by Michelle Alden
The Dallas Bar Association (DBA) is pleased to announce that Crain Lewis Brogdon, LLP is the kickoff donor for this year’s Equal Access to Justice Campaign, with a generous contribution of $30,000. The firm has a long and distinguished history of contributing to the Campaign. Including this gift, the firm has donated more than $160,000 to legal aid for the poor since 2004. The Equal Access to Justice Campaign is the annual fundraising campaign which supports the activities of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP). The firm’s gift makes it possible for DVAP to continue to provide and enhance legal aid to the poor in Dallas, keeping the doors to the courthouse and our overall justice system open to many more people in our community. Since 1982, DVAP has provided, recruited, and trained pro bono lawyers to provide free legal aid to the poor in Dallas. Last year, a 15 member staff supported over 3,000 volunteers in their efforts to volunteer at legal clinics and advise and represent clients.
The founding principles of Crain Lewis Brogdon dovetail quite nicely with DVAP’s goals. The firm specializes in the areas of personal injury and criminal defense, and was founded with the idea of representing people, not cases. As Rob Crain, partner in the firm and current DBA President, stated, “In our cases, regular people feel overwhelmed by a system that seems to ignore them. Our job as lawyers is to make sure that the client’s voice and story are heard clearly in court. Similarly, this is why DVAP is so important. Without DVAP, low-income people face tremendous barriers in accessing justice and are often unable to obtain veterans’ benefits, divorces, or child support as they are not sure how to navigate court filings and processes on their own. The legal services provided make a world of difference in the lives of so many who are helped by DVAP.”
Mr. Crain’s law partner of a decade, Chris Lewis, understands the importance of access to justice through his daily work as a criminal defense attorney. “I am really glad to see that DVAP is helping more clients obtain expunctions and non-disclosures of their criminal records. It can make all the difference when the person is trying to find a job, if they are no longer encumbered by an old criminal charge from decades ago.”
The justice gap in Dallas County is daunting. In a country based on justice for all and access to our court system, over 25 percent of Dallas County residents live near the poverty level, and 42 percent have slim hope of being able to afford an attorney. With annual poverty incomes of $30,750 for a family of four, justice is a luxury for low and moderate income families.
Quentin Brogdon, an attorney board certified in personal injury and civil trial advocacy, said, “We encourage lawyers to give time, money, or both. The Dallas legal community is a generous one, but there is so much more to be done to narrow the justice gap. Our firm is proud to be a part of increasing access to the justice system.”
This year is an especially important one for legal aid funding due to several challenges on the horizon. Earlier this year, the administration proposed a federal budget for 2018 which would eliminate all funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the primary funding source for legal aid programs nationwide. In addition, the state of funding for the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF), which provides funding for legal aid within the state, was undetermined. Happily, TAJF funding statewide will now remain at current levels for the next two years. The ultimate fate of LSC funding still hangs in the balance until this fall. Therefore, this year’s Campaign is especially important to DVAP’s continued ability to provide civil legal services to low-income people in Dallas County.
The commitment of Dallas attorneys and the DBA to the Equal Access to Justice Campaign is impressive. Since 1997, the DBA and Legal Aid have joined forces to raise money for the program, with Dallas lawyers donating almost $12 million.
DVAP is a joint pro bono program of the DBA and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. The program is the only one of its kind in Texas and brings together the volunteer resources of a major metropolitan bar association with the legal aid expertise of the largest and oldest civil legal aid program in North Texas. For more information, or to donate, visit www.dallasvolunteerattorneyprogram.org.
Michelle Alden is the Director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. She can be reached at email@example.com.