Staff Reporter (2019 – 2020)
When faced with a pressing legal matter, many people avoid seeking the advice of a lawyer due to a lack of financial means. Some people may be surprised to discover that the legal community offers numerous ways for those in need to connect with licensed attorneys skilled in almost every area of law. In fact, the many free or reduced cost legal resources available to Texas residents can sometimes seem overwhelming. This guide explains just a few of the options available.
Where Does the Tradition of Pro Bono Legal Work Come From?
Many people have heard the Latin term “pro bono” commonly associated with the legal field. But what does it mean? Quite simply, “pro bono publico” means “for the good of the people.”1 What this means for lawyers in Texas is that they are held to a high standard of professional responsibility by both the American Bar Association (ABA) and the State Bar of Texas to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them. ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 urges every lawyer to provide at least 50 hours of free or substantially reduced cost legal services each year to persons of limited means or to charitable organizations.2 Similarly, the State Bar of Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct counsel all lawyers licensed in Texas to “render public interest legal service.”3
How to Get Started Finding Help
So, what is the best way to find the resources available in your local community? There are a few major online resources that can point you in the right direction for help on your particular legal issue.
State and County Bar Associations
The State Bar of Texas and local county bar associations dedicate resources to serving the general public. The State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division website provides a good starting point for finding free or reduced cost legal help, including a directory of legal aid programs by county, a low-cost lawyer referral service, and free publications in both English and Spanish.
The TexasLawHelp.org website is funded primarily by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and serves over 1.5 million Texans per year by providing free, reliable online information on legal issues. Helpful features available on their website include a free database of forms for a variety of simple legal problems, a search tool for legal aid organizations in Texas, and a statewide legal clinics calendar.
Texas State Law Library
The State Law Library is the official law library for the State of Texas, serving the legal research needs of the Texas Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Office of the Attorney General, state agencies and commissions, and Texas citizens. Their website provides a practical self-help section with useful links to some of the free legal hotlines and legal assistance organizations throughout the state.
Law School Clinics
Each of the ten law schools located throughout Texas hosts multiple legal clinics that are open to the public for free legal aid. Lawyers-in-training (law students) work under the guidance and direction of licensed attorneys who are faculty members or practicing attorneys in the community. Clinics focus on a wide range of legal issues.
Baylor University Law School—estate planning, immigration, intellectual property and entrepreneurship, trial advocacy, and veterans clinics.
South Texas College of Law—child welfare, estate planning, family law, guardianship, probate, and veterans clinics
Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law—child advocacy, civil/consumer law, criminal defense, family law, immigration detention, federal taxpayers, First Amendment, crimes against women, innocence, patent law, small business and trademark, and family law clinics
St. Mary’s University School of Law—consumer protection, family law, criminal justice, and immigration and human rights clinics
Texas A&M University School of Law—community development, criminal defense, entrepreneurship law, family law, veterans advocacy, immigrant rights, innocence project, low income tax clinic, patent, trademark and copyright, and probate and estate planning clinics
Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law—criminal defense, family law, immigration, wills, probate, and guardianship clinics
Texas Tech University School of Law—capital punishment, regional public defenders office, civil practice, criminal defense, family law and housing, tax, innocence, and alternative dispute resolution clinics
University of Houston Law Center—civil practice, criminal defense, consumer law, military justice, entrepreneurship and community development, immigration, and mediation clinics
University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law—housing and evictions, family law, child support, child custody, immigration, wills and probate, and innocence clinics
University of Texas at Austin School of Law—innocence, capital punishment, children’s rights, civil rights, criminal defense, domestic violence, entrepreneurship and community development, environmental, housing, human rights, immigration, juvenile justice, mental health, Supreme Court, and transnational worker rights clinics.
1 Sally Kane, The Definition of Pro Bono in Law: Pro Bono Legal Services Are a Requirement of Many Bar Associations, The Balance Careers (June 25, 2019), https://www.thebalancecareers.com/what-does-pro-bono-mean-2164411.
2 Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 6.1 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2019).
3 Tex. Disciplinary Rules Prof’l Conduct R. 6.01 cmt. 3, reprinted in Tex. Gov’t Code Ann., tit. 2, subtit. G, app. A (Tex. State Bar R. art. X, § 9).