Vaughn E. James Vaughn E. James, a professor at Texas Tech University School of Law, left a career in investment banking to follow his passion for the law, pulling from his experience as a religious and union leader in the Caribbean. Now, as an educator, he organizes legal clinics, encourages his students to take part in pro bono work, and logs many hours taking on cases. How did you get started doing pro bono work? As president of the Black Law Students Association at Syracuse University College of Law, I strove to lead our students to provide pro bono assistance to the people of Syracuse and its environs. Why is pro bono work important to you? I believe that we are privileged to be lawyers, to do something we truly love doing and to be paid for doing it. Blessed with such a privilege, we ought to give something back to the community. And what better way than to help those in society who cannot afford our services? I believe this so strongly that I advocate that no current law school student should be allowed to practice law until he or she has completed at least 50 hours of probono work during his or her tenure at law school. If we are to have equal access to justice for all, the person who cannot afford a dream team of lawyers should be able to have someone representing him or her. How has your background influenced your pro bono efforts? To my pro bono work I bring my militancy of my days as a union leader, compassion from my work as a minister of religion, discipline and sense of order from my days as a high school assistant principal, and a habit to put in long hours at work from my days as a musician and performing artist playing at least seven concerts each week. What are some characteristics of a successful pro bono lawyer? First, compassion. You have to really put yourself in the shoes of your clients. You have to care—truly care—about their plight. Above all, just as you are to be willing to forgo your fees, you must be willing to forgo gratitude. Second, the willingness to work long, hard hours. Third, a deep belief in the concept of equal access to justice for all, coupled with a willingness to represent your client to the best of your ability regardless of his or her culpability or guilt, or his or her ability to pay you. Are there any resources that you have found helpful with your pro bono work? I really could not do any of this work without the assistance and support of the deans, associate deans, and administrative staff of Texas Tech University School of Law. Likewise, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas has worked closely with me both with the wills clinic and the tax clinic and in feeding me cases that do not qualify for legal aid assistance but where the litigant cannot afford to retain the services of a lawyer. The State Bar of Texas also operates a referral program from which I get cases. Finally, I must thank two very competent and capable non-lawyers who keep my pro bono practice moving along: Elma Moreno and Nancy Mojica of the Texas Tech University School of Law Clinical Programs.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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