Baylor Law School has received the 2010 Law School Commitment to Service Award that is presented by 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, thereby carrying forward one of the finest traditions of the legal profession. It is open to each of the nine accredited law schools in Texas. The Law School will be recognized at the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony on Nov. 22 in Austin.
"The profession of law is one of noblest professions because of its emphasis on service to others. At Baylor Law School, we stress to our students that our mission is to form in our students a commitment to service and leadership within one's profession and community as well as ensure meaningful public access to our system of justice," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben.
During the last few years, Baylor Law School has implemented several new programs that emphasize and increase the opportunities for students to participate in pro bono work, as well as other service activities. The Bear P.A.W.S. (People At Work & Service) program encourages Baylor Law students to become involved in the surrounding community through pro bono and community service work. The program helps connect students with service opportunities, tracks hours performed and recognizes students for their service.
"We hope to expose students to the needs of the Waco community and beyond; impart to students the responsibility they have as attorneys to serve; help students learn to find time to serve while managing a heavy workload; provide students with educational experiences to enhance the classroom learning experience; and develop the desire in students to make pro bono work a priority once they begin practicing," said Heather Creed, assistant dean of Professional Development & Student Relations.
Since its inception, students have performed approximately 2,000 hours of service. The pro bono work undertaken by students has included contacting potential aid recipients through Lone Star Legal Aid's Public Benefits Project; volunteering at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children; assisting attorneys with pro bono adoptions; serving as Court Appointed Special Advocates; analyzing evidence that contributed to convictions through the local Innocence Project; 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.
In addition to the work the students perform during the academic year, Baylor Law School created Public Interest Summer Fellowships to enable students to intern during the summer for not-for-profit or governmental organizations serving underrepresented populations. Public interest employers for purposes of these fellowships included government programs that serve indigent populations, not-for-profit organizations that serve indigent populations, legal aid, and public defenders offices. The students worked on various issues, including poverty and welfare, domestic and family, immigration, civil rights, workers' compensation, and bankruptcy. In the summer of 2010, Baylor Law School awarded $49,600 to fellows who worked a combined 124 weeks with organizations as far afield as the Immigration Unit of AYUDA in Washington, DC; and the Office of the Public Defender on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
Other service opportunities Baylor Law School has undertaken include hosting its fourth National Adoption Day in November 2009 and holding its popular People's Law School in February 2010. Beginning with the Fall 2009 academic quarter, Baylor Law took an extra step in communicating the importance of service by incorporating a community service project into each entering class's orientation. Each class has participated in projects benefiting the Waco community. Organizations served include Habitat for Humanity, the ReStore, City of Waco (roadside and river clean-up), and Meals on Wheels. Approximately 150 students have participated.
The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources available to, and awareness of, legal aid programs.