Whether your career path leads you to the public or private sector, in business or non-profit, in whatever industry, we believe that the call to law is in essence a calling to the public. In an increasingly diverse community with increasingly divergent needs, Baylor Law School strives to develop responsible citizens, educated leaders, dedicated scholars, and skilled professionals who practice with the heart to establish and protect a civil society. To this end, we encourage participation and careers in public service through various organizations and programs including Baylor Law School Pro Bono and Public Service Program, the Public Interest Legal Society, and public service focused internships.
Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals Immigration Clinic
On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own may qualify for deportation relief. Baylor established a Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Immigration Clinic to assist qualified individuals with the application process. This effort began on August 29, 2012, by hosting Catholic Charities as it provided information about the DACA application process and performed free screenings for potential applicants. Over 150 members of the Central Texas community were counseled by lawyers and/or BIA certified advisors on the DACA application process. Those who met the initial screening requirements for the DACA application process were scheduled for further assistance at the clinic in September and October. Approximately 120 applications were completed with the assistance of thirty-five law students and twenty-two undergraduate students who volunteered their time for the clinic. Due to the resounding success of the August 2012 clinic, the law school held additional DACA Immigration Clinics in March and April 2013. Approximately 40 applications were completed with the assistance of twenty-eight law students and seventeen undergraduate students. To date, the Baylor Law School DACA Immigration Clinic has served 160 low income Waco-area residents with their immigration needs.
People's Law School
Free and open to the public, the People's Law School ("PLS") offers a half-day curriculum featuring volunteer attorneys and legal experts who teach courses designed to educate members of the community about their legal rights and to make the law "user friendly." This has become an annual event sponsored by Baylor Law School and other organizations for the benefit of the Central Texas community. This year, approximately 250 people attended the PLS. Participants chose up to three courses from the eighteen, hour-long courses offered. The courses focused on useful issues such as consumer rights, small businesses, landlord/tenant rights, the Affordable Care Act, veterans' rights, wills, elder law, employment law, and family law. In addition to the courses, attendees received a copy of the book Know Your Rights, written by consumer law expert, Richard Alderman. Approximately fifteen Baylor law students volunteered this year to assist with the program.
Veterans Assistance Clinic
Beginning last fall, Baylor has been offering a pro bono legal clinic to a deserving and underserved segment of our community, our veterans. With 19,000 veterans residing in McLennan County (which is adjacent to Fort Hood, the largest U.S. Army installation in the world), there is need to provide pro bono legal services to this deserving segment of our population.
Each monthly clinic begins with a 30-minute educational topic ranging from landlord/tenant relationship issues to veterans' benefits to the importance of having a will. Following the 30-minute session, veterans who have current legal problems can meet with a law student and volunteer attorney for a brief advice and counsel session. Some problems may simply require advice and a plan of action, while others may require the opening of a file. If there will be an ongoing legal matter, the clinic seeks a volunteer attorney willing to take on representation of the client, who will then partner with a law student to work on the case.
In addition to the monthly advice and counsel clinics, the clinic also provides a special program on Veterans Day. Annually, in conjunction with Veterans Day, Baylor Law offers veterans a Saturday clinic for preparation of wills, powers of attorney and directives to physicians.
Summer and Spring Break Public Interest Opportunities
Texas Access to Justice Summer Internships – Since its inception, Baylor Law has participated in this seven-to-ten-week program coordinated by the Texas Access to Justice Commission in which students work in one of several different public interest legal organizations in Texas that are not-for-profit or governmental organizations serving underrepresented populations.
Baylor Law Public Interest Summer Fellowships – Each summer the Law School provides public interest fellowships to students interning for not-for-profit or governmental organizations to assist underrepresented populations in obtaining equal access to justice. During the summer of 2012, ten students worked in excess of 1,700 hours as Public Interest Fellows working for government programs that serve indigent populations, such as legal aid offices and public defenders offices. This year, we had four students participating in the program, working for over 750 hours. This program is funded through a meaningful endowment gift made to the Law School arising out of a consumer class action settlement.
