Update | By Harry M. Reasoner
The Texas Access to Justice Commission launched the Law Student Leaders Access to Justice Summit on Oct. 9-10 to educate law students about issues that low-income Texans face accessing civil legal services. Delegates learned about pro bono opportunities that they can be involved in as students—including Pro Bono Spring Break, summer internships, and the Pro Bono College—as well as what they can do once they are lawyers.
Tiela Chalmers, pro bono and legal services consultant, presented “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” a highly realistic poverty simulation that helped the students better understand the challenges their clients face over the course of a month. Each had a budget and faced decisions on how to spend limited resources when confronted with competing needs, such as health care or housing. They encountered situations such as being evicted or being unjustifiably fired that created financial hardship and highlighted the need for expanded access to justice. The simulation was a moving experience for most students and undoubtedly will help them empathize with future pro bono clients.
After the exercise, SMU student Douglas Luippold remarked, “The simulation was great. It showed me how fragile existence is when you are poor. How one financial difficulty can cause a domino effect and create seemingly insurmountable challenges.”
Because exposure to pro bono during law school leads to an increase in pro bono and financial support of civil legal aid upon graduation, we hope that the summit will inspire a new generation of lawyers committed to creating a better community through their legal skills.
The summit was recommended by our Law School Advisory Committee, comprised of the deans from each Texas law school, and made possible by a $20,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation.