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.
Ashley De La Garza is a 3L at St. Mary’s University School of Law and a native of San Antonio. She is the student coordinator for the Pro Bono Program, a student attorney for the Criminal Justice Clinic, president of the Public Interest Law Foundation, vice president of the Women’s Law Association, and a staff writer for The Scholar: St. Mary’s Law Review for Race and Social Justice. After law school, De La Garza hopes to pursue a career in criminal defense as a public defender.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I am involved in a variety of pro bono opportunities. Since my first year in law school, I was involved with the ID Recovery program at my law school. Every Friday, we assist individuals experiencing homelessness to obtain their most important documents. I have also volunteered with wills clinics and interned with the Bexar County Public Defender’s Office and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
Why is pro bono important to you?
I come from a low-income family and community. It was difficult seeing my family and community struggle to access our most basic resources. Pro bono allows me to give back and restore a sense of hope to individuals. Everyone deserves an opportunity for legal assistance. Pro bono work provides low-income individuals a chance to have someone advocate for them on important issues.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
Pro bono has taught me the importance of and need for legal services. There are so many individuals in the community who are taken advantage of and have little to no resources to fight for their rights. Pro bono attorneys and law students provide access to legal services that these individuals would not normally be able to afford.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Pro bono can be your productive break from studying and classes. Law school is very challenging, and it can be easy to forget the main reason why you attended law school. Pro bono reminds you of your overall goal. It also allows you to take what you learn in class and apply it to real clients.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
It is a great feeling when you assist someone and they are grateful no matter what the outcome is. I assisted in drafting a record sealing motion for an individual who was trying to gain access to housing but struggled because of their criminal record. Hearing their story I realized how far this individual had come and how much they longed to move on from their past. This record sealing motion was simple to draft and yet provided this person a start at a new life. We were able to get the record sealing motion granted and our client was beyond grateful. Something so small will have long-lasting results for this individual.