Directory

Baylor University Law School

Baylor University Law School
1114 S. University Parks Drive
Waco, TX 76706
www.baylor.edu/law

Law School Pro Bono Programs 

Contact Information

Stephen Rispoli
Director of Student Relations & Pro Bono Programs
Baylor Law School
One Bear Place #97288
Waco, TX 76798-7288
P: (254) 710-3927 (office)
P: (254) 710-2817 (fax)
E-mail

Category Type

Formal Voluntary Pro Bono Program Characterized by a Referral System with a Coordinator

Description of Programs

The Baylor Law School Pro Bono and Public Service Program is the program through which Baylor Law students get involved in the surrounding community through Pro Bono and general community service work. The objectives of the program are to: Make students aware of opportunities to serve and to connect students to those opportunities; Recognize students for their service; Expose students to the needs of the Waco community and beyond; Impart to students the responsibility they have as attorneys to serve; Help students learn to find time to serve while managing a heavy workload; Provide students with educational experiences to enhance the classroom learning experience; and Develop the desire in students to make pro bono work a priority once they begin practicing.

Location of Programs

None listed

Staffing/Management/Oversight

The Baylor Law School Pro Bono and Public Service Program is overseen by Stephen Rispoli, Director of Student Relations and Pro Bono Programs. He works closely with Leah Jackson, Associate Dean, faculty, and the Baylor Public Interest Legal Society in the creation and implementation of Pro Bono opportunities.

Funding

Funding and administrative assistance is provided for Pro Bono work as needed.

Student Run Pro Bono Groups/Specialized Law Education Projects

The Baylor Public Interest Legal Society

The Baylor Public Interest Legal Society (BPILS) is a service-oriented organization that exists to serve Baylor Law School and the Waco community in facilitating the involvement of students in public interest institutions and programs. BPILS coordinates and encourages the efforts of students, faculty and administration in promoting public interest issues on campus and in the community. BPILS also assists students in obtaining internships, externships and employment in public interest fields in coordination with Baylor Law School's faculty and administration.

Sample Projects:

National Adoption Day BPILS, under the direction of our faculty sponsor, Professor Fuselier, facilitates pro bono adoptions in coordination with Child Protective Services and local attorneys. Every fall, members of the Baylor Law School faculty, the Baylor Law School Public Interest Legal Society, and McLennan County Department of Family Protective Services celebrate the joys of adoption and encourage more people to give children permanent families through adoption. This local celebration is part of a nationwide effort to call special attention to the 129,000 foster children awaiting adoption in the United States and to celebrate all loving families that adopt. As part of National Adoption Day on November 16, 2012, Judge Gary Coley finalized the adoptions of seventeen children from foster care. Thirty-six Baylor Law students helped with the adoptions.

The Public Benefits Project at Lone Star Legal Aid BPILS developed the Public Benefits Project at Lone Star Legal Aid. This project screens potential clients for food stamp benefit eligibility. BPILS also is spearheading a closer cooperation between Lone Star Legal Aid and local chapters of the NAACP and LULAC.

The Innocence Project of Texas Due to the advocacy of Baylor Law students, the Innocence Project of Texas has taken root at Baylor Law under the supervision of Professor Brian Serr and a local attorney. The project involves investigations of claims of actual innocence made by inmates incarcerated in Texas prisons.

Miscellaneous Activities Baylor Law Students hold a faculty and student auction in support of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); a Student Bar Association Blood Drive program; an SBA Toys for Tots program at Christmas; an SBA March of Dimes Crusade (among top 10 contributors in McLennan County); and an Immunity Day program benefitting Mission Waco and the Waco Youth Law Project. This year, the SBA won the "Most Pounds of Food Collected"recognition in Caritas' Food for Families Drive.

Faculty and Administrative Pro Bono

1. Veterans' Assistance Clinic

Beginning last fall, Baylor has been offering a pro bono legal clinic to a deserving and underserved segment of our community, our veterans. With 19,000 veterans residing in McLennan County (which is adjacent to Fort Hood, the largest U.S. Army installation in the world), there is need to provide pro bono legal services to this deserving segment of our population.

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. 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. Some problems may simply require advice and a plan of action, while others may require the opening of a file. If there will be an ongoing legal matter, the clinic seeks a volunteer attorney willing to take on representation of the client, who will then partner with a law student to work on the case.

