TexasBar.com

Lora J. Livingston

Judge, 261st Civil District Court, Austin

Quote: I am a strong advocate of pro bono. The minute I went into private practice, I began taking pro bono cases. … No matter the profession, I think we all have a responsibility to give back to the community. However, the helping professions — especially lawyers and doctors — have a heightened sense of this responsibility to do good for the public. — Lora J. Livingston

Career: After graduating from UCLA Law School, Lora J. Livingston began her legal career as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow assigned to the Legal Aid Society of Central Texas in Austin. After seven years in private practice, she was appointed an associate judge of the 261st Civil District Court. With her election to the bench in 1998, she became the first African-American woman to serve on a Travis Country district court. The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation recently honored her with its Harold F. Kleinman Award.

When and why did you decide to become an attorney?
In high school and college, I was torn between two professions. I wanted to be a journalist or an attorney. Ultimately, I decided on the law. What did it for me? I decided that I wanted to use my voice to speak for people who could not speak for themselves. As a lawyer, you can be that voice.

What do you enjoy about serving as a judge?
Being a judge is fabulous. I like that I am the one person in the room who is focused on solutions. The two sides argue, trying to persuade and convince you that one should win and the other should lose. As a judge, I look for the win-win. I want to find the best solution for everyone involved.

Talk about your experience as a Reggie Fellow.
It’s how I ended up in Austin. After I graduated from law school, I was asked for my top three placement choices. I said anywhere in California, Washington, D.C., or Atlanta. And they sent me to Austin. But I loved it. For 25 percent of my time, I focused on community legal education. I worked with KAZI radio station and the Black Citizens Task Force and spoke at community and senior citizen centers about legal rights. I loved working on impact issues that had a broader focus in the community. Following my two-year fellowship, I accepted a staff attorney position. I was with Legal Aid for six years.

When did you first get involved in pro bono work?
I am a strong advocate of pro bono. The minute I went into private practice, I began taking pro bono cases. And I’m not talking about what some lawyers call “pro bono” — when their clients stiff them on fees. I’m talking about knowing up front that the person cannot afford to pay you and you still agreeing to provide legal services. No matter the profession, I think we all have a responsibility to give back to the community. However, the helping professions — especially lawyers and doctors — have a heightened sense of this responsibility to do good for the public. We should give some of our services for free.

What pro bono work are you involved in now?
As a judge, I am not involved in the traditional pro bono work of representing poor people. Now, I volunteer my time working on access to justice issues at the county, state, and national level. I am chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, which is focused on access to legal services for the moderate poor.

Talk about your experience serving on the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation board.
For 12 years, I served on the TEAJF board. I am still part of a subcommittee that travels annually to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to talk about the legal needs of poor Texans. The first few years were daunting. But we have built relationships with and have been a resource for the senators and representatives. Over the years, we have been able to rack up some successes, convincing a number of members to support legal services funding when in the past they had not. 

What are your most memorable pro bono experiences?
By far, serving on the TEAFJ board has been the most significant contribution in my professional career to helping the poor. It is an awesome opportunity to be able to put these millions of dollars to work toward increasing access to justice.        

What motivates you to do pro bono work?
I don’t want to live in a place where the people are not committed to giving back to their community. Pro bono is an important value in my life, and I have a responsibility to lead by example.