Filling the statewide demand for free legal services
SAN ANTONIO – A study from the National Center for Access to Justice shows Texas ranks close to rock-bottom when it comes to access to free legal aid.
A local effort by St. Mary’s University School of Law aims to get more people the help they need.
"What's the best course of action for me?" Emilio Antu asks at the school’s Pro Bono Day on Tuesday.
He has a problem with his mortgage company and knows hiring a lawyer will cost him.
"Over half of them say yeah, you want to talk? It's going to cost $125, it's going to cost $200 to sit down and discuss your paperwork,” Antu says. “Yeah, you know - that doesn't help me."
He came to Pro Bono Day for free legal advice.
"I do think there's a big need,” says local attorney Eric Michael Garza.
He serves on a State Bar of Texas board that oversees legal aid services.
"For every six Texans who need and qualify for legal services on a pro bono basis, there's one legal aid attorney,” Garza says.
The areas with the highest demand for pro bono help are immigration law; family law like wills, estates and divorces; and property law like landlord issues.
The State Bar is working to coordinate more free events and pointing people to websites like FreeLegalAnswers.org where people can ask basic legal questions.
"And licensed attorneys log on and answer these questions, as long as it’s a simple, direct answer that you need,” Garza says.
No matter where you turn, a good first step is to have as much paperwork as possible.
"That's when legal professionals are going to be able to say - based on what you've shown me, I think you may have a case here,” says Greg Zlotnick, the director of St. Mary’s pro bono program. "It's not good enough just to say what happened.”
Antu came prepared with his mortgage documents.
"Because I really want to get this thing resolved before the end of this year,” he says.
If you missed Tuesday’s event, there are other free legal options you can explore.
The San Antonio Bar Association’s Community Justice Program can be reached at (210) 227-1853.
Click here to visit Pro Bono Texas, a group that lets you search for pro bono help by location or legal area.
By EMILY BAUCUM