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 has created a culture of pro bono service. This process begins at orientation. Baylor Law’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 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.
The pro bono programs at Baylor Law have received ten awards and recognitions in the last decade.
In 2018, Tycha Kimbrough received the Law Student Pro Bono Award from the Texas Access to Justice Commission. The awards honors a student whose pro bono work has made a significant impact on the community and enhanced the delivery of quality legal services to Texas’ underserved communities. During her time at Baylor Law, Tycha was involved in an inspiring amount of clinical and service-oriented activities on a pro bono basis (in the Veterans Clinic, Trial Advocacy Clinic, and the Texas Access to Justice Pro Bono Spring Break Program, to name a few), for which she received no academic credit.
Also in 2018, Professor Tom Featherston was honored with the Texas Bar Foundation’s Terry Lee Grantham Memorial Award. Established to celebrate Grantham's life as a gifted and committed lawyer, the award is given to lawyers who exemplify the qualities of an accomplished, talented, and dedicated practitioner, and who demonstrate a passion for service. Professor Featherston is active in the Texas Bar and the American Bar Association through their respective Real Estate, Probate & Trust Law Sections, is an Academic Fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and supervises dozens of wills each year in the Wills and Estate Planning Clinic.
In 2017, Bridget Fuselier, Baylor Law Professor and Executive Director of the Baylor Law Veterans Clinic, received the Colonel Bryan S. Spencer Award for her outstanding service to veterans through the Baylor Law Veterans Clinic. The award is presented by the Texas Military & Veterans Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.
In 2016, 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 previously received the award in 2010.
In 2015, Baylor Law 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 Law’s Baylor Public Interest Legal Society (BPILS) for its remarkable implementation of their annual Adoption Day program. Also, in 2014, Baylor Law 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)