In recognition of National Pro Bono Week (October 21-27, 2012), the UT Law Pro Bono Program celebrates the pro bono efforts of members of the Law School community.
Recently the Pro Bono Program spoke with Nicole Simmons, director of Public Service Programs in the UT Law Career Services Office, about her pro bono service.
Simmons has volunteered at Special Education Clinics hosted by Disability Rights Texas and Volunteer Legal Services. Parents come to the clinics with problems around their children’s special education needs. For example, one client had a son in a wheelchair who she felt was being abused by his school aids. She didn’t speak English and the school didn’t provide an interpreter for her. Another case involved a mother who was fighting for more assistive technology in the classroom and more therapy for her child. At some clinics Simmons did intake and gave preliminary advice to Disability Rights clients. At other clinics she provided more in-depth advice to unrepresented parents, informing them about applicable laws and available resources. Simmons has also volunteered at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid walk-in clinics, providing counseling about credit card, bankruptcy, and student loan issues.
Simmons notes that community service and giving back have always been important to her. Before coming to work at the Law School she worked in private practice. “It was easier to do pro bono work because there were lots of projects that I could pick from at the firm,” Simmons said. “Now I have to find projects that I am passionate about.” Simmons has identified special education and debt as her areas of focus. “The debt issues strike a personal chord for me because I know a lot of people dealing with these issues, and it makes me angry that people go through this. As a parent of a special needs child, I know how difficult it is to advocate for my child’s needs, even with my legal training and without language and other communication barriers. I want to help people who don’t have the same resources to advocate for their children’s needs.”
Simmons notes that she has learned things through her volunteer work that she never would have learned in practice, and she encourages students to participate in pro bono service. “When I was a student here there wasn’t really a pro bono culture at UT Law. We did community service and volunteer work but it wasn’t legal. Having projects that are legal and that allow students to give back and develop their skills is incredibly important. Pro bono work is valuable on so many levels.”
Contact: Tina Fernandez, Director, Pro Bono Program, William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, 512-232-6170, email@example.com