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Law School News

STCL Houston Receives More Than $1 Million in Grants to Provide Legal Aid to Veterans and Low-Income Houstonians

The Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston) recently received more than $1 million in grant funding to provide legal aid to low-income Houstonians, including veterans and their families, immigrants, and those with prior criminal histories seeking removal of barriers to employment.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) will provide the funds to STCL Houston over a two-year period from fall 2019 through fall 2021.

“We are exceptionally grateful for the tremendous support the Texas Access to Justice Foundation recently provided to STCL Houston’s Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics,” said Michael F. Barry, president and dean of South Texas College of Law Houston. “We are eager to apply the Foundation’s grant funding — in the form of significantly enhanced legal services — to Houston’s veteran and underserved communities.

“We greatly appreciate the trust and confidence TAJF has placed in our students, in addition to the organization’s clear endorsement of the superior legal services our Clinics offer.”

TAJF granted the funds to STCL Houston’s Clinics in three categories: Employment and Criminal/Civil Justice, Legal Aid and Extended Services to Veterans, and Legal Self-Help for Landlord/Tenant Matters.

Firstly, the grant will fund an ID/driver’s license restoration project and a criminal history expunction/non-disclosure project.

“Our goal is to help break the cycle of poverty by assisting low-income workers in regaining the ability to drive lawfully,” said Eric Kwartler, staff attorney and teaching fellow in the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics. “Law students and staff attorneys will provide two services: helping low-income Texans without a driver’s license obtain a restricted license to get back and forth to work — an essential need in the nation’s fourth-largest city — and helping clients fight suspensions and uphold their right to drive legally.”

An additional goal of this program will be removing or restricting access to certain entries in adults’ criminal history records that can significantly impede clients’ efforts to attain gainful employment.

Secondly, with the TAJF funds, students and staff in the Veterans Clinic will establish a Veterans Legal Services Collaborative with other Houston nonprofits to provide extended legal services to low-income veterans in Harris County, Brazoria County, Ft. Bend County, and Montgomery County.

“By working together with other Houston-area legal services providers, we can increase outreach to underserved clients, many of whom would otherwise lack access to legal aid,” said Vinh Ho, managing staff attorney in STCL Houston’s Civil Practice Clinics. “This grant also will streamline the application process for our clients who often are reticent to reach out for legal assistance.”

Thirdly, the TAJF funds will enable staff in the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics to expand its self-help desk for clients appealing landlord/tenant matters to the County Courts at Law. Participating staff and students also will develop and enhance self-help tools for low-income clients in specific areas of the law.

The Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas College of Law Houston are home to 23 separate, specialized legal clinics — eight more than at any other Texas law school. Each year, students and staff in the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics provide more than 35,000 hours of pro bono legal services to underserved Houston-area residents, at a value of nearly $1.8 million.