Goals and Mission
The Houston College of Law Pro Bono Honors Program seeks both to encourage professionalism by providing pro bono public service opportunities for students and to recognize this service by a formal certificate program.
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Both faculty and students of Houston College of Law have a long, sustained history of public service and pro bono commitment. Founded in the 1920s as an “access” law school, Houston College of Law historically has recognized a commitment to justice as one of its primary missions. In the words of Founding Dean J. C. Hutchenson, Jr.: [the mission is]... To develop “lawyers capable of reasoning broadly and abstractly and of testing by the same general touchstone, conformity to right and justice, every question [that] may arise.”
This sentiment has been ratified and reaffirmed throughout the law school’s history. For example, in the 1990s, the Board of Trustees highlighted pro bono service when it added to the law school’s Mission Statement this aspiration: “To contribute to the betterment of the bench, bar, and society through programs of instruction, scholarly research, and service to the community.”
Student commitment to pro bono activity had been recognized in two primary ways. First, through the annual service projects of the various, robust student organizations. And second, through the hours worked in academic internships and clinical programs far exceeding the requirements for course credit. The magnitude of those contributions of public service and pro bono hours formed, in part, the basis of the “SBA of the Year” award for 1999 - 2000 by the American Bar Association. This culture of giving and service by students extends to the present.
In 2000 a faculty-student ad hoc task force considered the question of a mandatory pro bono program for the law school. Although that task force recommended against a required program after vigorous open forums, surveys and debate, it highlighted the law school’s many decade tradition of service. The ad hoc Task Force then became a permanent part of the law school as the Access to Justice and Public Service Committee. It proposed a voluntary program to be administered through the Student Bar Association and to support initiatives of the Texas Access to Justice Commission. In 2002, all students were solicited to participate.
In creating the Pro Bono Honors Program, the law school continues the tradition of service and strives to inculcate students with the norms and values of the profession. Concerning public service and pro bono commitment, these norms are reflected in:
■ The American Bar Association’s MacCrate Report, which identified as a core value Striving to Promote Justice, Fairness, and Morality. Building on earlier recognition that a lawyer is a member of a profession that bears “special responsibilit[ies] for the quality of justice, ” the MacCrate Report recommended that “a lawyer should be committed to the values of : [2.2] Contributing to the Profession’s Fulfillment of its Responsibility to Ensure that Adequate Legal Services Are Provided to Those Who Cannot Afford to Pay for Them.”
■ The American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6. 1
■ The Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct, which state in their preamble: A lawyer should render public interest legal service. The basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, should find time to participate in or otherwise support the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged. The provision of free legal services to those who are unable to pay reasonable fees is a moral obligation of each lawyer as well as the profession generally. A lawyer may discharge this basic responsibility by providing public interest legal services without a fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, in one or more of the following areas: Property law, civil rights law, public rights law, charitable organization representation, the administration of justice, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.
■ The Texas Lawyer’s Creed, which acknowledges that “A lawyer owes to the administration of justice personal dignity, integrity, and independence. . .[And] Should always adhere to the highest principles of professionalism,” and which asks for the following pledge: “ I commit myself to an adequate and effective pro bono program”.
■ The State Bar of Texas Pro Bono College, which was created in 1992 to recognize those attorneys who have far exceeded the State Bar’s aspirational pro bono goal in their efforts to address the vast unmet legal needs of the poor by providing a significant number of hours of eligible pro bono service during the previous year.
Students are eligible to participate in the Pro Bono Honors Program after completing the first thirty hours required for graduation. Students are required to commit a minimum of fifty hours of service to the project, with no less than ten hours in a given semester.
Students may perform their pro bono work at a pre-approved placement. Students may also initiate placement opportunities and have them approved by the Program Director.
Upon completion of fifty hours of service students are awarded a Pro Bono Honors Program certificate and a notation is a made on the student’s official Houston College of Law transcript.
Thanks and Acknowledgments
The design of this program has been influenced by the law school’s existing Public Interest Clinic, its Access to Justice and Public Service Committee, the California Western School of Law Pro Bono Honors Program, and the Dedman School of Law Public Service Program.
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