Pro Bono Spring Break – Partnering with the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, fourteen Baylor Law Students volunteered their time over Spring Break to work with various legal aid entities around the state. Eight students worked with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, which is the third largest legal services provider in the nation and the largest in the state of Texas. Three students worked with the Montgomery County's pro se assistance clinic, helping pro se litigants move their cases through the court system under the supervision of a Montgomery County staff attorney. In addition, two students worked with the Montgomery County Women's Center helping clients with probate documents, and one student worked with the Livingston County's Lone Star Legal Aid office. Due to the success of this program, we hope to annually provide this opportunity to students.
The Pro Bono and Public Service Program
Students also have an opportunity to serve the community on an individual basis in addition to the clinical opportunities described above. This individual-focused program is called "The Pro bono and Public Service Program." The work includes both public interest (government, prosecutors, public defenders, direct services, law reform, public interest law firms, and judicial internships) and community service. Seventy-five percent of the hours must be in law-related service (e.g., assisting a faculty member with a pro bono project, working with the State Bar Pipeline Project, working in an unpaid internship with the Legal Assistance Project, or volunteering at Lone Star Legal Aid).
Up to 25 percent of the hours can be completed in any type of community service (e.g., building with Habitat for Humanity, serving at Meals on Wheels, taking pets to nursing homes through Fuzzy Friends, serving as iCivics facilitators, or as lunch mentors at Baylor Law's Adopt-A-School partner, Bell's Hill Elementary). Work completed for the program's credit cannot be completed for academic credit, disciplinary purposes or for pay (with the exception of a living stipend).
Since its inception in 2010, more than forty students have reported almost 2,300 hours of service. The pro bono work done by these students includes contacting potential aid recipients through the Public Benefits Project through Lone Star Legal Aid; assisting attorneys with pro bono adoptions; serving as Court Appointed Special Advocates; analyzing evidence that contributed to convictions through the local Innocence Project; volunteering at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children; working in the Voter Protection Program; meeting with immigrants through Catholic Charities of Central Texas - Waco Immigration Legal Services; assisting with the People's Law School; and volunteering at the Greater Waco Youth Law Advocacy Project.
The Baylor Public Interest Legal Society
The Baylor Public Interest Legal Society (BPILS) is a service-oriented organization that exists to serve Baylor Law School and the Waco community in facilitating the involvement of students in public interest institutions and programs. BPILS coordinates and encourages the efforts of students, faculty and administration in promoting public interest issues on campus and in the community. BPILS also assists students in obtaining internships, externships and employment in public interest fields in coordination with Baylor Law School's faculty and administration.
National Adoption Day – BPILS, under the direction of our faculty sponsor, Professor Fuselier, facilitates pro bono adoptions in coordination with Child Protective Services and local attorneys. Every fall, members of the Baylor Law School faculty, the Baylor Law School Public Interest Legal Society, and McLennan County Department of Family Protective Services celebrate the joys of adoption and encourage more people to give children permanent families through adoption. This local celebration is part of a nationwide effort to call special attention to the 129,000 foster children awaiting adoption in the United States and to celebrate all loving families that adopt. As part of National Adoption Day on November 16, 2012, Judge Gary Coley finalized the adoptions of seventeen children from foster care. Thirty-six Baylor Law students helped with the adoptions.
The Public Benefits Project at Lone Star Legal Aid – BPILS developed the Public Benefits Project at Lone Star Legal Aid. This project screens potential clients for food stamp benefit eligibility. BPILS also is spearheading a closer cooperation between Lone Star Legal Aid and local chapters of the NAACP and LULAC.
The Innocence Project of Texas – Due to the advocacy of Baylor Law students, the Innocence Project of Texas has taken root at Baylor Law under the supervision of Professor Serr and a local attorney. The project involves investigations of claims of actual innocence made by inmates incarcerated in Texas prisons. Each year five to ten students are involved with the project.
Miscellaneous Activities – Baylor Law Students hold a faculty and student auction in support of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); a Student Bar Association Blood Drive program; an SBA Toys for Tots program at Christmas; an SBA March of Dimes Crusade (among top 10 contributors in McLennan County); and an Immunity Day program benefitting Mission Waco and the Waco Youth Law Project. This year, the SBA won the "Most Pounds of Food Collected" recognition in Caritas' Food for Families Drive.