In addition to the monthly advice and counsel clinics, the clinic also provides a special program on Veterans Day. Annually, in conjunction with Veterans Day, Baylor Law offers veterans a Saturday clinic for preparation of wills, powers of attorney and directives to physicians.

2. Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals Immigration Clinic

On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own may qualify for deportation relief. Baylor established a Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Immigration Clinic to assist qualified individuals with the application process. This effort began on August 29, 2012, by hosting Catholic Charities as it provided information about the DACA application process and performed free screenings for potential applicants. Over 150 members of the Central Texas community were counseled by lawyers and/or BIA certified advisors on the DACA application process. Those who met the initial screening requirements for the DACA application process were scheduled for further assistance at the clinic in September and October.

We believe this clinic will serve as the foundation of an ongoing immigration clinic that will assist local members of the central Texas community with other immigration-related matters. Further, the clinic will also expand its activities to include any new programs that are created by current congressional immigration reform efforts.

3. Pro Bono Litigation Team

Our pro bono litigation team has been designed to accommodate and work with our unique Baylor Law quarter system and our rigorous and time-consuming third-year Practice Court program. Teams of student volunteers are enlisted, ranging from third-quarter students through graduates (who then rotate off the team), with the expectation that the team will consist of approximately nine students at any given time, and of varying experience. Student team members take on increasing responsibility for briefing as they progress through law school, and post-Practice Court team members are given the opportunity to participate (under the supervision of the attorney leader of the team) in any court proceedings that might arise. The team is supervised by Professor Jim Wren, as the licensed attorney, and administrative duties are handled by a full-time staff member, Stephen Rispoli, who is also a licensed attorney.

In addition, pro bono legal services in the past have been provided to deserving individuals on a limited basis. Individual faculty members and volunteer local lawyers accepted pro bono cases or matters enlisting students to assist with those matters.

4. Pro Bono Transaction Team

Due to the success of the pro bono litigation team, Baylor has begun developing a pro bono transaction team. Much like the litigation team, the transaction team will be comprised of students in their 2L and 3L years, and have decided to concentrate in areas related to transaction work. The team will be supervised by Professor Bridget Fuselier for all real property related matters, Professor Elizabeth Miller for all business planning and drafting related matters, and Professor Thomas Featherston for all probate related matters. The team will be assisted in all administrative duties by Stephen Rispoli.

5. People's Law School

Free and open to the public, the People's Law School ("PLS") offers a half-day curriculum featuring volunteer attorneys and legal experts who teach courses designed to educate members of the community about their legal rights and to make the law "user friendly." This has become an annual event sponsored by Baylor Law School and other organizations for the benefit of the Central Texas community. Participants chose up to three courses from the eighteen, hour-long courses offered. The courses focused on useful issues such as consumer rights, small businesses, landlord/tenant rights, the Affordable Care Act, veterans' rights, wills, elder law, employment law, and family law. In addition to the courses, attendees received a copy of the book Know Your Rights, written by consumer law expert, Richard Alderman.

Awards/Recognition

Baylor Law won the 2010 Access to Justice Commission's Public Service Award. In addition, one of our students, Brittany Wray, won the Texas Access to Justice Commission's Law Student Pro Bono Award last year.

The Bill Kimble Service Award is given annually to two students who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to community service. This award is made possible by an annual gift from the Baylor Public Interest Legal Society and the Baylor Law Alumni Association in honor of Bill Kimble, a Baylor Law School graduate who has dedicated his life to providing legal services for the poor. The award is given to the two students who, by the annual Student Awards Ceremony, have accumulated the most hours in the Baylor Law School Pro Bono and Public Service Program.

Students are also recognized for their pro bono and community service work during the entirety of their law school career by achieving different levels in the Baylor Law School Pro Bono and Public Service Program:

Bronze Level - 75 hours

Silver Level - 150 hours

Gold Level - 200 hours

Platinum Level & designation as Public Interest Scholar - 225 hours plus at least 10 hours of coursework from designated public interest classes

Community Service

Community service is started at Orientation with voluntary community service projects such as work for Habitat for Humanity and cleaning the river as part of the Orientation program. Student organizations, primarily the Student Bar Association and the Women's Legal Society, then organize opportunities to volunteer throughout the year. Specific institutionalized projects include:

  • Partners in Education: The Law School and the Student Bar Association serve jointly as a Partner to Sul Ross Elementary, an elementary school in a low socio-economic neighborhood. Money is raised for school needs and volunteers to serve as tutors and 'lunch buddies.'
  • Annual blood drives
  • Annual Toys for Tots drive
  • Annual food, clothes and fundraising drives for various community organizations such as the Family Abuse Center.

