Houston Bar Foundation Funded Programs
Houston Volunteer Lawyers
The Houston Bar Association established Houston Volunteer Lawyers in 1981 to fill a gap in the provision of legal services to those 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 2017, Houston Volunteer Lawyers provided in-person, one-on-one legal advice to over 6,000 applicants at no charge. Over 1,000 of their matters were referred to pro bono lawyers for long-term representation. Over 2,000 of the persons helped in 2017 were United States veterans or spouses of deceased veterans. In addition, Houston Volunteer Lawyers assisted over 6,900 pro se litigants at the Harris County Civil Courthouse and Harris County Law Library in 2017.
In 2017, 626 volunteer attorneys logged over 18,355 hours on pro bono cases through Houston Volunteer Lawyers and 220 of those attorneys had never volunteered with HVL before. At a rate of $200 per hour, the time donated by Houston Volunteer Lawyers volunteers represents a benefit to low-income persons seeking legal assistance of $6,775,383.
Houston Volunteer Lawyers assists eligible clients with a broad array of civil matters, including family law, guardianships, probate, estate planning, IRS individual income tax disputes, landlord/tenant and homeownership matters, and bankruptcy. Some of Houston Volunteer Lawyers’ signature programs include:
Houston Volunteer Lawyers makes it easy for volunteers to help in these matters, assigning a staff attorney to every pro bono case for mentoring and making a litany of legal resources available through the online Volunteer Portal. To learn how you can help, visit LegalHelpHouston.org.
- Saturday Clinics. Houston Volunteer Lawyers conduct semi-monthly Saturday Legal Advice Clinics. These provide clients an opportunity to apply for assistance with Houston Volunteer Lawyers and receive free legal advice on a walk-in basis almost every other week. Houston Volunteer Lawyers is unique in its allowance of walk-in consultations, and the public greatly appreciates and benefits from this service.
- Veterans Clinics. Every Friday afternoon, Houston Volunteer Lawyers holds a legal advice clinic at the Michael E. DeBakey V.A. Hospital, seeing nearly 50 veterans each week and providing them with legal advice on the spot and extended pro bono representation whenever needed. Approximately two Saturdays each month, veterans legal advice clinics are held in outlying counties in conjunction with local bar associations, serving veterans in Galveston, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Brazos and other areas.
- Texas Children’s Medical-Legal Partnership. Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Volunteer Lawyers are now in their fifth year of the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP), providing Texas Children’s low-income patients with critical legal assistance.
- Houston Area Women’s Center. Houston Volunteer Lawyers assists victims of domestic violence at the Houston Area Women’s Center shelter and non-residence locations.
- Star of Hope. In 2017, Houston Volunteer Lawyers quarterly visited the Men’s Shelter at Star of Hope to provide legal assistance to men turning their lives around after a brush with homelessness.
- Asian Clinics. Houston Volunteer Lawyers maintains a consistent presence within Houston’s Asian-American community. Houston Volunteer Lawyers holds monthly legal advice clinics at the Chinese Community Center and for persons of Vietnamese descent at VN Teamwork.
- Virtual Clinics. To accommodate busy volunteer attorneys, Houston Volunteer Lawyers holds a Virtual Legal Clinic once per quarter. From their own offices, volunteer attorneys use Skype to provide advice to applicants at Houston Volunteer Lawyers’ office downtown.
- Courthouse Booth. HVL’s Courthouse Booth is located on the 17th floor of the Harris County Civil Courthouse. The Booth assists pro se litigants in handling family law cases such as divorces and child custody matters. Increasingly, Family Court judges require pro se litigants to have their documents reviewed at the HVL Booth prior to final hearing.
- Law Library Booth Expansion. In 2016, HVL opened a new pro se booth at the Harris County Law Library, as an expansion of HVL’s existing pro se assistance program located inside the Harris County Civil Courthouse.
Center for Urban Transformation
The Houston Bar Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to the newly-created Center for Urban Transformation, a Fifth Ward community-based organization that, on July 29, 2019, announced a juvenile justice diversion program as its first major initiative. The diversion program will offer mentorship, volunteer work and community-based support services for 12- to 16-year-olds who commit crimes, except for cases involving gun violence or sexual assaults.
The Center for Urban Transformation is a collaboration of several organizations, including the Fifth Ward Redevelopment Corporation, Pleasant Hill Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, Berg & Androphy law firm and Legacy Community Health. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office joined with the Center to create the diversion program, and has committed $200,000 of civil forfeiture money for the program’s first year.
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
The Houston Bar Foundation provides limited, temporary financial assistance to attorneys who qualify and are approved by the Foundation’s Board of Directors as being in need of financial assistance. After Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Bar Foundation set up a disaster relief fund for attorneys whose practices or homes were impacted by the storm and who demonstrated financial need. HBA members and other legal organizations donated $23,250 to the fund to assist HBA members in need.
Historic Document Preservation Project
The Foundation partners with the Harris County District Clerk’s Document Preservation Project to accept donations for preserving and cataloguing historical cases and documents from the Harris County Courts. Donations to preserve specific case files or for general document preservation may be made through the Foundation.
Now You Are 18 Handbooks
A grant to the Houston Bar Association Auxiliary Charitable Fund enabled the HBA Auxiliary to distribute approximately 30,000 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 Houston Bar Association’s Juvenile Justice Mock Trial Program is now in its 43rd 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 HBA staff to learn about the procedures involved in a courtroom trial. The program focuses on eighth grade students and has reached more than 44,000 students in the Houston area, encouraging respect for the judicial system and discouraging entry into the system in a negative way.
Over a five-week period, the students develop their own case story and assume the roles of judge, jurors, attorneys, defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses. The end of the unit is historically highlighted by a trip to the Harris County Courthouse Complex, where the students present their mock trial in a real courtroom. However, damage to the courthouses during Hurricane Harvey precluded the use of courtrooms for the spring semester, so participating classes instead enacted their mock trials at their schools. The program hopes to be back in the courthouse next fall, with judges graciously allowing the use of their courtrooms to enhance the experience for students, parents and teachers.