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Pro Bono Attorneys: Making a Difference

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 11:21 -- admin25

Campaign Exceeds $1.14 Million

by Alicia Hernandez

      
Leon & Debra Carter                                   Hon. Deborah Hankinson

Major donor gifts from Deborah Hankinson and Leon and Debra Carter rounded out the 2017 Equal Access to Justice Campaign benefitting the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, a joint pro bono program of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. These gifts, along with 703 gifts from additional donors, helped the Campaign raise over $1.14 million this year.

Justice Hankinson, of Hankinson LLP, donated $25,000 to the Campaign, increasing her total donations since 2003 to $316,000. Justice Hankinson has been one of the most active supporters of legal aid to the poor locally, regionally, and nationally since the 1990s. She has not only provided financial assistance for individuals needing legal help, such as her gifts to DVAP, but she has also actively worked to encourage broad base support and change within the Texas Supreme Court, Texas legislature, and on a national level to improve the understanding, importance, and impact of legal aid to the poor on individuals, the community, and our justice system.

“Today, the promise of equal justice goes unfilled in our communities. It is up to us, the lawyers working in the legal system, to ensure that people have access to our justice system and the expertise that lawyers can provide to unlock the doors to the courthouse,” said Hankinson. “It is a great responsibility, and I am never prouder than when I see lawyers fighting for the rights of their neighbors with no expectation of being paid and really just the benefit of knowing that they have helped someone.”

“Giving without expectation,” said Leon Carter, “that is the very definition of a pro bono lawyer, working quietly behind the scenes to accomplish their clients’ goals.” Leon and Debra Carter’s $25,000 donation to the 2017 EAJ Campaign is just that—quietly donated without the need or desire for fanfare—much like that of many of our volunteers. And, for Leon Carter, principal and co-managing partner of Carter Scholer Arnett & Mockler in Dallas, giving back is at the heart of being a lawyer.

 “Over the years Debra and I have seen time and time again where the poor have been unable to protect their rights because they couldn’t access the courts,” said Mr. Carter. “One of our favorite Bible verses is James 4:17 which states that ‘therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.’ Giving to Equal Access to Justice is one way of abiding by this verse. It is not the government’s responsibility alone to help the poor, it is our responsibility to help where we can and when we can. We all may not be able to give the same amount but we can all give. Debra and I truly believe that God doesn’t look at the amount we give but whether we give. I love the quote by Winston Churchill which states ‘we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ God has given us more than we deserve and we intend to give back more and more of what we have because there is no better feeling than giving and expecting nothing back.”

Giving Back is the driving force for pro bono lawyers as well.

Ashlie Alaman Stamper, of Luminant Energy, is one of those pro bono attorneys who is making a difference. She took her first case from DVAP because she wanted to learn about family law, but she learned so much more. “I came to DVAP to learn how to process a simple divorce, but what I learned is there no such thing as a simple divorce. I learned that my clients come to me seeking resolution that they want, but really I am helping them get the closure they need. I help my clients heal and move on to the next part of their lives.”

Adrian Bower, of Cox Bower LLP, is also making a difference. “We all believe in the principle that we are innocent until proven guilty,” said Bower, a four-year attorney, “but in the hiring world, the mere presence of a dismissed criminal charge is enough for a job applicant to fail a background check. A false accusation can render you unemployable. Obtaining an expunction or order of non-disclosure on a criminal record can change all that. It is a pretty straightforward process, but having an attorney help makes all the difference. It restores their ability to get a job and take care of their families.”

Mike Regitz, an IP lawyer with Regitz Mauck, who helped establish DVAP’s Veteran’s Legal Clinic in 2009, is also making a difference in the lives of his pro bono clients. Regitz recently represented a veteran and mother of two facing eviction because she lost her job and was possibly wrongfully denied her unemployment benefits. Mike took a big picture view of his client’s situation, recognizing that the denial of benefits was only a part of the problems she was facing. “Her bigger issue was imminent homelessness for her family. I helped connect her with resources so she avoided homelessness. In the meantime, she was able to find another job and stabilize her situation,” said Regitz. “She served our country, and I feel honored to be able to serve her.” Without a doubt, Regitz has made a difference.

Making a difference, effectuating change, protecting the rights of others, without any expectation that they will be paid for their work—that is the role of the pro bono lawyer. Even so, pro bono lawyers, donors, and those highlighting the importance of access to justice like Hankinson, the Carters, Alaman, Bower, and Regitz would probably agree that they have reaped many rewards from their service. Ms. Alaman stated it well. “I came to DVAP to learn about family law, but I learned so much more….lessons about having faith in God and never giving up…I am eternally grateful for DVAP and the work they do in allowing me to be and receive such a blessing.”

Alicia Hernandez is the Executive Director of the Dallas Bar Association. She can be reached at ahernandez@dallasbar.org.

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