by Alicia Hernandez
Crain Lewis Brogdon, LLP has donated $30,000 to the Equal Access to Justice Campaign benefitting the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. The firm, with a criminal defense and personal injury practice, has supported DVAP since 2004 with over $130,000 in donations to the program.
“We represent regular people who are facing major life challenges, and our job is to help them get their lives back on track,” said Rob Crain, one of the firm’s founders. “DVAP’s clients are regular people too who are just trying to support their families, raise their kids, and make a better life for themselves. They hit a stumbling block with their legal problems, and DVAP is there to help.”
Chris Lewis agreed: “DVAP is on the front lines and is often the first stop for people when they are desperate for help. Although we handle different types of cases at our firm, our mission is the same—to help people when they need it most.”
In the last year, Quentin Brogdon, a 26-year trial attorney, joined the firm as a named partner. Mr. Brogdon, like Mr. Crain, has a personal injury practice and has a long history of helping people recover and move on with their lives.
Being on the front lines is something that DVAP is familiar with.
The South Dallas Legal Clinic at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center is teaming with clients on the first, second, and fourth Tuesday evenings of the month. DVAP paralegals and volunteers set up shop. A hall, small offices, and break room are ground zero for people needing legal help on everything from a simple divorce to evictions, a fraudulent consumer deal, and a protective order. Although crowded and fast-paced initially, a calm sets over the clinic as one by one clients are screened and interviewed, and given an opportunity to meet with an attorney.
DVAP was built on the clinic model and being accessible in the communities where the program’s clients live. Law firms, corporate legal departments, bar association groups, and individuals volunteer to help. Recently, the Dallas Bar Association’s Pro Bono Activities Committee sponsored the South Dallas Clinic with 11 committee members helping out. Pam St. John, an attorney with AT&T Services, Inc. and avid pro bono lawyer, coordinated the effort.
“The clinics allow us to immediately impact someone’s life. We are likely the first attorneys they have ever met,” said Ms. St. John. “We have an opportunity to give the applicants a voice, encourage them where needed, give them valuable advice or even closure. We are the front door to start them on a meaningful process to have an attorney represent them when they otherwise would not have access to the justice system.”
A joint program of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas since 1997, DVAP is the most comprehensive pro bono legal program in Dallas, providing assistance to low-income people on civil matters. While DVAP is known for its work in the family law area, DVAP also helps clients with consumer, housing, landlord-tenant, wills, probate, and expunction cases.
In addition to being on the front lines and continuing its successful neighborhood legal clinics and referrals to volunteers, DVAP is also always trying to develop new ways to reach its clients and partner with others to do so. During 2015, DVAP worked on several programs intended to expand and diversify the assistance it provides and be more helpful to the community.
One of these programs is DVAP’s new Expunction and Non-Disclosure Legal Clinic. Started in June 2015, the clinic’s goal is to help people who may qualify for an expunction or a non-disclosure of that record. Volunteers provide legal advice, and, if a person meets the legal requirements for obtaining an expunction or order of non-disclosure, he will be referred to a pro bono attorney for representation. Over 80 people have applied for help from this clinic since June.
DVAP also provides support to other programs in town, and, this year, teamed up with the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Child Advocacy Clinic and Institute for Children’s Rights at SMU Dedman School of Law to help grandparents and other relatives obtain conservatorship of children placed in their care by Child Protective Services. Diane Sumoski, the Clinic’s Director, and DVAP staff have worked together to sponsor two continuing legal education programs to recruit and train volunteers to represent clients on these cases. The goal is to stabilize the lives of children who have been removed from their parent’s homes and placed with relatives.
Legal Aid and pro bono programs across the state are encouraged to collaborate with other agencies and the courts. Three years ago, DVAP and members of the Pro Bono Activities Committee developed a brochure for pro se litigants practicing in the Dallas County family courts. Through a grant from the Communities Foundation of Texas, 20,000 copies were printed and most have been distributed through the courts. DVAP is currently planning a reprinting of the brochure, including a Spanish translation so that copies can be distributed again through the Dallas County Family Courts.
DVAP’s work in the community and its ability to branch out are the result of support from Crain Lewis Brogdon and donors like them. Every client, every volunteer, and every clinic is the result of the support DVAP and the Equal Access to Justice Campaign have from the legal community.
“DVAP is our pro bono program,” said Mr. Crain. “Whether you donate your time, your money, or both, please help.”
Alicia Hernandez is the director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program and the DBA director of community services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.