Service. Service to clients. Service to the bar. Service to the community. If we turn to Webster’s dictionary, service or “to serve” is defined in many ways but includes the definition “to meet the needs of.”[i] A servant is defined as “a person devoted to another or to a cause, creed, etc.”[ii] The Texas Lawyer’s Creed also contains references to service. It provides that lawyers are responsible to assure that all persons have access to competent representation regardless of wealth or position in life. It also requires the lawyer to “commit myself to an adequate and effective pro bono program.”[iii] Service is something that is important to the legal profession and the legal system. However, sometimes in the business of the practice of law, service is the one thing on the “to do list” that gets cut.
To fight this, Baylor Law School has created a culture of pro bono service. This process begins at orientation. Baylor Law School’s administration, faculty, and staff stress the importance of service in the profession. To help prepare our students for the practice of law, our pro bono programming was created with the profession in mind. The State Bar of Texas does not require lawyers to complete pro bono hours or community service hours. Texas lawyers are encouraged to serve and the hours of pro bono work that Texas lawyers give are truly voluntary. The Baylor Law School pro bono program works exactly the same way. With the emphasis being on practical legal training from day one, the program operates with that perspective.
Through volunteering in clinics and other pro bono projects, our students see the impact of their efforts working alongside Baylor faculty and volunteer lawyers. It may be the first time that they see how the law they have learned in class applies to real problems involving real people. Many experience deeper understanding of the subjects they’ve studied. These experiences often solidify their calling to be a lawyer, and create the impetus to continue to serve throughout their careers.
In the past few years, Baylor Law School has received several awards and recognition for our efforts. Last year, Baylor Law received the Law School Commitment to Service Award from the Texas Access to Justice Commission. The award honors the law school that has most distinguished itself by actively educating its students about access to justice issues. Baylor Law School previously received the award in 2010.
In 2015, Baylor Law School was selected to receive the 2015 American Bar Association (ABA) Pro bono Publico Award, making it only the third law school in the nation to be honored with the award since 1984. Each year, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro bono and Public Service presents five awards to individual lawyers and institutions in the legal profession that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged.
In 2014, the ABA Public Interest Award was awarded to Baylor University Law School’s Baylor Public Interest Legal Society (BPILS) for its remarkable implementation of their annual Adoption Day program. Also, in 2014, Baylor Law School received the W. Frank Newton Award from the State Bar of Texas. The W. Frank Newton Award recognizes the pro bono contribution of attorney groups, including law school faculty, whose members have made an outstanding contribution in the provision of, or access to, legal services to the poor. According to the state bar and the committee, Baylor Law was honored for its “truly exceptional” commitment to the “provision of legal services to the poor.” The award is named for W. Frank Newton, former dean of Texas Tech University School of Law and longtime pro bono advocate.
In 2012, Baylor Law student Brittany V. Wray won the Law Student Pro bono Award from the Texas Access to Justice Commission. The award recognizes a law student whose pro bono work has made a significant impact on the community and reflects a passion for advocating on behalf of underserved populations.
In addition to these awards, the law school has made a concerted effort to raise awareness of the issues many of our fellow Americans face. The law school has participated in the Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Champions of Justice Gala, as a Patron of Justice sponsor, since 2015. The law school also sponsored the 2015 Equal Justice Works Conference, which was held in Austin, Texas.
[i] Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1990.
[iii] Texas Lawyer’s Creed (Nov. 1989)