July 28, 2010

Contact: Erika Gonzalez, 512-494-2864 or egonzalez@echristianpr.com
Meg Meo, 512-494-2867 or mmeo@echristianpr.com

Bar Associations and State Bar Sections Honored with Access to Justice Awards
Nearly $667,000 raised by Texas attorneys for the Access to Justice Campaign

AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Access to Justice Commission has recently recognized several local bar associations and sections of the State Bar of Texas that are working to ensure access to justice for all Texans. The eighth annual Deborah G. Hankinson Access to Justice Awards were presented at the Bar Leaders Conference in Houston on July 24, 2010. These awards honor the local bar associations and Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) affiliates whose attorneys contributed at the highest rates through annual State Bar dues to the Access to Justice (ATJ) Campaign.

Each year, Texas attorneys choose to contribute to the Access to Justice (ATJ) Campaign through their annual State Bar dues statements. In 2010, Texas attorneys have raised nearly $667,000 for the campaign. All funds generated by the campaign are earmarked for civil legal aid. The donations of Texas lawyers play a vital role in the effort to meet the critical legal needs of poor and low-income Texans in civil matters.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht presented the 2010 Hankinson Awards to:

  • Midland County Young Lawyers Association – Small City TYLA affiliate
  • Austin Young Lawyers Association – Large City TYLA affiliate
  • Midland County Bar Association – Small City Bar Association
  • Austin Bar Association – Large City Bar Association (This is the seventh year in a row the Austin Bar has received this award.)

Named for former Supreme Court of Texas Justice Deborah G. Hankinson, an outstanding advocate of access to justice, the awards are meant to encourage competition between local bar associations and TYLA affiliates in the ATJ Campaign.

"Through their donation of time, efforts, and financial resources, Texas lawyers are helping make a difference in the lives of less fortunate Texans who need basic civil legal services," Justice Nathan L. Hecht, said. "We congratulate all the award winners for their work to ensure access to justice for all Texans."

The Texas Access to Justice Commission also presented the Pro Bono Service Award, designed to recognize local bar associations and State Bar sections that have created self-sustaining pro bono projects that motivate lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance to poor Texans. The award is presented to three organizations based on size. Each honoree receives a $1,000 stipend to invest in its winning program.

The winner in the large bar association/section category is the Litigation Section of the State Bar of Texas. The section has awarded $26,000 this year to worthy organizations, annually coordinates summer internship and scholarship programs, and encourages members to participate in local pro bono programs.

The Appellate Section of the State Bar of Texas is the winner in the medium bar association/section category. Its Pro Bono Committee matches clients who cannot afford legal representation with volunteer appellate lawyers. The section started pilot programs in the Supreme Court of Texas, the Austin and Houston Courts of Appeals, and is working to establish programs in Forth Worth, Dallas, and San Antonio.

In the small bar association/section category, the winner is the Smith County Bar Association. Smith County's Reference Attorney Program is a joint effort of the Smith County Bar Foundation and the Smith County Law Library to assist self-represented litigants in family law cases.

More than 5.3 million Texans qualify for legal aid, yet there is only one legal aid lawyer for every 11,512 Texans who qualify. Legal aid organizations help more than 100,000 low-income Texas families each year with their civil legal needs. However, for every one person helped by legal aid, a qualified individual is turned away. The Texas Access to Justice Commission works to increase resources for legal aid and encourages the pro bono involvement of Texas lawyers in its efforts to expand access to justice. 

The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources and awareness of legal aid. For more information, please visit www.TexasATJ.org.