Courts, companies, law firms, legal services organizations and bar associations all have their roles to play when it comes to providing pro bono legal aid to low-income citizens. And the Texas Access to Justice Commission (TAJC) works with them all.
There are 6 million people in Texas who qualify for legal aid, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With the support of its fundraising arm, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, the TAJC oversees the provision of legal aid around the state, doing everything from organizing public awareness events to matching lawyers with non-profits to supporting the work of legal services organizations. For example, three years ago, the TAJC brought law firm IT specialists together with legal services organizations to help them standardize their technology specifications, making it easier for them to communicate amongst themselves and with outside entities.
The commission has a dedicated Corporate Counsel Committee as well, headed by CenterPoint Energy Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary Scott Rozzell, who the Texas Supreme Court appointed. The Corporate Counsel Committee’s purpose is to encourage in-house lawyers to participate in pro bono and provide patterns that companies can follow when trying to set up pro bono programs. Rozzell says many major Texas companies are involved, including his own, as well as Exxon Mobil Corp., American Airlines Inc. and Marathon Oil Co.
CenterPoint in particular provides legal support for veterans through the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, something Rozzell says has been gratifying for him and his colleagues. Lawyers set up clinics to assist veterans with writing their wills and help them break through “bureaucratic logjams,” as Rozzell calls them.
“We have veterans who have served their country well and returned home to find that there are sometimes barriers to receiving the benefits to which they are entitled,” Rozzell says.
As chair of the Corporate Counsel Committee, Rozzell also is involved in the work of the commission as a whole and says he is proud of the results it has achieved.
“Lawyers in Texas have been very generous with their time in committing it to pro bono activities,” he says. “Some of the estimates I have seen would indicate that the value of the pro bono legal services that the lawyers in Texas volunteer each and every year amounts to about half a billion dollars a year.”
Support for the TAJC has come not only from Texas’ lawyers, but its courts as well. The commission always has a member of the Texas Supreme Court who serves as a liaison between the two entities. Its current liaison is Justice Nathan L. Hecht.
“For initiatives like this to produce the kind of results they have in Texas … you have to have a court system that is very supportive of this effort,” Rozzell says.
But in the end, all the different dealings with all these different organizations are in service of one main goal.
“What we do here at the commission is try to find good ways to help leverage that generosity so that the programs that are conducted around the state are done in the most efficient way possible,” Rozzell says.