Oct. 17, 2014

Share the love of community service during National Pro Bono Week
By Trey Apffel

The work of pro bono attorneys—who take on cases without charge for the public good—has been a powerful force for progress and equality in the United States.

Our country’s history is filled with examples of lawyers taking positive action by volunteering on some of the most arduous court cases of their time.

One major case that included the help of volunteer lawyers was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which examined the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation of public schools.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the historic court case, which comprised five legal trials that touched on racial segregation in public schools in Kansas, Virginia, Delaware, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia. Attorneys in these cases—including future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, representing the NAACP—defended the liberties of black students, arguing that their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment had been violated. Volunteer lawyers helped prove a disparity in minority schools’ curriculum, school structure, and transportation, paving the way for the court to rule that separate educational facilities were “inherently unequal.”

Other court decisions have benefitted greatly from the work of volunteer attorneys, including Loving v. Virginia, which ended laws preventing interracial marriages, and Miranda v. Arizona, which required police to advise criminal suspects of their right to remain silent during an arrest and questioning along with their right to an attorney.

Every year, the State Bar of Texas honors this volunteer service by participating in the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Celebration week. During the celebration—held Oct. 19-25 this year—local bar associations, community-based organizations, the judiciary, and volunteer attorneys host various clinics and presentations for Texans who need legal assistance.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said that “lawyers have the professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all.” In that spirit, as part of its mission, the State Bar of Texas works to ensure that all citizens have equal access to justice by providing free resource materials to the public, supporting legal services programs for low-income Texans, and encouraging our members to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year—a goal many Texas attorneys exceed.

Attorneys interested in providing pro bono service or connecting with legal aid providers in their communities can find resources at

If you need an attorney and cannot afford to pay for one, you can contact the State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division (800-204-2222, ext. 1855) for a referral to a low-cost civil legal service agency in your area. Also, the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (800-252-9690) serves more than 240 Texas counties and assists more than 70,000 callers each year by finding a lawyer or agency that best matches their legal needs and resources.

One of the best things about being an attorney is the opportunity to help others in a capacity that only those in the legal field are equipped to do. Our oath and daily work to defend the right to access to justice make our profession and our responsibility different from any other. As attorneys, what better way to share that passion and love of community than through pro bono work?

Trey Apffel is president of the State Bar of Texas and the founder and owner of Apffel Law Firm in League City. He may be reached via email at

Lowell Brown, Communications Director
State Bar of Texas
(800) 204-2222, ext. 1713, or (512) 427-1713

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