A Commitment To Pro Bono and Public Service
At Baylor Law
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.
Baylor Law's Pro Bono and Public Service Programs
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.
In 2012, the Baylor Law School created a pro bono legal clinic that is serving a very deserving segment of our community, our veterans. Our goal is to bring our law students, law faculty, and local attorneys together in this endeavor to provide needed legal services. While providing legal assistance that is greatly needed by 19,000 veterans who reside in McLennan County, this pro bono clinic will also help to instill within our law students the desire to serve and volunteer. We hope that in serving our most deserving citizens we will ignite a fire in these young people that will continue and grow as they continue with their legal careers.
Due to the proximity to Fort Hood, McLennan County is home to approximately 19,000 veterans. Since the clinic began in September 2012 we have assisted 380 veterans with legal issues ranging from family law matters, including custody and child support, to consumer debt and bankruptcy issues to real property matters involving foreclosures and landlord tenant disputes. We have gathered the support of 72 local attorneys and 200 law students to join together to provide these services. Not only are we having a direct impact on the lives of our veterans, we are also promoting a passion for pro bono work in the next generation of lawyers.
Funding & Services
The clinic is possible due to a continuing grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The Texas Bar Foundation also provided funds to help start the program its first year. More recently, the Litigation Section of the State Bar of Texas also awarded grant money to the program to obtain iPads to assist with intake and to move to a paperless system.
The veterans in our program must income qualify according to the guidelines provided by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The veterans must meet the 200% of the poverty line requirement in order to obtain the clinic services. We provide legal services to veterans in McLennan County as well as surrounding areas. We have completed cases for veterans from Bell, Bosque, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Hamilton, Limestone, and McLennan County.
Since implementing the clinic in 2012, we have found a permanent home and monthly attendance has grown and remains steady. The clinic is staffed from day-to-day by a part-time paralegal and a part-time recent law school graduate. Professor Bridget Fuselier, a full-time tenured faculty member who created the clinic and continues to serve as its Executive Director, and Stephen Rispoli, the Director of Pro Bono Programs, both actively participate in the clinics and provide oversight for the program. During the monthly in person clinics both student and attorney volunteers participate to provide advice, counsel, and analysis for veteran issues. Those cases that require further representation are referred to volunteer attorneys on a Pro Bono basis. Additionally, some cases are handled internally at Baylor Law School with faculty supervision.
At the monthly legal advice clinics, veterans initially meet with a law student volunteer so that information can be gathered that is relevant to the legal issue at hand. Then a volunteer attorney discusses the issue with the student and together they return to visit with the veteran and provide some initial legal advice and guidance regarding possible next steps. Once a year, for Veterans Day, we hold a Wills Clinic. At this clinic the law students meet with the veterans and gather information needed to prepare basic wills, Directives to Physicians, and Health Care Powers of Attorney. All of the documents are prepared and then executed at the December clinic.
The clinic services are for most civil legal matters. We cannot handle criminal cases due to grant funding restrictions and lack of malpractice insurance coverage for criminal matters.
Future Plans for Expansion
We are currently working on some additions to the clinic to expand our services. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation increased its grant award for the clinic for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 grant years. We will receive $108,000 over the two-year time period. This will provide $54,000 in funds each year. With this significant increase we are in the process of finding and hiring a full-time attorney for the clinic. We will also continue with a part-time paralegal or administrative person. Baylor Law School is going to supplement the grant funds in order to secure both positions. This only provides for these positions for two years and we are looking to secure funding for these positions going into the future.
With the addition of a full-time attorney we will now be able to make a reality some of the dreams we have had for the clinic since its inception. We are going to offer two specialty clinics in addition to our monthly general legal advice clinics. Due to the large number of individuals needing assistance with family law matters, we are going to offer Pro Se Family Law clinics. We will train law student volunteers to assist applicants with the completion of the pro se family law forms approved by the Texas Supreme Court. The students’ work will be directly supervised by volunteer attorneys and Baylor Law School faculty members. Additionally, after this past legislative session, there will also be pro se landlord tenant forms approved by the Texas Supreme Court. Once these forms are available, we will also offer Pro Se Landlord Tenant clinics. These clinics will allow us to prepare citizens to represent themselves in court in basic matters. These types of clinics are needed due to the large amount of need and the limited availability of volunteer attorneys.
Our final new program is an exciting opportunity to make an impact on veterans in rural areas that have limited access to pro bono services. We are working on planning some remote outreach clinics using a “Justice Bus.” The concept is that student volunteers, faculty members, and local attorneys will put the clinic on wheels and take the clinic to the rural communities. We will advertise in advance through local churches, veterans’ organizations, and newspapers to schedule appointments. We will provide legal advice and counsel and offer limited services on the day of the clinic. While this is not a perfect solution to all legal needs in rural areas, it will be a start to help those who cannot access our justice system.
The Veterans Assistance Clinic has made great strides in addressing the needs of veterans in McLennan County and the surrounding areas. With additional funding and personnel, we plan to increase the reach of the program. We are working to “serve those who've served.”
If you are a veteran, and have a civil legal issue, please contact the clinic at 254-710-4244 or [email protected]. For more information on the Veterans Clinic, please contact Bridget Fuselier, Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Baylor Law School Veterans Clinic, at [email protected]
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.
The 11th annual People's Law School takes place February 13, 2016, from 8:00am - 12:45pm at Baylor Law School. Register here
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.
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 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 al 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.