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.
Tanya Burke is a 3L at St. Mary’s University School of Law and lives in San Antonio. She is a member of several law schools organizations, including the Black Law Students Association, Family Law Association, Women’s Law Association, Military Law Association, Federal Bar Law Student Association, Student Veteran’s Organization, and Law School Student Recruitment Corps. Burke is a member of the St. Mary’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Team, which won the American Bar Association 2019-2020 Southwest Regional Arbitration Team Competition and finished in the quarterfinals at the National Competition. She is a St. Mary’s Pro Bono College Inductee. Burke was an Octo-Finalist in the 2019 Jimi Derrick Moot Court Competition and runner-up for Best Rookie Award.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I have been doing pro bono work since August 2018. I have participated in the Bexar County Guardianship Program where I conducted court-mandated home-monitoring visits for wards of the state. I spent one summer working with a probate attorney for will probates and administrations. I have participated in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program to assist low-income individuals prepare and file their income tax returns. I volunteer at a monthly veterans clinic that focuses on providing legal services to veterans on issues ranging from housing, family law, and public benefits to general litigation matters. I volunteer at a monthly wills clinic that prepares and executes simple wills and ancillary documents for low-income individuals.
Why is pro bono important to you?
My husband and I are both retired military officers. During our service we sought legal assistance countless times for a vast array of issues. I cannot fathom how disadvantaged we would have been without that assistance. That assistance came as a benefit of our service. The average American doesn’t have that benefit. I want to do my small part to get that benefit to as many people as I can.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
The most significant thing I have learned from doing pro bono is that limited scope representation can be an extremely useful tool not only for helping clients to help themselves, but also to help relieve the burden on our courts—and that my husband is a very patient man (as he is very supportive of all my pro bono work).
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
I serve on the Student Recruitment Committee for my law school, and whenever I interact with prospective students or newly admitted students, one of the things I promote is pro bono. As a law student, providing pro bono services in a variety of different fields gives a sense of what actual practice in that field will be like and can be a useful guide in deciding what to practice in. But primarily, the deep satisfaction when a client says “thank you” because you provided a service they simply wouldn’t have been able to afford is an immeasurable feeling. It is truly an enriching experience.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
This may be my favorite pro bono success story because it is so fresh in my mind. We just sent the closing letter on the client’s case last week. The case involved a veteran who had the misfortune of receiving two DUI violations; one was in 1984 and one was in 1991. The cases ended with both charges dismissed. When an individual in Bexar County is charged with DUI, part of the magistrate process involves entering an interlock order on the individual. In our client’s case, these interlock orders were transmitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles but the records of dismissal were not. The DMV was refusing to remove the ineligible status from our client’s record without a copy of an order releasing the interlocks from both cases. After months of working with different courts and agencies we were finally able to clear our client’s record; something I feel certain the client would not have been able to accomplish without our help.