Allan K. DuBois 2015-06-30 09:51:07
Independence For All The mission of the State Bar of Texas is to … assure all citizens equal access to justice. —Excerpt from the State Bar of Texas Mission Statement Every Fourth of July, we celebrate American independence and exceptionalism. In 2005, Texas attorneys mobilized to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina with their legal needs. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid provided training for local volunteers. At an abandoned mall serving as a shelter, I interviewed a woman from New Orleans who wanted to know how to re-establish her identity after being rescued from her rooftop. She was not concerned about material possessions; my client was desperately pursuing her “independence.” I was very proud when reading recent news clips informing the public about the State Bar of Texas legal hotline to help flash flood victims find answers to basic legal questions and connect them with local and regional volunteer legal aid providers. Advice covered numerous topics, including insurance claim matters, replacing legal documents, property and landlord/tenant issues, consumer/contractor scams, and disaster assistance. While responding to the occasional emergency is necessary and commendable, many Texans experience crisis daily. Under federal income guidelines, 5.6 million Texans currently qualify for legal aid. Unfortunately, Texas ranks 50th in the number of legal aid attorneys available to serve this client base. We have one lawyer for every 312 Texans but only approximately one legal aid lawyer for every 11,000 qualifying Texans. And meeting the requirements for assistance does not automatically result in representation for important matters that are handled by legal aid providers, including critical veterans benefits, domestic spousal and child abuse, wrongful denial of life-sustaining and elderly medical care and disability, and families facing violence, shelter-related events, or homelessness. Our resources supporting legal aid providers are inadequate. The primary funding source is Congress, through the national nonprofit Legal Services Corp. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht went to the 84th Texas Legislature, which approved $17.6 million for basic civil legal services, $3 million for veteran legal aid grants, and $10 million for civil legal aid to victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Interest on attorneys’ trust accounts no longer serves as a significant source of revenue. We need to encourage banks to become Texas Access to Justice Foundation “Prime Partners” by voluntarily paying higher interest rates on our trust accounts to increase legal aid funding. During the July State Bar of Texas Bar Leaders Conference, access to justice will be a primary CLE track for sharing information and program ideas among various state, local, affinity, and minority bar associations. This event is a catalyst for advancing many already successful programs statewide, such as Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans. The emphasis on “service work” will be energized by our recent efforts to support legal aid providers who are assisting Texans facing flood-related disasters. While words of appreciation for dedicated attorneys who provide pro bono legal services are merited, more must be done. We must now take action to bridge the gap and clear the path for more deserving people—and, ultimately, for all citizens of our state—to achieve truly equal access to justice.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/President%E2%80%99s+Opinion/2044689/264105/article.html.