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.
Sam Doiron is a 2L at St. Mary’s University School of Law and a native of Schertz. She is Juvenile Jurisprudence Association president, the National Lawyer’s Guild Juvenile Justice Committee chair, a research assistant for the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, site coordinator for the RAICES Immigration Court Observation Program, and a member of the People’s Parity Project.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I joined the Juvenile Jurisprudence Association, or JJA, in fall 2018, during my 1L year. JJA is a teen peer court program that works closely with students from underserved high schools within our community. When a teen pleads guilty or no contest to a misdemeanor offense, the municipal court sends them to our program for sentencing adjudication. Our law student coaches work with high school volunteers and coach them in every trial role from counsel to judge, jury, and bailiff. The high school students run an entire sentencing procedure on their own with guidance from their coaches. Sentencing involves required jury terms and community service, as well as community classes for the defendant and parent. We work with underserved schools to bridge the gap between programs offered by their schools and programs offered by other schools in the area. In this way, we reach many teens who would otherwise not benefit from legal education and mentorship. In a remote world, JJA looks very different. We have shifted to a virtual interactive educational platform that includes debates, guest speakers, mock trials, and mediations. Our educational activities center on legal issues teens face in their everyday lives and help build a foundational understanding of their rights.
I also got involved in pro bono activities through RAICES during my 1L year. I help oversee a court observation program that collects data and information during immigration migrant protection protocol, or MPP, hearings. This program holds immigration judges accountable for MPP procedures. RAICES also coordinates pro bono attorneys in immigration cases throughout the U.S. I work with some of these attorneys on a case-by-case basis to provide factual and legal research for their cases. I have helped with appeals and am currently working on a motion to reopen.
I have worked with our school’s ID Recovery program, which aids members of the homeless community in obtaining ID documents for housing and employment, thus empowering the homeless community. I have also done pro bono work for a nonprofit organization seeking to impact legislative change concerning bullying in Texas public schools. Among these projects, I also work on various clinics and projects our Pro Bono Program hosts that help local citizens with anything from pro se divorces to guardianship issues.
Why is pro bono important to you?
Public service and pro bono opportunities afford law students the opportunity to influence social change through programs to help the underserved in our communities. Through our work in the pro bono field, we have the unique opportunity to use our educational privilege in a way that improves our communities. Pro bono allows us to narrow gaps of inequity in our community by affording legal services and programs to community members who would otherwise lack access to such programs. Pro bono is an excellent means of putting the care and concern we have for our communities into action.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
My pro bono work in the legal community has taught me that there are endless avenues to pursue in the public service arena and public interest lawyering. It has deepened my resolution to use the skills and knowledge I gain through law school to better our community by helping clients in multiple areas of law. Pro bono service has taught me how deeply legal access impacts people, especially those with no means to such access, and how important public interest and pro bono work is in creating legal equality.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
If you’re on the fence about volunteering for pro bono—just do it! The pro bono program provides countless opportunities to provide real help to real people. It also allows you to gain experience in many areas of the law and can help you find your primary interest. I would also tell fellow students to know where their priorities lie and use their passion in making decisions about what pro bono opportunities to pursue. It’s so easy to overextend ourselves as law students, but following your personal drive and passion will help you weed out the extra projects you sign up for because you feel like you should. Yes, do pro bono work and get outside your comfort zone to try new areas of law. But, if you’re strapped for time or overwhelmed by other commitments, use your passion to seek out the opportunities that suit you best.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
It is the nature of pro bono service that we aren’t always lucky enough to directly see the impact we have on the people we work with. My success lies in knowing that I am putting work to my beliefs in the work that I do. The unique thing about JJA is that we work with the same students on a regular basis and have the opportunity to see them grow as they learn more about the legal field. One student in particular joined JJA unsure about what her future held and undecided on whether she wanted to apply to college. This student recently contacted me and let me know that is she currently applying to colleges; she credited JJA in large part for what helped her make her decision. No matter what path a young adult takes, it is truly an honor to know that our program and mentorship helped them decide who they are and what they are meant to do with their lives.