The world is upside down, and it’s institutions are scrambling to figure out how to keep things going while also keeping people safe.
One of the ways that this has manifested is within the courts. We’ve seen courtrooms in some states become semi- or completely virtual, as well as law schools and universities maintaining mostly, if not entirely, online attendance. At St. Mary’s University School of Law, a private Law School in San Antonio, Texas, a grant has enabled them to offer completely remote legal fellowships while still maintaining the same level of quality expected from the law school.
These remote legal fellowships will encourage to focus on pro bono work, helping clients in-need of representation who cannot afford to pay. This $10,400 grant comes from the Texas Bar Foundation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on many of the disparities that exist for low-income individuals when it comes to finding representation for legal matters. According to the Justice Gap Report, 86% of the civil legal issues reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help. That means there is a real need for legal assistance to fill this vast gap. This allows legal fellows to gain practical experience and those needing legal help to get it with a registered lawyer supervising. In addition to this, in Fall 2018, St. Mary’s introduced a pro bono graduation requirement for J.D. students, which means that these students need to find a way to meet this requirement, which programs like this remote legal fellowship can help them do so.
Here’s what St. Mary’s University School of Law Dean Patricia Roberts, J.D had to say about this:
The fellowships will empower St. Mary’s law students to serve their communities in innovative, justice-expanding ways during the pandemic,” said Roberts.
By offering fellowships to qualified and committed law students to take part in remote legal service delivery, this program is taking one of the legal system’s most valuable resources — its lawyers-in-training — and connecting them with communities that may be far from the St. Mary’s Law campus.”
Here are some promising statistics that add some positivity to the overall situation: According to St. Mary’s University of Law, law student engagement in public service has risen far above the average level in the 2019-2020 school year.
Law students recorded more than 9,880 pro bono and community service hours, an increase of more than 5% from the previous year.”
Statistics like this are encouraging, and point to a growing trend of students engaging in public service that will hopefully continue to rise.
Gregory Zlotnick, J.D., Director of Pro Bono Programs, spoke on the importance of this program:
We are thankful for the Texas Bar Foundation’s meaningful investment in our students’ public interest work. In a moment when Texans across the state face economic hardship, this funding will allow law students to support the tireless efforts of legal services organizations to expand access to justice to their clients, no matter their ZIP code.”
Hopefully, programs such as this fellowship will encourage more students to contribute hours even beyond a requirement to help underserved communities who severely need legal help, especially in the middle of this pandemic.