Dallas Bar Association

DBA Lawyers Step Up To Help Bridge Justice Gap

by Alicia Hernandez

While lawyers develop new ways to market themselves to the community and attract more clients, the busiest offices, teeming with potential clients with legitimate legal concerns, are those that never have to do an ounce of publicity. These are the legal aid offices. With a pool of over 600,000 potential clients in Dallas County, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP), a joint program of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, struggles to serve those in need with 2,400 active volunteers. Legal Aid’s Dallas office also has 24 full-time staff attorneys who labor to serve the poor on some of their most complex cases. But, with the vast number of people who need and qualify for help, there simply are not enough attorneys to serve everyone. These individuals and families lack access to our justice system and oftentimes suffer dire consequences because of it. 

Dallas volunteer attorneys are doing things every day to help bridge this justice gap. Many provide free legal help to the poor through pro bono service. Others donate money to the cause. Some do both.

In September, the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas kicked off their annual Equal Access to Justice Campaign which benefits DVAP, and major donors to this year’s Campaign will be recognized at the Inaugural of the DBA’s 102nd President Barry Sorrels on January 15. Since it began in 1993, the Campaign has raised more than $5.1 million. As of press time, the current campaign has raised over $575,000, which will be used in 2011 to provide legal aid to the poor. 

The single largest donation in the history of the Equal Access to Justice Campaign was made by Lisa Blue Baron who donated $100,000 to the cause in November. She, her late husband, Fred Baron, and her law firms, have donated over $440,000 to the campaign since 1994. Her extraordinary generosity is made in memory of Honorable Merrill Hartman who, having started the first legal clinic in our community in 1983 and championed pro bono for nearly 30 years, is commonly considered the father of pro bono in Dallas.

A major donor to the Campaign for 16 years, Koons Fuller contributed $30,000 to kick off this year’s campaign. The firm’s lawyers also volunteer for DVAP by serving as mentors, providing training to other lawyers, participating in legal clinics, and representing low-income clients in their family law cases. The firm has contributed more than $230,000 to the Campaign since it began.

Payne Mitchell Law Group donated $25,000 to this year’s campaign. Over the last four years, Andrew Payne and Jim Mitchell have donated over $76,000 to the campaign, and they have also extended their generosity to DVAP through its other fundraising efforts. 

A donor for eight years,Honorable Deborah G. Hankinson continued her support of legal aid to the poor with a donation of $25,000. Since 2003, she has given $165,000 to the campaign. Justice Hankinson, a national and statewide leader in the effort to increase funding for legal aid to the poor and former chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, is committed to narrowing the justice gap.

Michael andJudy Keller Shore have been major donors to the campaign for 13 years and are supporting this year’s Campaign with a $15,000 gift. They have donated $320,000 to the effort since 1999. Tireless advocates in their everyday practice for those who are oftentimes forgotten, they have steadfastly remained true to their passion by supporting DVAP and its clients.

AT&T made the first ever $15,000 corporate donation to the Campaign, and, over the last three years, AT&T has donated $35,000 to Equal Access to Justice. The corporation is also setting the standard for corporate pro bono work in Dallas through its financial contribution and by becoming increasingly active in pro bono, hosting pro bono CLE programs for its attorneys, working on pro bono projects with other firms, and representing pro bono clients.

A new Diamond Sponsor to the campaign is W. Ralph Canada, Jr. who donated $15,000. A lawyer for over 30 years who represents plaintiffs, Mr. Canada understands how the system is often stacked against the little guy and wants to help people have access to justice.

The generosity of Dallas lawyers, corporations, and firms continues with $10,000 donations to the Campaign from Frank L. Branson, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Jones Day, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, Mike McKool and Patton Boggs LLP.

The success of the annual campaign would not be possible without dedicated volunteers who have donated their time and fundraising expertise to help DVAP continue to serve the poor.

Jerry Alexander, a partner with Passman Jones, P.C. and a Dallas Bar Association and Community Service Fund board member, is the Chair of this year’s Campaign. Rob Crain, a partner in Crain Lewis, L.L.P., and Brad Weber, a partner in Locke, Lord, Bissell & Liddell LLP, are Vice-Chairs of this year’s Campaign.

The Campaign Committee Members are 2011 DBA President Barry Sorrels, 2010 DBA President Ike Vanden Eykel, 2007 DBA President Beverly Godbey, 2010 First Vice President Paul K. Stafford, 2010 Second Vice President Sally Crawford, Mike Forshey, Deborah Hankinson, Michael Hurst, Christina McCracken, Greg Sampson, Lindsey Stengle, and Diane Sumoski.

DVAP clients reap the benefits of the Campaign and the outstanding efforts of volunteer attorneys who advocate for their clients to see that justice is served. To keep the interests of DVAP’s clients at the forefront of the fundraising effort and to help others understand the dramatic impact pro bono service has on the lives of the poor, this year’s e-mail campaign has highlighted a few of our many outstanding volunteers and their recent pro bono clients.

For example, Lance Currie and Prescott Smith of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, L.L.P. helped save a young child from abuse. Chris Boeck and Anthony Vecchione of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, LLP, and Chris Bass of Vericrest Financial rescued their clients, victims of Hurricane Katrina, from substandard living conditions created by a crooked contractor. Angela Boliver, Jodie Michalski and Jeff Orkin of Jones Day helped their client maintain custody of her orphaned nieces, turning lives that had been filled with tragedy into lives filled with hope. Star Carter, an associate and a DVAP Lend-a-Lawyer from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, preserved her client’s right to section 8 housing, ensuring that he would have an affordable place to live. The outstanding work of more DVAP volunteers is highlighted on DVAP’s web site at www.dallasvolunteerattorneyprogram.org under award winning efforts.

“The Equal Access to Justice Campaign and the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program are opportunities for attorneys to do what only they can do—provide legal services,” said Mr. Sorrels. “We hold the keys to our justice system and open those doors for our paying clients every day. Thank you to all who are helping us bring legal aid to the poor, change lives, and bridge the justice gap.”

Pledges to the campaign are still being accepted. Gifts of any size are important to the campaign and to helping DVAP fulfill its mission of providing legal aid to the poor. For a full list of donor recognition opportunities and benefits or to volunteer, contact Alicia Hernandez at (214) 220-7499 or ahernandez@dallasbar.org.

 

Alicia Hernandez is the director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program and the DBA director of community services. She can be reached at ahernandez@dallasbar.org.

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