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Texas Access to Justice Commission Honors Three Individuals, South Texas College of Law for Commitment to Legal Services
AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Access to Justice Commission (TAJC) presented the Law Student Pro Bono Awards to Jason Cohen, a recent graduate of SMU Dedman School of Law, Stephanie Ibarra, a second-year law student at Texas Tech University School of Law, and Andrea Meza, a recent graduate of the University of Texas School of Law during the New Lawyers’ Induction Ceremony November 16 in Austin. The Commission also honored the South Texas College of Law with the ATJ Law School Commitment to Service Award.
ATJ Law Student Pro Bono Award
The ATJ Law Student Pro Bono Award was established in 2007 to recognize Texas law students who demonstrate a commitment to the delivery of legal services to poor and low-income Texans and a passion for advocating on behalf of the underserved. Nominations for the award were solicited from all ten Texas law schools, legal services programs and law students themselves. The award includes a $2,000 stipend.
While attending SMU Dedman School of Law, Jason Cohen distinguished himself by earning the most law-related public service hours in his class and assisting clients long after his clinical requirements were fulfilled. Completing more than 550 pro bono hours and handling over 80 individual cases, including five jury trials and nine dispositive motions, his passion for helping others was remarkable and his work product was exemplary. Because of his academic excellence, Cohen was asked to participate in SMU’s Academic Skills Assistance Program and tutor first-year students during his second year of law school. After graduation, he directed multiple pro bono television public service announcements for several non-profit organizations that serve the local community. Cohen continues to be a strong advocate for the underserved and has continued to do pro bono work since graduation.
Prior to entering law school, Stephanie Ibarra dedicated herself to helping members in her community by translating legal documents for victims of abuse and serving as a tutor to children in foster care.
When she was in elementary school, Ibarra experienced living in poverty first-hand: she never forgot the overwhelming generosity and selflessness others demonstrated toward her family to help them overcome their hardships. As a result. she chose to pursue a career that would always allow her to ‘pay it forward’. In her first year at Texas Tech University School of Law, Ibarra earned the ‘Dean’s Award’ for completing at least 100-hours of qualifying pro bono legal services during the school year. Throughout her law school education, she embraced the role of public servant as she worked at walk-in pro bono clinics at Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, with Texas Civil Rights Project and the Innocence Project of Texas, and at a number of legal service organizations in the Valley. Ibarra’s dedication to helping the underserved is profound and contagious; her pro bono achievements and active role in planning pro bono initiatives has inspired and encouraged fellow classmates to participate in pro bono legal services.
During her first year at the University of Texas School of Law, Andrea Meza revealed a deep commitment for pro bono service by completing more than 200 hours of pro bono service while volunteering with Catholic Charities, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Texas Law DACA Clinics, and during the law school’s Pro Bono week in January. Meza was honored for her remarkable service with the law school’s ‘Pro Bono Beacon Award’, which recognizes a student in each class who donates the most hours of pro bono service. As she progressed through her law school career, she worked on pro bono projects with Casa Marianella, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Texas Jail Project. As a Texas Law Pro Bono Scholar, she helped plan and implement pro bono projects and conducted research, outreach and intake that furthered the mission of the law school’s Pro Bono Program. Her work as co-president of the Texas Law Fellowship has encouraged student involvement with nonprofit organizations in low-income communities to increase the delivery of legal services. Meza has been an exemplary role model of selfless dedication to pro bono service and in serving low-income communities.
ATJ Law School Commitment to Service Award
The ATJ Law School Commitment to Service Award recognizes a law school that most prominently advances the delivery of legal services through clinics, public interest programs, student involvement and other initiatives. Nominations for the award were solicited from all Texas law schools, legal services programs in Texas, local bar associations, alumni and law students.
South Texas College of Law (STCL) was honored for significantly expanding its physical footprint and infrastructure to support public interest lawyering, service and skills development. Renovations included the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics, a 15,000 square-foot office space that pulls together numerous clinics, externship programs and pro bono student efforts under one roof, creating a synergistic environment. The Legal Clinics is a shared space where staff and students can now collaborate and serve the community better. STCL built upon the expansion by co-locating three national players, Human Rights First, Kids in Need of Defense, and The Young Center, directly adjacent to the Legal Clinics floor, which fosters collaboration in the fight against human trafficking and the special needs of immigrant children.
South Texas’s Civil Practice Clinics provide free civil legal assistance for low-income and marginalized populations through the Houston metro area which allows students to gain first-hand experience and learn about the challenges facing poor Texans seeking access to the courts. More than 100 students have participated in the direct service on-site clinic since its creation in 2013. Each year, the law school places 70 students in the Houston community though academic externships. STCL’s commitment is providing legal services to underserved populations is evidenced by the school’s ongoing support of highly relevant clinics and programs, its extensive and ongoing engagement with regional legal service providers, and an unwavering dedication to the provision of pro bono opportunities that allow students to volunteers their time in areas where they are most passionate.
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The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources and awareness of legal aid. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.