Law School Public Interest Programs 

Contact Information

Stephen Rispoli
Director of Student Relations & Pro Bono Programs
Baylor Law School
One Bear Place #97288
Waco, TX 76798-7288
P: (254) 710-3927 (office)
P: (254) 710-2817 (fax)

E-mail

Certificate/Curriculum Programs

None listed

Public Interest Centers

Public Interest Clinics

None listed

Externships/Internships

Students have an opportunity to enroll in field placement programs with Lone Star Legal Aid. This program provides students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for the unmet legal needs of the poor and to develop skills in interviewing clients, conducting factual investigations, legal writing and research. This program is overseen by Professor Swenson, who also serves on the Board of Directors of Lone Star Legal Aid. Students receive two quarter hours of credit for successful participation in the program.

Field placement opportunities with other legal services organizations, non-profit organizations and government agencies have occasionally been approved by special arrangement. One such instance was an Externship with the International Justice Mission, which works to rescue individual victims of injustice and abuse around the world. During the summer of 2004, a second-year Baylor Law student spent two months working with IJM in Nairobi, Kenya.

Classes with a Public Service Component

None listed

Public Interest Journals

None listed

PI Career Support Center

Baylor participates in the Equal Justice Conference & Career Fair and the Public Service Career Day held in Austin annually. Baylor subscribes to PSLawNet and provides information specific to searching for a public interest position when counseling students about various career opportunities. In addition, as part of the Bear Essentials professional development programming, students are regularly given the perspective of attorneys working in public interest fields.

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP)

None listed

Post-Graduate Fellowships/Awards

Law School Funded:

None listed

Graduate Student Funded:

None listed

Other Funding Sources:

None listed

Term Time Fellowships/Scholarships

Law School Funded:

In 2004, Baylor Law School established the Equal Justice Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship awarded with a commitment from the student to work for at least three years in a Texas public interest setting following graduation. The intention was that the scholarship would serve the same purpose of an LRAP but would do so on the 'front end.' Instead of assisting in the payment of loans that had accrued and would continue to accrue interest, the scholarship would minimize the number of loans that would need to be taken in the first place. This has enabled students to accept positions working with low-income Texans that they would not have been able to accept but for the scholarship because of the low salaries associated with these positions.

Graduate Student Funded:

None listed

Other Funding Sources:

Pro Bono Spring Break Partnering with the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, fourteen Baylor Law Students volunteered their time over Spring Break to work with various legal aid entities around the state. Eight students worked with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, which is the third largest legal services provider in the nation and the largest in the state of Texas. Three students worked with the Montgomery County's pro se assistance clinic, helping pro se litigants move their cases through the court system under the supervision of a Montgomery County staff attorney. In addition, two students worked with the Montgomery County Women's Center helping clients with probate documents, and one student worked with the Livingston County's Lone Star Legal Aid office. Due to the success of this program, we hope to annually provide this opportunity to students.

Summer Fellowships

Law School Funded:

Baylor Law Public Interest Summer Fellowships Each summer the Law School provides public interest fellowships to students interning for not-for-profit or governmental organizations to assist underrepresented populations in obtaining equal access to justice. During the summer of 2012, ten students worked in excess of 1,700 hours as Public Interest Fellows working for government programs that serve indigent populations, such as legal aid offices and public defenders offices. This year, we have eight students participating in the program. This program is funded through a meaningful endowment gift made to the Law School arising out of a consumer class action settlement.

Graduate Student Funded:

None listed

Other Funding Sources:

Baylor participates in the Texas Access to Justice Summer Internship program. Through this 7-10 week program, three students from each of the law schools in Texas work in one of several different Legal Aid organizations in remote areas of Texas. They are awarded $250/wk from the Texas Access to Justice Commission and $1,000 from Baylor Law School.

Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Programs

Lectures are arranged periodically by student groups.

Student Public Interest Groups

The Baylor Public Interest Legal Society is a service-oriented organization which exists to serve Baylor Law School and the Waco community in facilitating the involvement of students in public interest institutions and programs. The Society coordinates and encourages the efforts of students, faculty, and administration in promoting public interest issues on campus and in the community. The Society also assists students in obtaining internships, externships, and employment in public interest fields in coordination with Baylor Law School's faculty and administration.

August 7, 2018