Texas Appleseed; Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation; And Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw Unveil Lend-A-Lawyer Program to Boost Legal Aid to Katrina Refugees
The law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP will underwrite a year-long fellowship position in support of the Lend-A-Lawyer program. The Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw Legal Fellow will be housed at Texas Appleseed and will design and coordinate the program.
“A majority of them will be residing in Texas for the foreseeable future, placing unprecedented demands on legal aid offices to help address complex issues such as property loss, housing needs, child custody and child support, interrupted public benefits, and bankruptcy claims.”
"In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is estimated that Texas absorbed more than 250,000 hurricane evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi," said Jim George, chair of Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit public interest law center. "A majority of them will be residing in Texas for the foreseeable future, placing unprecedented demands on legal aid offices to help address complex issues such as property loss, housing needs, child custody and child support, interrupted public benefits, and bankruptcy claims."
Legal aid organizations close about 100,000 cases each year, but they do not have the resources to help everyone who needs and qualifies for free legal assistance. A recent study confirmed that for every one person assisted by legal aid, a qualified applicant is turned away. However, the study was conducted prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; since the disasters, legal aid programs have seen a significant increase in applicants. The Lend-A-Lawyer program was conceived as a way to bridge the gap between the need for services and available resources.
The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, the largest Texas-based funder of legal aid in the state, will work with Texas Appleseed to support the Lend-A-Lawyer program. The Foundation has been instrumental in the creation and development of the program.
"The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation is pleased to have a role in this partnership," said Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Foundation. "We are able to use the strengths of each organization to help increase desperately needed resources to provide legal services to victims of the two devastating hurricanes."
Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP has funded a number of fellowships for lawyers working for a year or more with U.S. legal services organizations that specialize in such areas as housing, immigration and domestic violence. The law firm also pays stipends to its new lawyers who choose to work for legal services organizations while they are studying for the bar exam prior to joining the law firm full time. At the global level, the firm has funded lawyers and law students who have participated in legal services fellowship projects sponsored by law schools and bar associations in Eastern Europe, South America and Asia.
"We are excited to provide this fellowship opportunity," said Charles Kelley, a partner in Mayer, Brown's Houston office and member of the firm's Pro Bono Committee. "The position leverages help from the private bar to deal with the legal issues brought about by the 250,000 evacuees who moved to Texas after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
The Lend-A-Lawyer program coordinator will recruit the state's major law firms to lend associates on a rotating basis in 2006 to assist in staffing legal aid offices, hot lines and legal referral services in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and other Texas cities.
Texas Appleseed (www.texasappleseed.net) promotes justice for all Texans by using the volunteer skills of lawyers and other professionals to find practical solutions to broad-based problems. The organization was founded in 1996 and is one of 15 Appleseed Centers throughout the country. Texas Appleseed leverages the skills and resources of lawyers and firms across Texas to take on some of the state's most important legal and social issues.
The Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation (www.teajf.org), created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the largest state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 99,000 Texans each year.