What did you do this summer? Whatever it was, I hope it included some rest and rejuvenation with family and friends, and an opportunity for you to help another in need. At Houston Volunteer Lawyers, we took some time to reflect on the work accomplished by our pro bono network during the most recent HBA Bar year, July 2021- June 2022. We found that not only was the summer weather hot, but the pro bono spirit for so many of you burned hot as well!
Hundreds of attorneys provided critical legal services to thousands of residents in the Houston area. I thank each one of you for your generosity and pro bono spirit. To acknowledge the accomplishments of 2021-2022, Houston Volunteer Lawyers has produced our annual Year In Review. I am thrilled to share it with you here. Below are some highlights from the year.
Equal Access to Justice Champions Stepped Up
Seventy law firms, corporate legal departments, and solo practitioners stepped up in 2021-2022 by pledging to be an Equal Access to Justice Champion. Each Champion agreed to provide pro bono representation of one eligible client for every five attorneys in their Houston office. The full pledge made was to represent 604 clients. The actual result was 778 cases taken, coming in at 129% of the goal!
More than half of the Equal Access to Justice Champions not only met but exceeded their pledges, with some law firm taking as many as 4 times their original pledge. The only way we are going to close the justice gap in Houston is for private attorneys to donate their time and expertise to help level the playing field for clients in desperate need of legal assistance who can’t afford to hire an attorney. I appreciate all of you for helping to promote access to justice for those in need.
Pro Bono Video Produced
Thanks to funding from Houston Young Lawyers Foundation and Houston Bar Foundation, Houston Volunteer Lawyers created a short video to inform attorneys about pro bono opportunities. One of my 2022 goals is to encourage attorneys who have not yet volunteered or haven’t taken a case in a long time to get involved. Please take a moment to share this video with your colleagues who may not yet be volunteering their time and expertise. It will change not only the client’s life but will most definitely make a lasting impact on the attorney as well.
Need for Legal Services Did Not Take a Summer Break
Not surprisingly, statistics tell us that the need for pro bono legal assistance grew over the last twelve months. As we know, the disparate impact of the pandemic left many low-income individuals and families struggling to get back on their feet. While life has returned to a new version of normal for many of us, the number of tenants still unable to pay their monthly rent remains a concern. 24% of the cases HVL handled over the last year were housing-related legal matters. Rental assistance funds are dwindling and the current Texas Supreme Court 54th Emergency Order is set to expire on November 1st. We can’t let up now. Hundreds of tenants need your pro bono help every month. Individuals navigating our family courts also need your help. Assistance with family legal matters has always been a large percentage of the requests for pro bono services. The most recent Bar year was no exception. More than 1/3 of all the clients that came to HVL’s doors asked for help on a family matter.
Let me pause to highlight three partnerships this year that resulted in profound impacts on the community. Through our medical-legal partnership with Texas Children’s Hospital, more than 500 families received legal assistance that resulted in guardianship by a parent or other adult of a family member who is unable to care for themselves. Another partnership, this one with CenterPoint Energy and other legal partners, helped 175 individuals have their past juvenile and criminal records sealed and expunged. Last but not least, HVL partnered with the City of Houston, the HBA, and the HBA Elder Committee to bring back the popular Will-A-Thon this past spring. Pro bono attorneys provided legal assistance to more than 800 individuals with estate planning, writing of wills, and probate issues.
Call for Continued Help
I end this note with my thanks to so many but also with a reminder that the need for pro bono attorneys never takes time off. Houston Volunteer Lawyers is still offering Friday Legal Advice Clinics remotely and many courts still offer virtual options. So, as we all look forward to the fall and the hope of cooler weather, please add pro bono volunteerism to your plans. Click here to get started.