AUSTIN, Texas (Aug. 24, 2012) - The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) has announced grants to 11 nonprofit organizations - including Baylor Law School - that will help fund legal aid services for Texas veterans. With these grants, public interest and pro bono lawyers will be able to provide legal representation to low-income Texas veterans with basic civil legal problems such as denial of benefits or disability, family law matters arising from deployment and other issues that may arise due to a veteran's absence from home during military service.
The grant will allow Baylor Law School and its Public Interest Legal Society to begin a monthly clinical program for local veterans to receive legal advice and counsel from law students, faculty members and local attorneys.
"Our Texas State Bar president and the executive director from the Houston Bar Foundation held a professional development session in Waco where they talked about the veterans clinics that were starting in Houston. I thought, 'Why don't we do that here?'" said Bridget Fuselier, associate professor of law and faculty sponsor of the Public Interest Legal Society. "I met with Law Dean Brad Toben and Dean Leah Jackson, and they were very supportive and said whatever we need to do we'll do it. I found out the Texas Access to Justice Foundation would be awarding funds for projects to help veterans. I applied for it on behalf of the law school's clinical program, and we were fortunate enough to be awarded as one of the 11 programs who are getting funding."
The clinics will open with a 30-minute session on a pertinent legal topic, such as "Things You Need to Know About Your Landlord/Tenant Relationship," followed by opportunities for veterans to meet with law students and attorneys. Clinics will be held on the second Friday of each month, with the first scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at Mission Waco's Meyer Center, 1226 Washington Ave.
"They will be able to have a private advice and counsel with an attorney and a law student, which will help that law student learn how representing a client really works. Whatever issue they've come in with, they can talk about it and see if they can get some assistance," Fuselier said. "Some issues might be able to be resolved just with some simple advice and guidance going forward. Some might have more complicated problems that might need legal representation."
Law students will partner on those cases with a local volunteer attorney, which will provide students with the opportunity to assist with the legal work. Fuselier said the experience not only helps the community but inspires law students to value public service.
"I want them to get used to the idea while they're still students of serving others, and no matter what you do you can make time for something like this. I feel like if we help instill that in them now, they will take it with them when they graduate and it'll just become a part of who they are as a lawyer," Fuselier said.
"We are pleased to be offering this pro bono opportunity - it's a winner all around, giving our students front-line experience and allowing us in a small way to thank our armed services personnel for what they do for the security and protection of our nation and its interests around the world," said Brad Toben, dean of Baylor Law School.
The Texas Access to Justice Commission - through its Champions of Justice Gala - raised more than $413,000 in 2012. TAJF will use the money raised to provide the grants to the selected nonprofit organizations. Now in its third year, the Champions of Justice Gala has raised more than $1 million for veterans' legal services since its inception.In addition to Baylor Law School, the TAJC also awarded grants to these nonprofits: Cathedral Justice Project, Houston Community Justice Foundation, San Antonio Fort Bend Lawyers Care, Richmond Houston Bar Foundation, Houston Jefferson County Bar Foundation, Beaumont Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Fort Worth (also includes Dallas, Panhandle) Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston (includes East Texas) Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido Inc. (Texas Civil Rights Project), Austin, South Texas Tarrant County Bar Foundation, Fort Worth Texas Legal Services Center, Austin (statewide)
"These funds will help provide legal services for the many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and others who have sacrificed so much for our country," said Richard L. Tate, chair of the board of directors of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. "Whether it's through legal clinics, a staff attorney or help from a pro bono lawyer, these organizations will provide for the civil legal representation they need and deserve."
TAJF has awarded nearly $350 million in its 28 years of existence. Legal aid organizations funded by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation help more than 100,000 low-income Texas families each year with their civil legal needs. However, due to a lack of resources, only about 20 to 25 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income and poor Texans are being met.
To qualify for legal help from a program funded by TAJF, an individual normally cannot earn more than $13,963 per year. A family of four must earn less than $28,813 per year.ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference. ABOUT BAYLOR LAW SCHOOL Established in 1849, Baylor Law School was the first law school in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,000 living alumni. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Baylor Law School has a record of producing outstanding lawyers, many of whom decide on a career in public service. The Law School boasts two Texas governors, members or former members of the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, ambassadors, federal judges, justices of the Texas Supreme Court and members of the Texas Legislature among its notable alumni. In its law specialties rankings, U.S.News & World Report ranked Baylor Law's trial advocacy program as the third best in the nation. Baylor Law School is ranked No. 56 in the magazine's 2012 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools." Learn more at www.baylor.edu/law. ABOUT THE TEXAS ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOUNDATION The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the largest state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texans each year.