UPDATE | By Deborah G. Hankinson, Vice Chair, Texas Access to Justice Foundation
In 2008 when interest rates fell to historic lows and, similarly, the funding for the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program crashed, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) appealed to lawyers across the state to help with the crisis. One of the many things we did was include stories in the (then) print version of the Update newsletter and include a simple donation envelope to return for gifts to legal aid through the Foundation. We received several meaningful donations – large and small –through this avenue, for which we are very grateful.
One of the lawyers who returned an envelope was Ann Bower, a lawyer and businesswoman in Austin. She sent back that first envelope in 2009 and continued each year thereafter. Over the course of seven years, she donated $28,000 to TAJF to support legal aid across Texas. Not only was her generosity while alive unwavering, but when she passed away last year, she ensured her generosity would live on. In her will, Ms. Bower bequeathed gifts to several charitable organizations, including the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, to continue her support of many causes. As a result of her generous act, TAJF received more than $1.5 million this year to continue working toward justice for all.
Lawyers know first-hand the value and necessity of quality legal representation. We see victims of domestic violence, abused children, and families losing their homes all too frequently because they cannot afford a lawyer. We feel professional responsibility to help others in our community gain access to the justice system to protect their rights, their freedom, their homes, their livelihoods, and their families. We never got to meet Ann Bower, but we can only guess these reasons led to her support of legal aid, as it does for many others like her.
A group of attorneys that have also demonstrated unwavering support of access to justice is the Construction Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. Robert C. Bass, Jr., Legislative Affairs Advisor of the Construction Law Section, contacted the Foundation during our 25th anniversary year and asked how they could make a meaningful contribution. The Section made a donation for the anniversary event and then responded later that year with an additional gift to help mitigate the damages from the loss of IOLTA. With the consistent support of the Section chair and its leaders, the Construction Law Section has now since contributed more than $325,000 to the Foundation. The Section leadership stipulates that their annual donation should be put to good use; which is exactly what happens. Thousands of families receive life-altering civil legal services from the grantees of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.
In addition to the many individual donors, firms and sections that donate, the legal aid delivery system has been very fortunate to receive funding for the past several years from the Texas Legislature for basic civil legal services. As we have yet to see a return to previous levels of IOLTA revenue, funding from the Texas Legislature has been critical to maintain legal aid in Texas.
We would like to thank everyone who donates or volunteers to protect those with nowhere else to turn in our justice system. As we enter the Season of Giving, supporting civil legal aid is a way to work for justice and access for all. Please consider donating to the Foundation, your local legal aid program, or remembering legal aid in your estate planning.
Deborah Hankinson is the vice chair of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and a partner at Hankinson LLP in Dallas, Texas. Deborah is nationally recognized for her deep commitment to the issue of equal access to justice. While on the Supreme Court of Texas, she was a driving force behind the creation of the Texas Access to Justice Commission. Since then, Deborah has made an ongoing imprint on the development of equal access to justice in jurisdictions across the United States. In 2003, the Commission recognized Deborah’s myriad contributions by establishing the Deborah G. Hankinson Access to Justice Awards, which reward local bar associations and Texas Young Lawyers Association affiliates in the cities with the highest percentage of attorneys donating to legal aid.