Both law student and law school honored for access to justice efforts
AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Access to Justice Commission (TAJC) presented John VanBuskirk, a third-year law student enrolled at the UNT Dallas College of Law, with the Law Student Pro Bono Award, and UNT Dallas College of Law Dean Royal Furgeson was presented the Law School Commitment to Service Award on behalf of the law school during the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony today.
Law Student Pro Bono Award
The Law Student Pro Bono Award recognizes a Texas law student who demonstrates a commitment to the delivery of legal services to low-income Texans and a passion for advocating on behalf of the underserved. Nominations were solicited from all ten Texas law schools, legal services programs and law students themselves. The award includes a $2,000 stipend.
A retired major having served in the U. S. Air Force and Army, Mr. VanBuskirk started his law school journey after completing more than two decades of combined service to his country. While at UNT Dallas College of Law, Mr. VanBuskirk has logged nearly 800 pro bono hours. In addition to receiving the Regional Equal Justice Public Interest Law Student Award and the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers Foundation Community Commitment Scholarship for his pro bono advocacy, he was awarded the Thomas Perkins Community Award by his law student peers. As founding president of the Public Interest Law Student Association, he helped create a structure and systems to support and educate students interested in public service. Mr. VanBuskirk has also participated in and assisted with numerous pro bono legal clinics, including six Metroplex Veterans Legal Services clinics to help low-income veterans remedy their legal matters. His compassion and dedication to effecting positive change in the lives of those less fortunate is truly remarkable.
Law School Commitment to Service Award
The Law School Commitment to Service Award recognizes a law school that has distinguished itself by actively educating its students about access to justice and making significant and innovative strides to increase access to justice efforts. Nominations were solicited from all ten Texas law schools and from members in legal communities across the state.
Since the doors at UNT Dallas College of Law (COL) opened in August 2014, the faculty and staff have been dedicated to cultivating a culture of pro bono in its students through programs that serve the community. One of the first programs the COL created was the Community Engagement Program, which matches law students with nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies for regular, sustained pro bono service. The assignments introduce students to public service and lawyering skills including interviews, intakes, mediation and conflict resolution techniques, and client outreach; the organizations and agencies receive motivated, dedicated and college-educated volunteers to support their programs. In three short years, the CEP has quadrupled in the number of organizations and agencies served through this mutually beneficial partnership.
Another of the COL’s programs includes the Community Lawyering Centers, which involves partnering with CitySquare and Frazier Revitalization Inc. and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and Dallas County Public Defender’s Office to establish legal clinics in underserved urban areas. Law students, under the supervision of licensed attorneys, are able to offer community members desperately needed legal service relating to family law issues, clearing records, evictions, foreclosures, obtaining benefits, and probate matters, all at no cost to the client. The Community Lawyering Centers offer students also gain a deeper appreciation of the underlying forces that impact the lives of so many legal aid clients.
The faculty at UNT Dallas College of Law not only appreciate the value of pro bono, they also lead by example. On a regular basis, faculty members participate in pro bono work ranging across the legal services spectrum of civil and criminal issues. By creating a culture of service, UNT Dallas College of Law students learn how to incorporate service as part of their expected responsibilities, ensuring that the next generation of lawyers will work to find a path to justice for all.
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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.