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.
Colleen Collins is a 2L at SMU Dedman School of Law and is originally from Crestview, Florida. She is very involved with the pro bono program at SMU and is in charge of the donations to the Association of Public Interest Law, as well as a student extern in the government and public interest class. Collins is also a graduate assistant for SMU’s Women and LGBT Center, the secretary for OUTLaw, and the vice chair of administration for the SMU Dedman School of Law Board of Advocates. She plans on practicing something social justice-related in the criminal law sector but would love to pursue capital habeas litigation.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
While I have always been involved in community service and volunteer work, I have been doing pro bono legal work since my 1L year. The summer after my 1L year I interned with the Federal Public Defender of North Florida’s Capital Habeas Unit and fell in love with capital habeas litigation. I also try and take any opportunity to serve the community and engage in pro bono work whenever possible.
Why is pro bono important to you?
I came to law school to help and serve others in every capacity that I could. That was the sole reason, and that continues to be my passion. Pro bono work is the best way to accomplish that.
What have you learned from doing pro bono work?
I have learned so much from doing pro bono work. First, I have learned about myself and where my heart and passions align. I have also learned how to be a better advocate and a better person, using my knowledge and skills to fight for others. I have also continued to learn that no one has the same story and a person is a person—no matter their past—so using my voice to fight for those that don’t is a privilege.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
The best advice I have is to just do it. Dive in, ready to learn. You will learn so much about yourself and others, as well as the legal field, and everything you do will be immensely meaningful.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
While I haven’t had direct client engagement in my work yet, I have a different kind of success story from my pro bono work. The first task I was given when I started my summer internship had to do with studying racial injustice and the patterns of racial injustice throughout the state (as well as some other areas). To be a part of such an impactful project, that would have a part in so many cases to come and affect so many people directly, was such an honor and had a major impact on me in so many ways.