The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 21-27). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.
Elizabeth “Heidi” Bloch is a partner in Husch Blackwell in Austin. She represents clients before state and federal courts in all aspects of appellate practice.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been doing various types of pro bono work for three decades. The legal work has primarily been representing folks who have been denied Social Security benefits, but I recently branched out into helping veterans with appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims, which is very rewarding. I’m glad to say I’m 4-for-4 on those appeals. I’ve acted as a mentor to first-time pro bono attorneys who need a little assistance and encouragement. I’ve also served for many years on the board for Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas (vlsoct.org), which has given me the opportunity to see things from the inside, such as the tireless dedication of lawyers and administrators who do pro bono work 24/7, the generosity of the small army of volunteer lawyers in our community, and the extraordinary administrative effort required to reach out to clients who need services and match them up with someone who can help.
Why is pro bono important to you?
As lawyers, we benefit from a legal system that is too complicated for our paying clients to navigate themselves. We owe it back to the system and to our community to help those who cannot afford our services. On a more basic level, it’s the right thing to do.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
That with some reach, and perhaps a mentor, you can get out of your comfort zone and tackle a legal matter that you might not have taken otherwise; that there are deserving and grateful people in our community who need our help; that access to justice has support at high levels, but is constantly under attack and at risk of being underfunded.
What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Don’t hesitate! You may get opportunities that you wouldn’t get in your practice such as court appearances, direct client contact, interaction with judges, etc. There are appellate opportunities that might get you your first oral argument. Feel free to ask for a mentor to walk you through your first case. It is truly rewarding.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
I still have a thank-you card and a homemade necklace from a Social Security client from long ago. How many thank-you cards do we get from clients?