During Pro Bono Spring Break, law students and supervising faculty members travel across the state volunteering their time to help low-income Texans resolve their civil legal problems.
Pro Bono Spring Break is a great opportunity for law students to practice and apply legal skills learned in the classroom, including advocacy, client interviewing, and supervised legal decision-making. It also exposes future lawyers to the dire legal and financial circumstances faced by low-income people in Texas and raises awareness about access to justice issues. At the same time, legal service providers receive a team of skilled and well-supervised volunteers who can leverage the provider’s time and relieve some of their workload.
Law students receive training and supervision by both law school faculty members and legal services staff. Students are placed with a legal services provider within driving distance of their law school. Partcipating organizations in the past include: Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence, American Gateways, Catholic Charities of Dallas, Dallas Volunteer Attorney Project, Disability Rights Texas, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, KIND Kids in Need of Defense, Legal Hospice of Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, Mosaic Family Services, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, RAICES, and Texas Civil Rights Project.
To facilitate camaraderie and the formation of lifelong friendships, students carpool in groups of four to each location. And, depending on the placement, students share a hotel room with one other person.
Students attend a webinar orientation during the week prior to Spring Break and work at least 8 hours per day on projects Monday through Thursday with a half day on Friday to allow for travel back to their respective law schools. Students are expected to write a short essay upon their return describing their experiences. Here are a few comments from students who have participated in past Pro Bono Spring Breaks:
Diana Shim, 2L, Baylor, Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program
My experience with Pro Bono Spring Break 2016 was, simply put, an amazing experience that opened my eyes to a whole new area of law that needs more recognition...[W]hen I finished my week at the DVAP, I came out of the program not only understanding what it meant to help the community as a lawyer, but also with a firm belief that every lawyer should devote some time to give back to the community.
[A]fter listening to some of the stories, I realized that the people within the low-income bracket of our community were the ones who needed the most help. They seemed very powerless...I promised myself that I would be back at either DVAP or any other legal non-profit organizations to help those who need the most help.
[E]very hour spent volunteering will help one realize that there is so much more to the legal career than just pushing forward to get a good job. Taking a moment to give back to the community will give you a deeper meaning in pursuing a legal career. Pro Bono Spring Break really was a "billable hour for my soul."
Stuart Campbell, 2L, Texas A&M, Lone Star Legal Aid Houston
I learned more in the five days I worked for the Public Benefits Department of Lone Star Legal Aid than I did in my first four-month long internship at a law firm. Within the first 45 minutes, the managing attorney, Martha Orozco, had me sitting in on client interviews and looking up disability regulations. Lindsay Eustace, a staff attorney, virtually took us under her wing and showed the interns the ins and outs of public benefits law. Because we were there for only five days, it was clear that the office was immersing us as much as they could into their practice.
What I valued the most about the spring break pro bono trip is that I got to apply law that I had just recently learned in school. Public benefits law is almost entirely administrative agency law, and I am currently in administrative law class.
The people there were the nicest, most helpful attorneys I have ever encountered, and it was obvious that they do this work out of the goodness of their hearts. On my last day, the seasoned attorney mentioned above told me, "Where else can you get paid for helping people get what they need, while they don't pay a dime for it." This was stated after he said he'd been at that office for over twenty years.
Macy Matthews, 1L, Baylor, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas
[I]ndigent clients are often facing immediate and dangerous problems, and Legal Aid is their only hope for relief. I am thankful that the Texas Access to Justice Commission enabled me to contribute my time to getting justice for people who could otherwise not afford it. The best way to learn is to do, and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas gave us important hands-on assignments that allowed me to learn more that I ever could in a classroom setting. I couldn't think of a better way to spend Spring Break than helping others and growing professionally at the same time. Seeing the immense need of these people has reaffirmed that I want to continue pro bono work in the future.
The program is a partnership between the Texas Access to Justice Commission, all ten Texas law schools, and legal aid providers across the state. Information about and applications for 2017 Pro Bono Spring Break will be posted in late November and will be due in early February. Students will be informed about their placements approximately one week after the application deadline for their trip. For more information, contact Kristen Levins at Kristen.Levins@texasatj.org or 512.427.1895.