In January 2021, with the COVID 19 pandemic preventing travel, the Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program recast its annual winter break service trip to South Texas, Pro Bono in January or PBinJ, as “Pro Bono. In January,” offering students an array of virtual volunteer opportunities. In January 2022, the Mithoff Program followed a similar model. The week of January 10-14, 76 law students volunteered with 30 host organizations or projects across Texas, most working remotely, a handful working in person.
“Winter break is an important time for students to devote to pro bono work, a time when they don’t have to juggle volunteering with class responsibilities,” said Mithoff Program director Andrea Marsh. “Traditionally, PBinJ has provided an opportunity for 1Ls to get legal experience on their resumes while they’re looking for summer jobs, and for students to get over the finish line to fulfill the Pro Bono Pledge before graduation. It has been important to continue to meet those needs during the pandemic.”
In January 2022, the Mithoff Program put students to work on a range of legal issues with organizations across Texas: immigration matters with Catholic Charities Dallas, RAICES, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), and the Mithoff Program’s Afghan Pro Se Asylum Project; disability law with Disability Rights Texas (including access to education, guardianship, Medicaid hearings, and supported decision making); public defense, juvenile defense, and capital representation with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office, Hill Country Regional Public Defender, Lone Star Justice Alliance, Texas Defender Service, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and the Travis County Public Defender’s Office; civil rights issues with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Texas Civil Rights Project; legal services for survivors of domestic violence with the Texas Advocacy Project; and a variety of other civil justice issues with Texas Appleseed (disaster recovery, fair housing, community development) and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (community development, LGBTQ+ rights, manufactured housing).
“We are extremely grateful to the many organizations that agreed to host our students, as well as the attorneys who agreed to supervise them,” said Marsh. Students also expressed appreciation, particularly for the meaningful work and excellent supervision they received. “Working with the Hill Country Regional Public Defender’s Office for PBinJ taught me so much,” said Anastasia Zaluckyj ’23, who was able to work in person. “It was a fast-paced environment where I was encouraged to try new things. I helped draft motions, sat in on strategy meetings, and met with clients. I learned so much in just one week.” Zoe Dobkin ’24, who worked remotely with ProBAR, agreed: “It was such a great experience. I developed my legal research and presentation skills. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about immigration law and the U visa process in particular. The attorneys I met were kind, funny, and brilliant!”