By Rebecca Flannery
Thousands of veterans in Waco are able to receive monthly pro bono work from the Baylor School of Law thanks to a state grant.
The school is to receive a $22,000 grant this month for the third year in a row from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to aid their innovative veterans assistance clinics.
Dr. Bridget Fuselier, professor of law in the Baylor Law School, said they coordinate monthly clinics for Waco-area veterans who need legal assistance and are unable to receive it because of low income.
“Our clinic coordinator is provided by the grant,” Fuselier said. “Through our clinics, we’re able to help veterans who need legal assistance but are below the income level that would prevent them from doing so by themselves.”
The veterans who come to the clinics for aid are required to be at the 200 percent or lower poverty level, Fuselier said. According to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation website, to be eligible for aid, the annual income of a veteran can be no more than $14,588 per year. Fuselier said 80 percent of the veterans they help come from McLennan County.
Since their clinics started in September 2012, those involved from the law school have helped over 200 veterans with civil legal matters, Fuselier said.
“We mainly focus on civil disputes,” Fuselier said. “There are lots of family law matters, divorces, wills, consumer debt and bankruptcy cases we deal with.”
Betty Balli Torres, executive director for the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said the work the law school is doing is unlike any other they’ve awarded grants for.
“It’s the only veterans clinic through a law school which we fund,” Torres said. “The fact that Baylor was starting a program to benefit veterans in this specific model was very appealing to us.”
Fuselier said the law school counts it as encouragement to receive the grant.
“The foundation has a small number of grants to give out,” Fuselier said. “So it speaks to us that they believe in our program and the work we provide for the veterans.”
Torres said the continued funding to Baylor is unique for the foundation.
“It is a big deal,” Torres said. “We’ve had diminishing resources so we’ve had to make difficult choices in where to put our dollars and for three years we’ve decided to give Baylor the $22,000.”
Baylor Law’s website describes the pro bono program as educational as well as aid-based.
“Each monthly clinic begins with a 30-minute educational topic ranging from landlord/tenant relationship issues to veterans’ benefits to the importance of having a will,” according to the law school’s website. “Following the 30-minute session, veterans who have current legal problems can meet with a law student and volunteer attorney for a brief advice and counsel session.”
Torres said law schools are one of the most targeted avenues for the grants because of the opportunities they foster for law students.
“Law school is where you start educating young professionals about the services they can provide, give them opportunities to serve and have them help out in programs like the one at Baylor,” Torres said. “It’s a perfect place to provide funding.”