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 20-26). 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.
Alicia M. Grant is an associate of Norton Rose Fulbright in San Antonio. Her practice primarily focuses on product liability, mass tort, and labor and employment but also includes property tax disputes and bankruptcy. Grant is a graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I serve as a coordinator for a bankruptcy clinic that serves low-income individuals in Bexar County who need assistance with Chapter 7 cases. As the coordinator, I train law students, recruit local attorneys, and assist with administrative issues. I assumed this role after clerking for the Hon. Tony M. Davis, U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Western District of Texas, and seeing firsthand the difficulties that pro se debtors face trying to navigate the judicial system unassisted. I learned of similar programs in other Texas cities and knew that San Antonio needed one as well. I have been in this role since 2017.
In 2013, I began volunteering for variety of legal aid programs as a law student. Upon graduation, I continued to volunteer in various areas of the law—from representing low-income individuals with breach of contract disputes to assisting with drafting and executing wills in conjunction with the Bexar County Community Justice Program and Austin Volunteer Legal Services. My firm connected me with the NAACP where I assisted with legal research for appellate briefing.
Why is pro bono important to you?
It is important to me because access to judicial remedies should be available to everyone, not just those who have money or influence. The legal system can be intimidating to those who lack financial resources. As a first-generation lawyer, it still seems surreal that I am an attorney. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given and made the commitment early on to use my degree to impact my community in a positive way. This commitment has shaped who I am and was a deciding factor when selecting employment offers because I knew I wanted to work at a firm that would support and share my commitment to pro bono work.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I have learned how to be a better listener, negotiator, and problem solver. It has influenced my professional and personal life and helped me to be a person who analyzes things from different perspectives.
What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
I highly recommend dedicating some of your time to pro bono work. It is a rewarding experience for you as well as your client. If you are nervous about taking your first pro bono matter, most programs have mentors who can guide you through the process. If you are concerned about the time commitment, most programs also have different levels of involvement and various roles, so please reach out to your local legal aid organizations. Someone is waiting for you to volunteer. You are needed!
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
It was a simple contract dispute matter. A contractor had promised to deliver a deck to this family. Instead, the contractor took their money, breached the contract, and left them with a hazardous pile of materials. My colleagues and I took their case and represented them in a suit against the contractor. The overall process was not time consuming so I did not comprehend the gravity of the situation for this family until after we prevailed at court.
Once we won, the mother embraced us with tears in her eyes. She was so relieved and happy. The family thanked us profusely. It was then that we first learned the family had lived for almost a year in fear of this contractor because they believed the contract gave the contractor the right to access their backyard at any time. They had been threatened by the contractor who cited “laws” and exploited their lack of knowledge about the law. The mother had not slept well in over a month and the stress of the situation was affecting her health. They shared family photos and made sure we knew each family member that benefited from the win. The mother explained she felt responsible for the problems her family endured because of the contractor and was embarrassed to seek help. Thankfully, the daughter intervened and contacted legal aid, which is how we got involved.
As a result, I learned to ask open-ended questions so I can better advocate and advise my clients. I learned to avoid assumptions like the client knew they could tell the contractor to leave their property. I learned that just a few hours of my time could impact a whole family. I was reminded that we can provide solutions for those who desperately need it. I am honored that we were able to help them and look forward to the promised pictures of family gatherings on a finished deck.