resonated with each attending volunteer why he or she was providing services.”
Maria Martinez of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
“I just love the assisted pro se clinics we have. I see how nervous the clients are during the process and then I see the smiles when we walk out of court.”
Brian G. Rose of Porter Hedges in Houston
“I recently represented a 90-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran who had lived in the same apartment for the past 58 years rent-free and was facing eviction. What started out as a purely lawyer-pro bono client relationship evolved into something much more personal. As our work together proceeded, it became clear that given his advanced age and health issues, he would be better served in a senior living facility. I worked with representatives of a VA hospital, and we were able to place him in a local senior apartment for $12 per month rent. Tragically, my client passed away unexpectedly only two weeks before he was set to move. I was honored to give remarks at his funeral when asked by his family. My experience with this client enriched my life and is one that I will never forget.”
What would you say to a lawyer thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Tyler Hickle of the Law Office of Tyler Hickle in Austin
“Pro bono is one of the best things you can do professionally as a young lawyer. I owe so much of my success to volunteering.”
Amanda Taylor of Martens, Todd, Leonard, Taylor & Ahlrich in Austin
“Make sure you know what you are getting into and that you are prepared to devote the necessary time (and that your firm is OK with it), but realize it will probably be easier and less time consuming than expected.”
Toni Hays Kersey of Lone Star Legal Aid—Angleton Branch
“Do it! Make it a habit to do at least one or two pro bono cases a year to help out someone less fortunate and it will be repaid to you in multiples. If you do your pro bono work for LSLA, we will provide malpractice insurance and a free CLE of your choice.”
Megan Cooley, Tarrant County Bar pro bono programs director
“Do it. You will learn and be better from it. And you don’t have to do it alone. There are resources and mentors available locally and through the State Bar of Texas.”
Lauren E. Waddell of Fullenweider Wilhite in Houston
“I would suggest going to the Houston Volunteer Lawyer Case Portal to review the case summaries. Some cases are more time consuming than others. When you make your case selection, pick a case that is best suited for the time you are able to commit. Also, if you are taking a case outside of your typical practice area, ask for a mentor in that area of law you can contact while your case is pending, should any unexpected issues arise.”
Bill Kroger of Baker Botts in Houston
“Pro bono legal service is the best way to grow and develop your skills and your heart. At Baker Botts, we give all of our new lawyers a Houston Volunteer Lawyers pro bono case to handle within their first couple of months at the firm. It is an investment in their development and you can’t work here if you aren’t willing to also be engaged in the community—that is something we have been doing for 176 years.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
Janet Heppard, University of Houston Law Center clinical director and associate clinical professor
“I have learned a lot about the community from doing pro bono. The clients appreciate the work we do for them. It helps them to feel empowered and gives them a feeling of having some control in their lives, something that is often missing for them. Doing pro bono work also helps me to better appreciate my own life and all that I have.”
Marilyn D. McGuire, attorney in Houston
“I have learned that often people that have no ability to pay are more appreciative than people with the ability to pay. I have found it to be some of most rewarding legal work and also the most challenging. Removing clients from situations with domestic violence or children in homes with parents with substance abuse makes a difference in their lives.”
Michelle McPherson of MehaffyWeber in Beaumont
“Every client is unique and every story is important. From the simple routine divorces that allow people to move forward to the demanding cases with complex child custody issues, property, or retirement issues—every person deserves to have help if he or she cannot afford it.”
Rose Williams, paralegal, of ExxonMobil in Houston
“I have learned that if you have a desire to help, there is an opportunity for you. I’ve learned that life happens all the time and that no one is exempt. I’ve learned that a little means a lot. Give an hour, change a life.”