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South Texas College of Law Houston Commitment to Pro Bono Legal Service Earns State Honor

Home Law School News South Texas College of Law Houston Commitment to Pro Bono Legal Service Earns State Honor

South Texas College of Law Houston is honored that the Texas Access to Justice Commission has awarded South Texas the 2022 Access to Justice Law School Commitment to Service Award in recognition of South Texas’s extensive pro bono service.

“The commitment to the provision of legal services to the poor by the law school is truly exceptional,” wrote Harriet E. Miers, Chair of TAJC, and the Honorable Latosha Lewis Payne, Chair of the Awards Committee and Judge, 55thDistrict Court, in a joint announcement about the award.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Brett Busby will present the award to South Texas President and Dean Michael F. Barry at the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony, scheduled Nov. 14 at Bass Concert Hall in Austin. South Texas has received this prestigious award, which is open to all accredited law schools in Texas, four times in the 11 years it has been presented.

“STCL Houston’s mission emphasizes the call to prepare graduates to serve the community and the profession with distinction,” Barry said. “Service is at the heart of our mission and the education we provide our law students.  South Texas’s curriculum, clinics, faculty, and student organizations instill the concepts of service exceptionally well, allowing the law school to make a significant impact on the community not just in the past year, but over many years — particularly for low-income Texans.”

This past year, South Texas students, staff, faculty, and alumni worked together to provide access to the justice system to thousands of people — including some facing wrongful conviction, some trying to have a criminal record expunged, others needing to navigate complex immigration issues. A joint effort involving an alumna and law professor helped preserve a neighborhood’s integrity, and a fight for justice continues for World War I soldiers denied due process.

The primary vehicle for these pro bono services is the experiential education tradition at South Texas. Through the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas, students have an extraordinary opportunity to help real people with real legal issues — working alongside licensed attorneys. Annually, students and clinic staff provide more than $2 million worth of pro bono services to the Greater Houston community. The comprehensive and successful clinical education program is a vital component of the law school’s emphasis on pro bono service.

“The clinics instill in STCL Houston students a commitment to service, and the Greater Houston community and the legal profession have recognized the clinics’ significant accomplishments and impact,” said Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean for experiential learning, professor of law, and director of the Pro Bono Honors Program. “Our faculty, clinic staff, and students have dedicated themselves to service, giving of their time and expertise with great passion. This is not just legal work to our teams; it is about assisting people who need help.”

Here are some examples of pro bono service by South Texas faculty, students, clinic staff, and alumni:

  • The Landlord/Tenant practice helped more than 5,000 people facing housing instability through a combination of community outreach and courtroom advocacy. One public service attorney in the clinics personally represented more than 370 households in court and helped secure more than $500,000 in grant money to expand the program.
  • In addition to assisting and representing tenants facing eviction, the faculty also serve as resources for eviction attorneys statewide and train advocates to effectively combat the ongoing eviction crisis. In January 2022, South Texas hosted and trained more than 120 legal-service providers from across the state in an online program focused on lawyering skills needed in eviction defense.
  • In a pro bono effort involving the Riverside Terrace community in the Third Ward of Houston, 1996 STCL Houston alumna Melanie Wilcox Miles and STCL Houston Professor of Law Matt Festa teamed up to help the community successfully fight the city’s effort to name their neighborhood a Historic District. They achieved the legal victory in part because of a relevant case Prof. Festa had argued before the Texas Supreme Court.
  • South Texas Law Assistant Professor Dru Brenner-Beck and Vice President and Associate Dean Cathy Burnett participated in a panel discussion Aug. 23 about their ongoing efforts to gain clemency for the Camp Logan soldiers. The Houston Mutiny and Riots: 105 Years Later event focused on the fight to secure clemency for the soldiers convicted without adequate representation nor the ability to appeal. See the full discussion here: https://lnkd.in/gxXdKStP
  • Dr. Mark E. Steiner, professor of law at South Texas College of Law Houston, was honored for his extensive pro bono service during the 2022 Houston Bar Association (HBA) Harris County Bench Bar Pro Bono Awards ceremony. Dr. Steiner was lauded by HBA President Jennifer A. Halsey for volunteering to provide legal advice and counsel through Houston Volunteer Lawyers’ Friday Legal Advice Line. She also recognized his service as South Texas’s law school liaison to the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Board of Directors and his encouragement of law students to participate in pro bono activities. For the past 15 years, Dr. Steiner has devoted much of his downtime volunteering at workshops that help immigrants become citizens. He is a member of the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas, which recognizes 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.
  • STCL Houston public interest attorneys Elliott Tucker and Jerry Loza — who have been extremely active with the Landlord/Tenant Clinic — presented in August at the annual Poverty Law Conference in Austin on the topic of “Eviction Defense in Texas.
  • Assistant Professor Ryan Nelson — provided roughly 100 hours of pro bono representation this year, with the majority of that time representing a nonprofit organization that fights against systemic racism and sexism in the restaurant industry.
  • Public Interest Attorney Aimee Maldonado, Immigration Initiative, leads student volunteers several times a year to participate in naturalization workshops and asylum interviews.
  • In coordination with the law school’s Expunction Clinic, the STCL Houston Benny Agosto, Jr. Diversity Center, and Porter | Hedges law firm, a number of students from the Black Law Students Association and the Hispanic Law Students Association at South Texas provided pro bono service for an Expunction Clinic in March 2022.
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