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.
John C. VanBuskirk is a solo practitioner and a retired U.S. Army major. He is a graduate of UNT Dallas College of Law.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
Ten days after I entered the inaugural class of UNT Dallas College of Law in August 2014, I assisted at my first Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, or DVAP, clinic, and I was hooked. I did 31 DVAP clinics in my 1L year and a total of 800 pro bono hours during law school. Since becoming a licensed attorney in May 2018, I have helped at 23 DVAP legal clinics and performed 158 pro bono hours. My cases, so far, have been estate planning (wills, POAs, etc.), petitions for non-disclosure, affidavits of heirship, and deed work.
Why is pro bono important to you?
It’s just the right thing to do. A person with limited income should not have to spend a relatively large portion of his or her scant money to have basic legal help. Not having legal representation solely due to poverty is a form of societal bullying, and I hate bullies.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
While I was in law school, it helped me understand the application of the law. As an attorney, it provides me a platform to learn and hone new skills with guidance and mentoring.
What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Show what a great person you are—extend a helping hand, learn a new skill, get acknowledged for your community engagements. With registered 75 hours of pro bono you earn free membership in the State Bar of Texas Pro Bono College and a logo on your personal “find a lawyer” page setting you apart from others. The host organization you work through usually provides the professional liability insurance for your pro bono work and provides checklists, forms, and mentoring. You can choose your hours, even work from home in your pink bunny slippers through programs like the State Bar of Texas’ Texas Legal Answers at https://texas.freelegalanswers.org.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
A lady came into the Wills Clinic because her husband had recently died intestate, and she saw what not having a will does to a family. She cried through the entire clinic and was not able to make any decisions, from naming the executor or agents to distribution of assets. Two months later she signed her will and associated estate plan documents, and she was very much at ease because she knew how much turmoil and chaos she had saved her family.