Disability Rights Clinic Wins First Trial
The Texas Law Disability Rights Clinic took its first case to trial this fall, walking away with a successful outcome on behalf of its client. 3Ls Mary Jones, Nicole Schilling, and Brad Steel represented a girl with autism, arguing that she had been denied a free, appropriate public education in her sixth-grade year. The three Texas Law students examined and cross-examined over a dozen witnesses in the three-day trial to secure a full victory for their client.
“These students tried a difficult and complex case against highly experienced litigators from a firm with significant resources,” said Clinical Professor Lucille Wood, the director of the Disability Rights Clinic. “They reviewed thousands of pages of documents, developed the testimony of several experts, adeptly handled some tough evidentiary issues, and perfected a trial strategy that got a win, beating some very challenging odds.”
The case started nearly a year ago within the Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program, where students were able to offer pro bono assistance to the family through a drop-in Zoom clinic known as SPEAK (Support Parents’ Advocacy and Knowledge). Without this opportunity and the willingness of several students who generously volunteered their time through the Mithoff Program, the family would not have been able to secure legal representation.
Based on the successful outcome of the trial for the client, the young student will be educated at a regular campus with appropriate support and a compensatory educational package designed to help her make meaningful academic progress. She will have the opportunity to participate in a typical middle school experience—to attend her classes and all school social events—while receiving the services she needs to progress on her behavioral and academic goals.
Building on the momentum of this success, the Disability Rights Clinic has accepted 10 new special education cases this semester and will move into other areas of disability law next semester.
The students received enthusiastic support from the director of the Mithoff Pro Bono Program, Andrea Marsh, and the director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, Associate Dean Eden Harrington.
Pro Bono Pledge
Texas Law students are asked to voluntarily pledge to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono service by the time they graduate law school. By signing the Pro Bono Pledge, students acknowledge the legal profession’s ethical obligation of pro bono service and indicate their personal commitment to increasing access to justice. This Pro Bono program is part of the Justice Center and plays a central role in fulfilling its mission to promote equal justice for all and to support public service in the legal profession.