WACO, Texas -
On November 21 at the State Bar of Texas' New Lawyer Induction Ceremony in Austin, Baylor Law School was honored with the Texas Access to Justice Commission's 2016 Commitment to Service Award.
Each year, the Texas ATJ recognizes one law school that has shown dedication to actively educating its students about access to justice issues. To receive this recognition, Baylor Law School demonstrated an institution-wide dedication to advocating for underserved populations, substantial support for student involvement in pro bono legal service, a wide array of active public service-oriented law student groups, and a high degree of involvement in pro bono efforts from students, faculty, and staff.
As stated in the Baylor Law School mission statement, "to follow the call of service is the principle mission of Baylor Law School." From the first student volunteer project during orientation, through the concluding remarks at graduation ceremonies, Baylor Law School educates and encourages its students to engage in pro bono service. Intertwined throughout orientation materials, and in the classroom, mandatory in first and third year classes, and focused upon within the required Professional Development Program, service to the community, to the profession, and to each other is a persistent theme at Baylor Law.
During first-year orientation, every student participates in a community service event. Over the years, students have helped build a house at Habitat for Humanity Waco, prepared food with Meals and Wheels, cleaned up Waco's historic Cameron Park, and assisted in the post-explosion clean-up of West, Texas. While these activities are not legal in nature, students are encouraged to participate in an effort to instill, from day one, the importance of community service. Since the orientation volunteer program began, first-year student participation has been 100%.
In addition to a service project for the entering class, the Baylor Law School orientation program has a significant focus on service. During orientation, Dean Toben greets students and speaks to them about the obligation to serve and its centrality to the legal profession. Additionally, Professor Bridget Fuselier speaks on the "Importance of Pro Bono and Public Service." This focus upon service does not end with orientation. Professor Brian Serr has developed a program, with the assistance of other law school faculty, devoted to discussing with the students the importance of serving their community as lawyers. This is a recurring theme in the students' education, culminating in their Professional Responsibility class, in which U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade emphasizes the theme of serving the community.
Beyond the curriculum, Baylor Law School gives students many opportunities to volunteer. Since its creation in 2012 by Professor Fuselier, the Veterans Clinic has served more than 500 veterans in McLennan County and surrounding areas. At the monthly Veterans Clinic–led by Director Josh Borderud–students, law school faculty and staff, and local lawyers partner at the Veterans Clinic to serve McLennan County's population of over 16,000+ military veterans, offering pro bono aid to veterans and their spouses. Every year on Veterans Day, the clinic's focus is on wills and powers of attorney to assist veterans and their spouses in planning for the future.
Professor Laura Hernández leads the Immigration Clinic, in which students and lawyers assist qualified individuals through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application process. Since 2012, Baylor Law School has helped approximately 300 individuals through the DACA application process.
At the People's Law School, created and spearheaded by Professor Pat Wilson, Baylor Law School opens its doors to the public and offers a half-day curriculum that informs and educates individuals about their legal rights. This program has grown tremendously and includes information on 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. As many as 300 people are expected to attend the 2017 People's Law School.
In addition to these programs, students can also join the Pro Bono Litigation and Transactional Teams, the Pro Bono and Public Service Program, and the Baylor Public Interest Legal Society (BPILS), or join the Texas ATJ's spring break pro bono programming.
Student team members of the Pro Bono Litigation and Transactional Teams hone their legal skills by working on pro bono cases under the supervision of Baylor Law School Professors Jim Wren, Beth Miller, and Tom Featherston.
On an individual basis, students who participate in the Pro Bono and Public Service Program are given a structured series of opportunities to accumulate volunteer hours while connecting with local pro bono outreaches. Since 2010, students have reported over 9,500 hours of pro bono service through this program.
Furthermore, the BPILS program has organized many pro bono projects at Baylor Law School. The ever-popular National Adoption Day, currently in its ninth year, celebrates foster care adoptions. This program allows students to plan and organize the event along with Professor Fuselier to help loving families adopt as many as 25+ children each year, with 41 children adopted in 2016! Additionally, the BPILS program works with the Public Benefits Project at Lone Star Legal Aid, where students assist in screening potential clients for food stamp benefit eligibility.
This summer, Baylor Law School hosted the inaugural Legal Mapmaker™ Clinic, implemented by Professor Wren, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Pro Bono Programs Stephen Rispoli, Specialist Joshua Weaver, and many faculty, staff, and others to assist young lawyers in understanding how to start successful new law firms while also learning more about access to justice issues and how to become part of the solution. Baylor Law School waived the $250 program fee for all students who took a pledge to work one pro bono case within the year–97% of the attendees signed the pledge.
Baylor Law School also donates substantial financial support for students who wish to pursue pro bono service, including the Baylor Law Public Interest Summer Fellowship and the Equal Justice Scholarship.
Baylor Law School is deeply honored to receive ATJ Law School Commitment to Service Award in recognition of its pro bono service, adding to an array of such recognitions received in past years from the ATJ, the State Bar of Texas, and the American Bar Association.
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Established in 1857, Baylor Law School was one of the first law schools in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,400 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 upon a career in public service. The Law School boasts two governors, members or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, U.S. 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 #4 in the nation. Baylor Law School is also ranked #55 in the magazine's 2017 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools." The National Jurist ranks Baylor Law as one of the "Best School for Practical Training," and #4 in the nation in its most recent "Best Law School Facilities" listing. The Business Insider places Baylor Law among the top 50 law schools in the nation. Baylor Law School received the 2015 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, making it only the third law school in the nation to be honored with the award since the award's inception in 1984.
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 16,000 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 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 D1 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big XII Conference. Learn more at baylor.edu