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.
Omar Itani, a 3L at UNT Dallas School of Law and a native of Dallas, is the first in his family to go to college and law school. He participates in a variety of engagements. Itani is vice president of the American Muslim Law Student Association, a member of UNT Dallas College of Law Board of Advocates, a UNT Dallas College of Law Community Engagement Program Ambassador, and a member of the Bell Nunnally Business Law Forum. He plans on practicing business law after law school.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been focusing my efforts on community education, specifically in consumer arbitration matters. I present information about arbitration to inform community members about keeping themselves protected from predatory arbitration agreements. I’ve been working on the Community Arbitration Project since December 2020. I also did pro bono work with Census 2020, where I led a team of callers to reach out to those who had not yet filled out their Census form. Our outreach program contacted thousands of community members.
Why is pro bono important to you?
I am extremely fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to attend law school, especially since I’ll be graduating at the age of 22. I couldn’t have done it without the guidance, support, and experiences that were given by the Dallas community. It’s only right that I give back to the ones who watched me grow and gave me the tools I needed to succeed.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I learned that there will never be a shortage of help that can be given. There are millions of people every year with legal problems that go unaided because they are unable to pay for an attorney. Not only is that a miscarriage of justice, but it’s just plain wrong. There will always be a need for lawyers who can lend a hand to those who don’t have the means to pay for it.
What would you say to a fellow student who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
It’s a hundred percent worth it. Doing quality pro bono work takes time and isn’t always the smoothest ride. There are times when you’re in the thick of it and aren’t sure you’re even making a difference, but I have never finished a project without looking back and feeling glad I helped where I could. Even if you feel like your efforts won’t make a difference, start your pro bono work. Anything you work toward will make a difference somewhere, even if you don’t notice.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
We had a mountain of lists and lists of people to call for our Census outreach, but I was starting to feel discouraged after getting hung up on so many times. The next person on my list had a familiar name, and sure enough, out of all the randomized lists we had been given, it was one of my classmates. I chatted with him about how I didn’t feel like I was getting far with Census calling because people would just hang up or send me to voicemail. He reassured me that persevering was better than just giving up, even if I wasn’t reaching out to many people. After getting off the phone with him, I decided to continue calling. I don’t know how, but the number of people who answered the phone dramatically increased. Sticking with the calling for just a little while longer allowed me to connect with many more community members and even convince a few of them to fill out their Census form.