News Release

Texas Access to Justice Commission
Texas Access to Justice Foundation
 
October 26, 2011

Texas Joins in the National Pro Bono Week Celebration
Highlighting the Increasing Need to Expand Pro Bono Services to Help Serve the More Than Six Million Texans Who Qualify for Legal Aid

AUSTIN, Texas The Supreme Court of Texas issued a resolution recognizing Oct. 23-29, 2011, as Pro Bono Week as announced at a luncheon hosted by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) in Austin on Monday, Oct. 24.  The resolution recognizes the generous donation of pro bono, or free, legal services that Texas lawyers provide to help improve the lives of the most vulnerable Texans through the provision of basic civil legal services. 

“There is a tremendous amount of time and resources dedicated to pro bono cases by hard-working lawyers who take their professional and ethical responsibility seriously and represent people who need legal help but cannot afford it,” Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, the Court’s liaison for access to justice issues, said. “Unfortunately in the current economy, the number of people needing legal help is large – and growing – and straining current resources.”

Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez and Representative Jerry Madden recognized the members of the Supreme Court of Texas at the luncheon for their efforts to help secure $17.5 million for basic civil legal services in the special session.   This funding mitigates the decline in Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funds, a primary source of funding for legal aid.  IOLTA funding has declined more than 71 percent since 2007.

Also during the luncheon, State Bar of Texas President Bob Black announced a contribution of $1.75 million to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation for the Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program (SLRAP) which will be contributed over a five-year period.  The Texas Access to Justice Commission created the SLRAP to encourage and enable recent law school graduates—facing thousands of dollars in law school debt—to work for Texas legal aid organizations that are often unable to pay competitive salaries.  More than 130 attorneys now participate in this program which began in 2003.

More than six million Texans currently qualify for legal aid services according to recent U.S. Census Bureau reports.   A 2009 Pro Bono Survey by the University of North Texas Survey Research Center found that Texas lawyers contributed roughly $13.17 million to $15.06 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to legal services to the poor in 2009. The survey also found that a total of 2.24 million to 2.56 million hours of free legal or indirect services to the poor were provided by Texas lawyers. Even so, there is a large unmet need:  It is estimated that there is only one legal aid lawyer for every 11,152 Texans who qualify for legal aid.

Several local legal aid organizations and bar associations are holding special clinics and events in conjunction with Pro Bono Week.  On Thursday, Oct. 27, a delegation from the Ukraine as part of the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program will be meeting with Betty Balli Torres, TAJF Executive Director, and Trish McAllister, TATJC Executive Director, to learn about pro bono legal services in Texas.   A complete list of Texas events can be found by visiting: http://www.probono.net/celebrateprobono/events/location.2011-10-01.Texas. 

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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.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (www.teajf.org), created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the primary state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to more than 100,000 Texans each year.

Contact: Kimberly Schmitt
512-320-0099, ext. 104
kschmitt@teajf.org

 

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