In recognition of National Pro Bono Week (October 21–27, 2012), the UT Law Pro Bono Program celebrates law students’ volunteer efforts in underserved areas of Texas through Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s Rural Outreach Initiative. Over the 2011–2012 school year, fourteen students assisted TRLA with the project. This fall nine students have volunteered, and students will also have the opportunity to work on the project in the spring.
Students who volunteer for the Rural Outreach Initiative (ROI) travel with TRLA attorneys to underserved communities in TRLA’s vast service area to assess unmet legal needs and to develop strategies to meet them. Last year, law students assisted TRLA with outreach in Cuero, Goliad, and Port Lavaca. This fall the Rural Outreach Initiative will visit Edna, Gonzales, Hallettsville, and Lockhart and surrounding towns.
During the first trip to a community, students and TRLA attorneys meet with community members to discuss legal issues affecting low-income residents and invite residents to a subsequent community meeting to discuss common concerns. During the second trip, approximately two weeks later, students assist TRLA attorneys in leading a community dialogue and with legal intake at a community meeting.
Second year student Tecuan Flores volunteered for the ROI last year. He made two trips to Goliad with the same team of four law students. Before the first trip, the students conducted research on the town to identify community leaders and neighborhoods to target. Then, on the first trip, they went door-to-door with the TRLA team to local businesses, community organizations, and neighborhoods introducing TRLA and assessing the community’s challenges, which the law students summarized and reported to TRLA. On the second trip, the students helped facilitate a community meeting where TRLA lawyers made a presentation based on the issues identified on the first visit and conducted one-on-one consultations with the attendees.
The ROI is an opportunity for law students to help rural communities of Texas, while gaining valuable career experience. Rajab Jaffer, an LLM student, has been on the first trip to Halletsville and Shiner this fall and is looking forward to his team’s return visit. “It was a humbling experience to be able to listen to the problems experienced by members of the community and gratifying to know that we may be able to offer some help,” he said.
Flores notes that the outreach activities improved his communication skills (both in English and Spanish), and that he benefited from working with the other law students and the TRLA attorneys: “I made many new Law School friends. The TRLA attorneys were extremely knowledgeable and provided full guidance throughout the trip. It was inspirational to see how students’ efforts help TRLA fight important legal battles on behalf of the low-income citizens of Texas. I highly recommend that students participate in this project.”
There are a few spots open for students to participate in the project this fall. For information about how to apply, log on to the Pro Bono Program website.
About the Pro Bono Program:
The Pro Bono Program’s vision is that students at the University of Texas School of Law will engage in pro bono work to increase access to justice and develop a lifetime commitment to providing legal services to those in need. Launched in 2009, the Pro Bono Program is a project of the Law School’s William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law.
Contact: Tina Fernandez, Director, Pro Bono Program, William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, 512-232-6170, firstname.lastname@example.org