The Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program continues to increase the opportunities it offers to Texas Law students. During 2016-17, the Mithoff Program sponsored 70 pro bono projects and over half of the student body participated. On average, each Texas Law class donates over 5,000 hours of pro bono service each year.
Part of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, the Mithoff Program offers students the option to perform pro bono service by volunteering outside the law school or by participating in internal projects. In 2016-17, the Mithoff Program’s internal projects, developed by staff with extensive student involvement, served over 631 individuals and drew 297 law student volunteers. Those projects included:
Expunction Project: Students helped community members determine their eligibility to expunge criminal records or obtain orders of nondisclosure of criminal records, obtained criminal records from courts and other agencies, drafted petitions, and helped petitioners prepare for pro se expunction hearings.
INCLUDE: Students advised young adults with disabilities transitioning out of special education programs and their families about guardianship and its alternatives, with an emphasis on a new option in state law to enter into Supported Decision Making (SDM) agreements. These agreements allow individuals with disabilities to maintain maximum control over their lives and avoid unnecessary and costly probate proceedings. In addition to working with families in the Austin area, a group of eight students traveled with faculty members to Laredo to help families sign SDM agreements.
Trans Gender Name and Marker Project: Law students assisted transgender individuals who seek to legally modify their name and gender marker on basic forms of identification. Students collected information and documents, explained the name and gender marker change process, and drafted petitions and orders for name and gender marker modification.
The Mithoff Program also reprised Pro Bono in January (PBinJ) – the increasingly popular annual winter break service trip to the Texas RioGrande Valley, a region whose low-income communities have significant unmet legal needs. This year, fifty-three law students and four Justice Center-affiliated faculty members participated in PBinJ. In partnership with attorneys at the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, students assisted Valley residents with a variety of immigration, criminal law, and property law matters.
In addition to PBinJ, the Mithoff Program sponsored a second winter break trip in the San Antonio area. Seven students worked with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in San Antonio and Karnes City to provide legal support to detained immigrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. Texas Law Immigration Clinic faculty traveled with the students and supported their work.
These trips provided many 1L law students with one of their first opportunities to use their legal education in real-world situations. Students of all levels developed practical skills and substantive legal knowledge while engaging in meaningful pro bono work. “Even within the span of a week, I feel like I learned so much and was able to make a contribution to the important legal work being done in the Rio Grande Valley. I am grateful I was able to attend this trip to remind me of why I came to law school and wanted to be an attorney in the first place,” said PBinJ participant Kara Karcher ’19.
“We are indebted to our partners in and outside the law school for all they did to facilitate our students’ work this year,” said Andrea Marsh, Director of the Mithoff Program. “Over 50 nonprofit organizations, government agencies, law firms, and other groups partnered with us on pro bono projects or hosted students and clinics. Over 80 attorneys outside of the Mithoff Program helped supervise student pro bono work.”