A ‘thank you’ and a call to action

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015

By Allan K. DuBois

Every day, struggling Texans call the State Bar of Texas seeking help with matters ranging from recovering from flooding due to this summer’s severe storms to persistent landlord-tenant problems and child-custody disputes. More often than not, those same individuals, who say they are at the end of their ropes with what they are able to solve on their own, can’t afford the legal representation that might bring resolution to their problems.

The State Bar of Texas will join lawyers across the country October 25-31 for National Pro Bono Celebration week. It’s a week to honor lawyers who give their time for free to help this country’s low-income residents reach justice in criminal or civil matters. But it’s also a week to bring greater awareness to the massive unmet needs that persist in the field of legal aid. Two of the American Bar Association’s goals in celebrating this week are to recruit more pro bono volunteers, increasing legal services to the poor and vulnerable, and to recognize the pro bono efforts of America’s lawyers.

The State Bar of Texas has established an aspirational goal that each lawyer — of which there are about 97,000 in the state − commit 50 hours per year to pro bono legal services.

But the need is still great. I recently noted in the Texas Bar Journal that under federal income guidelines, 5.8 million Texans currently qualify for legal aid, and Texas ranks 50th in the number of legal aid attorneys available to serve this client base. We have one lawyer for every 312 Texans but only approximately one legal aid lawyer for every 11,000 qualifying Texans.

These statistics underline the importance not only that we recruit more pro bono volunteers but uplift and honor their existing, important contributions to creating a fair and just society.

In 2010, the State Bar, under then-President Terry Tottenham, created the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans program to assist local bar associations in addressing a specific need in this state − providing pro bono civil legal assistance to Texas veterans and their families who otherwise could not afford it. Texas has the second-highest population of veterans in the nation, and often those brave men and women struggle to find jobs and housing, suffer from mental disorders, and have to fight to claim benefits due them.

Inspired by TLTV, local bar associations, legal aid organizations, and veterans service providers collaborate to host legal advice clinics throughout the state. I am proud of the important work our TLTV program accomplishes. To learn more, visit texasbar.com/veterans.

This week we offer a much-needed “thank you” to hard-working, dedicated attorneys across Texas giving of their time to work on pro bono cases and in legal aid clinics. But it must also be a call to action and a reminder to everyone that more must be done to ensure no one is left without answers or help. We must all push harder — including working together to financially support our overburdened regional legal aid programs — before we truly achieve access to justice for all.

Allan K. DuBois is president of the State Bar of Texas and the owner of the Law Office of Allan K. DuBois in San Antonio, where he handles civil litigation and appeals, mediation, and arbitration. He may be reached via email at statebarpresident@texasbar.com.