Texas Lawyer (May 22, 2022, at 07:36 PM) — Let’s face it, a brush with the legal system is rarely, if ever, a pleasant experience no matter who you are. But for too many in our community, it’s worse than that. When you lack basic economic and legal resources to level the playing field, the system is built by design to exclude you from justice. There’s not a simple fix to a systemic and multigenerational problem like this, but UNT’s law school is taking real steps to break the cycle and open the doors of the courthouse to underserved communities.
The law school has expanded its network of community lawyering centers, which provide critical experience to law students while empowering individuals and families facing legal issues with free legal representation for court hearings on issues such as child support, custody disputes and other important matters.
A recent grant enabled the program to provide funding for Professor Gabriela Sotelo to supervise law students and prepare them for this critically important service.
So far, UNT law students have represented 65 people who would not otherwise have easy access to legal representation due to their immigration status or ability to afford the cost of a lawyer. Since its inception, students have participated in the following:
- 80 court hearings
- 16 hearings involving the representation of non-custodial parents in child support matters
- 48 hearings representing children or indigent caregivers in child protection or custody matters
- 170 client and applicant interviews, including 48 child interviews
- 13 student-conducted negotiations
The community law centers are finding creative new ways to reach these communities. A virtual clinic assists South Dallas residents facing small-claims cases with landlord-tenant issues, probate proceedings and civil suits. In addition to the virtual clinic, law students conduct workshops on non-custodial parent-child issues, demystifying issues surrounding child support, factors impacting child support and the enforcement of child support orders.
It does not end there. UNT law students have also volunteered for the Dallas County Child Protection and Permanency Court, Dallas County Legacy Court, immigration advocacy assistance, Dallas Housing Authority Teen Influencers Initiative, and other outreach activities.
Giving back and investing in your community offers hope and encouragement. It gives others the chance to flourish and develop into the future attorneys of our next generation while fulfilling a community need. All you must do is plant the seed.