Working together to address veterans’ legal needs
Editorial by Frank Stevenson
Heard any good lawyer jokes lately?
What about the one where the Texas lawyer—for free—kept the 91-year-old female World War II Army veteran from losing her home to wrongful foreclosure caused by a bank’s error?
Or where the Texas lawyer—for free—arranged for a grieving veteran to become his granddaughter’s sole managing conservator after his daughter’s swift and tragic death from a brain tumor?
Or maybe about the Texas lawyer who helped—for free—a vet just back from several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan gain custody of his children after his ex-wife fell prey to addiction?
These aren’t jokes, they’re stories. They tell about Texas lawyers performing authentic and selfless service to perhaps the most deserving segment of our society—our veterans. And there are literally thousands more stories just like them.
This week—Oct. 23-29—is Celebrate Pro Bono Week. It’s the perfect time to set aside the jokes and tell the stories instead. And Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, or TLTV, is a story worth telling.
As in many aspects of the legal profession, Texas leads the nation in promoting access to justice for veterans. In July 2010, the State Bar of Texas under then-President Terry Tottenham started TLTV, a program that equips local bar associations to operate legal aid clinics specifically for our veterans. Since then, TLTV volunteer attorneys, paralegals, and law students have helped more than 22,000 veterans across our state.
TLTV was modeled on the groundbreaking Veterans Legal Initiative (VLI), started by the Houston Bar Association in 2008. Those volunteers alone have served 14,539 veterans in the past eight years.
The reach of these programs extends well beyond Texas. Legal organizations in 24 states and the District of Columbia have requested our TLTV Clinic in a Box, which contains everything needed to host a veterans legal clinic. At a recent national conference of state bar officers, a speaker was asked how to address the justice gap afflicting our veterans; “look to Texas” was her response.
American Bar Association President Linda Klein recently announced the Veterans Legal Services Initiative, which aims to remove barriers keeping veterans and their families from accessing the legal help they need. Andrew Lehmann, staff attorney for Houston VLI, provided input for this ABA initiative. He hopes it will encourage more lawyers—in Texas and elsewhere—to volunteer.
Texas lawyers don’t just serve veterans. In every corner of this state and everywhere in between, Texas lawyers volunteer in clinics, over the phone, and online to help the least, the last, and the lost.
Does every legal need get met? Tragically, no. Does every Texas lawyer serve? No, not yet.
But last year alone, Texas lawyers gave roughly 1.87 million hours of free legal services to the poor, with an estimated value of $486 million. They also gave 1.34 million hours of substantially reduced-fee services for the underprivileged, valued at $348.4 million, and paid $11.72 million of costs on those clients’ behalf.
Texas lawyers also contributed monetarily—another $5.14 million—to legal aid and volunteer attorney programs. And they contributed an additional $1.3 million along with their bar dues.
So, instead of jokes about sharks, shysters, and swindlers, this is the week for stories about helpers, healers, and humanitarians. Because that’s your Texas bar.
Attorneys interested in providing pro bono service or volunteering in their communities can find resources at probonotexas.org. If you need an attorney and cannot afford to pay for one, you can contact the State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division (800-204-2222, ext. 1855) for a referral to a low-cost civil legal aid agency.
Frank Stevenson, a partner in Locke Lord LLP in Dallas, is the 2016-2017 president of the State Bar of Texas, an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas that provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the minimum continuing legal education program for attorneys, and manages the attorney discipline system.