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:
- 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.
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 www.MakeJusticeHappen.org.