Legal Aid: Helping the Community
When Abel Reyna grew up in the small Texas Panhandle town of Hart, if his family needed legal help they would not have been able to afford it.
“I keep that in mind while volunteering,” said Reyna, an attorney with the McCleskey Law Firm in Lubbock.
McCleskey attorneys offered pro bono legal advice through Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas for the month of January. McCleskey is one of four Lubbock law firms that “sponsor” a month, which means attorneys work two evening clinics where they counsel people who qualify for aid.
About 400 people are seen at the Lubbock clinics each year.
Besides the local law firms that volunteer, various other legal associations and the Texas Tech University School of Law sponsor other months to cover the year.
“We can’t say enough about our longstanding partners like McCleskey because when they help us they’re helping the poor,” said Tamara Duncan, managing attorney of Legal Aid’s Lubbock office.
Duncan quoted statistics that there’s one attorney for every 400 Texans above the poverty line.
But there’s only one legal aid attorney available for every 11,000 Texans below the poverty line, she said, according to statistics from Texas Access to Justice. The group also said Texas ranks 50th in access to legal aid attorneys.
“The support of our volunteers is immeasurable,” said Duncan.
McCleskey Partner Jerry Kolander has been the firm’s contact “as long as we have done it,” which began in 1992.
“It’s important to our community and people who live here and around Lubbock to provide them with access to the legal system,” said Kolander.
The majority of cases seen at a Legal Aid clinic are family law, divorce with child support, for example, but those are not the only types, said Duncan.
Reyna, who was given Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas’ Legal Clinic Volunteer Attorney award in 2013, says he mostly sees family law cases and some renter issues.
Duncan added Legal Aid also sees consumer issues, wills, probate, eviction … “some can be very dire.”
But beyond the much-needed legal help, winning a case can do so much more, she said.
“You help someone receive child support and you can lift someone out of poverty,” she said.
An attorney negotiated a third-party debt collection. Someone gets help getting public benefits. Another person gets to stay in their house, she gave as other examples.
“We want to address poverty at its roots,” Duncan said.
How it Works
A potential client checks in with the front desk to show if he or she qualifies economically.
If they do, the person fills out a form.
It’s reviewed by people from Legal Aid.
The form is then handed to a volunteering attorney, who takes the person to a private room to meet.
The attorney can give them legal advice and then gives a recommendation to Legal Aid.
At that point, the attorney can take it as a pro bono case, Legal Aid will take it or it is denied.
Attorney Kathleen Davidson, who is of counsel and works with her father, McCleskey partner Ben Davidson, worked on two Legal Aid cases in the past two years.
She helped a woman with a restraining order and supervised visitation.
“It made me feel good because I protected my client and her family from an abusive situation,” said Kathleen.
She said some of the people they see are in difficult situations and would have nowhere to turn for help if the attorneys didn’t help.
“People seem desperate for help,” she said.
Davidson recently joined the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas, for attorneys who have done more than 75 hours of pro bono work in a calendar year.
Attorney Will Griffis also volunteered in January.
It’s our chance to give back and recognize those who need assistance and doors to lawyers’ offices where doors are not open to them.
“We’re able to help people in the community be more at ease with their issues,” he said.