The Texas Bar Foundation has approved a grant request for $10,000 from the Austin Bar Association. Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $15 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably-funded bar foundation. This grant will allow the Austin Bar to produce training videos to equip volunteer attorneys in better assisting self-represented litigants at the Travis County Law Library and Self Help Center.
Due to a judicial mandate by the judges of Travis County in 2015, all self-represented litigants in the uncontested docket must go to the Travis County Law Library and Self Help Center before presenting their cases in court. Many of the over 600 people per month who visit the Self Help Center are the working poor of Travis County who can’t afford the services of an attorney, but also can’t qualify for free legal aid. These people often fall through the cracks of our legal system. The Austin Bar stepped in to fill that gap by creating the Self Represented Litigant Project. Volunteer attorneys assist the staff reference attorneys at the Self Help Center in answering questions and filling out forms for such things as obtaining occupational driver’s licenses, divorces, landlord tenant issues, and name changes.
The courts have seen a dramatic rise in self-represented litigants in recent years as well as an increase in family law cases due to the surge in Travis County’s population. The Austin Bar recognized these trends and created this project so the citizens of Travis County could have access to the best possible legal representation for resolving their legal issues quickly and efficiently, regardless of income.
According to 261st Civil District Court Judge, the Honorable Lora Livingston, “Access to justice should not be limited only to those who can afford it. Justice for ALL citizens is what we, as Americans, expect, demand, and deserve. It is what our county is based upon. We, as members of the legal community, are constantly working on ways to improve access to justice for all citizens. The Austin Bar’s Self-Represented Litigant Project is designed to improve the lives of the citizens of Travis County by providing first-class legal services to the working poor. But it’s only a beginning. We must do more, help more, and provide more, to those who need it most.”
The grant funds will be used for videos to create a more streamlined training program for the volunteer attorneys. Each type of case has specific forms that must be filled out properly in order for a judge to sign off on the case. Training the attorneys on how to fill out these forms and how to assist someone through the uncontested docket will allow the volunteers to walk in the door knowing what to expect and how to help the greatest number of people. The trained volunteers can then take the majority of the more common cases, allowing the managing attorney and the reference attorneys to spend more time with those patrons who have more complicated legal issues requiring more time to assist. The quality and efficiency of legal aid provided to all will be greatly increased.