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 24-30). 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.
Skyler Schoolfield is a May 2021 graduate of Baylor Law School and a native of Aledo. While at Baylor, she was a member of the Baylor Public Interest Legal Society, Criminal Law Society, Phi Alpha Delta, Mock Trial team, Moot Court team, and Baylor Law Review. Schoolfield also served as a student ambassador.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I took every pro bono opportunity that was presented to me, so I did a little bit of everything. I participated in the Veteran’s Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Estate Planning Clinic, and Trial Advocacy Clinic at Baylor Law. I also was involved with the Baylor Public Interest Legal Aid Society and through that helped with Adoption Day and People’s Law School. Each spring break I participated in Access to Justice Pro Bono Spring Break at NorthWest Texas Legal Aid, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, and the Texas Advocacy Project. I also worked with Texas Law Help and Greater Waco Legal Services.
Why is pro bono important to you?
I wanted to be a lawyer so that I could help people, so doing pro bono work just felt natural. Lawyers and law students have the knowledge to help people in ways that are not readily accessible to the public. Because we have this unique ability and knowledge to help, we should use it. The biggest issue with accessing legal aid in Texas is a lack of resources for our legal aid organizations, so the more people that can donate their time and the more time people can donate, the closer we are to ensuring that everyone who needs an attorney can get access to one, regardless of their income status.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I learned so much about the law that I never would have learned. I only practice criminal law, so without doing pro bono work, I would never have been exposed to real-life practice of any other area of law. I also learned how dire the need is for legal aid attorneys and resources for those attorneys.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Do as much pro bono work as you can. Reach out to your pro bono director at your law school, spend every spring break working with a different legal aid organization through the Texas Access to Justice Spring Break program, and find opportunities outside of the clinics at your school. The legal aid programs in your community will be happy to have you. Due to lack of staffing and funding, legal aid organizations need as much help as they can get. Because of that, you will have something different to work on every day, and you will be exposed to so many different areas of law from helping someone get out of a timeshare to helping someone with their immigration paperwork. Doing pro bono work is a rewarding experience, is vital in the mission to provide access to justice to fellow Texans, and is an opportunity to learn about the law.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
Family violence cases are one of the many reasons I decided to be a prosecutor, so I took every opportunity to work on a family law case involving family violence. Helping victims of family violence in their transition to survivors is one of the most moving and impactful acts one can do as a lawyer, and I am honored that I got to be a part of that process on the family law side as a law student and get to be a part of that process now as a prosecutor.