Houston Bar Foundation Funded Programs
Houston Volunteer Lawyers
The Houston Bar Foundation provides an annual grant to Houston Volunteer Lawyers, a service of the Houston Bar Association. Houston Volunteer Lawyers uses these funds, which represent approximately one-third of its operating budget, to provide critical legal services to low-income Houstonians. The Houston Bar Association established Houston Volunteer Lawyers in 1981 to fill a gap in the provision of legal services to those people who could not qualify for traditional legal aid programs because they were working to support their families. In reality, however, their income would not cover even their most basic legal needs, such as child custody, landlord/tenant issues and probate matters. Through Houston Volunteer Lawyers, volunteer private attorneys handle cases pro bono for eligible, low-income clients.
In 2015, Houston Volunteer Lawyers provided in-person, one-on-one legal advice to over 5,800 applicants at no charge. Nearly 950 of their matters were referred to pro bono lawyers for long-term representation – which represents a placement rate of 97 percent. Over 2,000 of the persons helped in 2015 were United States veterans or spouses of deceased veterans. In addition, Houston Volunteer Lawyers assisted about 6,300 pro se litigants at its Courthouse Booth in 2015.
In 2015, 1,332 volunteer attorneys logged over 12,650 hours on pro bono cases through Houston Volunteer Lawyers; 264 of those attorneys had never volunteered with Houston Volunteer Lawyers before. At a rate of $250 per hour, the time donated by Houston Volunteer Lawyers volunteers represents a benefit to low-income persons seeking legal assistance of $3,162,500.
Administration of Justice Scholarship Program
In 1994, the Houston Bar Foundation established annual scholarships to provide continuing education that is directly related to the administration of justice in Harris County. Grants have been made for both individuals and groups for continuing education programs. According to court administrator Jack Thompson, this is the only continuing education grant of its kind for court coordinators.
Lawyers Assistance Program
Historic Document Preservation Project
The Houston Bar Foundation partners with the Harris County District Clerk’s Document Preservation Project to accept donations for preserving historic cases and documents from the courts, dating to the early 1800s. The project has enabled the county to preserve hundreds of judicial records of interest to historians, the bar and the general public, and to make them available through 21st century technology.
Now You Are 18 Handbooks
A grant to the Houston Bar Association Auxiliary Charitable Fund enabled the HBA Auxiliary to distribute copies of the booklet, “Now You Are 18” to high school seniors in numerous school districts and private high schools in Harris County. Prepared by the Texas Lawyers Auxiliary, the booklet explains the importance of knowing one’s legal rights and responsibilities. Topics covered include issues such as renting an apartment, credit and debt collection, employment and buying a car.
Continuing Education Grants
The Foundation provides a grant to underwrite education for Harris County court personnel that is related directly to the administration of justice. Grants have been made to both individuals and groups.
Juvenile Justice Mock Trial Program
The Juvenile Justice Mock Trial Program is now in its 40th year of teaching young teens about law and the legal system. As part of social studies or history classes, students in approximately 40 participating public and private schools in the Houston area work with law students and staff to learn about the procedures involved in the courtroom trial. Over a five-week period, the students develop their own case story and assume the roles of judge, jurors, attorneys, defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses. At the end of the unit, the classes travel to the Harris County courthouse complex where they enact their mock trial in an actual courtroom. The program focuses on eighth grade students and has reached more than 42,000 students in the Houston area, encouraging respect for the judicial system and discouraging entry into the system in a negative way.