State Bar of Texas
October 23, 2009

Contact: Kim Davey, kdavey@texasbar.com, 800.204.2222 x 1713 or 512.427.1713

Celebrating Pro Bono
by Roland K. Johnson

In your hometown and mine, too, lawyers volunteer every day to provide legal aid to those who cannot afford it – to talk to people, help them, and be part of something bigger and better than themselves. To showcase the great difference pro bono lawyers make to the nation, its system of justice, its communities, and, most important, the clients they serve, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is sponsoring the National Pro Bono Celebration Oct. 25–31. The week also is dedicated to the quest to find more pro bono volunteers to meet the ever-growing legal needs of this country's most vulnerable citizens. Texans know how to celebrate as well as anyone. I am pleased that events are being planned across the state that will reflect the commitment of our lawyers to ensuring access to justice.

To me, celebrating pro bono is about honoring the work lawyers provide to those in need. The pasture may seem greener in Texas than in other states during this economic downturn, but the legal needs of our poorest citizens are not being met. Earlier this year, I was privileged to be part of a delegation of Texas lawyers that traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with our state's representatives in Congress. We emphasized that although more than 5 million Texans qualify for legal aid, we are able to meet less than 25 percent of the need. There are many more Texans who do not qualify for legal aid but still cannot afford basic legal services.

Celebrating pro bono is also about acknowledging the dedication of people who choose to make ensuring access to justice their life's work through such organizations as Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the Texas Lawyers Care Department of the State Bar of Texas and local bar associations.

Perhaps the best encapsulation of a lawyer's professional responsibility to help those in need is found in the Preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct: A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance, and should therefore devote professional time and civic influence in their behalf. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest. . . .

Each weekday in October the State Bar of Texas blog – http://blog.texasbar.com– is featuring a Texas attorney who provides pro bono services in his or her community. The National Pro Bono Celebration offers us a chance to commemorate the contributions of people like Herb Everitt of Amarillo, Harold Graham of Pinehurst, David E. Grove of Beaumont, Jeffrey H. Kilgore of Galveston, Judge Migdalia Lopez of Brownsville, Phil Phillips of Arlington, Ryan Solis of McAllen, Sharon Steckler of Rosenberg, Lisa L. Taylor of Harlingen, and Raquel West of Beaumont. These and many other lawyers provide free legal services to those unable to pay – they counsel battered women on their legal rights, assist families with foreclosures, provide mediation services to resolve legal disputes, offer legal aid divorce clinics, help people in the aftermath of hurricanes, handle civil rights cases, provide free wills, and handle child protective services and custody cases.

Without lawyers like these, too many of our most vulnerable citizens would go without legal representation. The poor will always be among us. Let it also be said of lawyers committed to helping those in need.

Roland K. Johnson is president of the State Bar of Texas. He is a shareholder in the Fort Worth firm of Harris, Finley & Bogle, P.C.

The State Bar of Texas is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas that provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the minimum continuing legal education program for attorneys, and manages the attorney discipline system.