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 25-31). 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.
Jessica Hart is a 3L at Texas A&M University School of Law.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I have done a variety of pro bono work since the start of law school. I used to work with a legal aid, the A&M Probate and Estate Planning Clinic, and individual cases at a private firm. The legal aid I worked for was an office focused on community support and setting up low income or rural communities to be able to represent themselves. A lot of the work had to do with the disproportionate effects of zoning or environmental justice. I’ve done some estate planning work for low income or fixed income folks in Tarrant County. I think my favorite work was CPS appointments in rural counties, which was not pro bono but still very much public interest work.
Why is pro bono important to you?
I think it is very important to use my opportunity in life to help others. From helping CPS children turn over a new leaf and begin healing to helping low-income individuals displaced from family homes because of development, I understand that I have been gifted with the tools, resources, and voice to be able to help. I choose to use those opportunities to benefit others who have not been so fortunate.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
From an academic point of view, I have learned a lot about legal research and drafting. From a personal perspective, I have learned a lot about meeting people where they are at and to not shy away from difficult or uncomfortable conversations just because I do not have the same experiences. Being able to bring in the humanity behind the legal work is important to remember that behind every lawsuit or legal dispute is someone’s life or livelihood. Sometimes, depending on the type of law you practice or how much you interact with clients, you can lose sight of what it is like for the individual.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Absolutely go for it. It can be difficult to choose a pro bono opportunity over a paid internship, but you may learn more about what you would like to do with your legal career and your ability to humanize. And of course the opportunity to help others.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
Most of my pro bono experience did not involve individual cases and focused primarily on big picture development from legal aid. My favorite case I have been able to be a part of the ending was with a CPS kid. The child had lived a hard life by a very young age but had found a wonderful foster family that adopted the child. I was able to be there for the adoption day, which was so sweet to witness a family become whole.