Houston Having Trouble Finding Pro Bono Help For Low-Income Families

According to legal industry analysts, the increasing number of low-income families in Texas is beginning to make a dent in the economy — and it’s made even worse because those families can’t afford legal help when they need it most. The biggest problem of all? In other areas of the country, pro bono lawyers help those low-income residents out. That’s not the case in Texas, where the need for pro bono help is at an all-time high.

The Texas Lawbook recently reviewed the situation. According to its analysis, corporate law firms are reaping the rewards of the economy while ignoring the needs of low-income families. In general, the expectation is that the more money a corporate law firm makes, the more free time it gives away (because it can afford to do more to help the community that made its success possible). But that’s not happening in Texas.

Believe it or not, the amount of pro bono work in Texas has actually gone down.

There are over 103,000 lawyers licensed to practice in Texas, but even they might not be enough to make up for the increased demand. The greatest need is in veteran law and family law, but not enough are practicing in those niches or providing pro bono work.

The situation is so bad that the government is getting involved. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has joined with general counsel from companies in the state to find a solution.

Hecht said, “It really is dire. We have lots and lots of people in our society who are unproductive because they have unmet legal needs.”

It should be noted that Hecht is one of the most conservative, pro-business justices in the state — and even he knows when it’s time to intervene.

Sadly, The Texas Lawbook reported that only 6 in 50 law firms said they increased the amount of pro bono work from 2017 to 2018, while 8 in 50 law firms said their lawyers did more than 40 hours of pro bono work over that same period. All those who were asked agreed that the change needs to begin with corporate entities who are doing less pro bono work instead of more. 

“Yes,” Hecht said. “The situation is dire and it is now physically impossible for the legal profession to meet the need.”

Texas routinely ranks among the bottom five states when it comes to doing just that. This is in large part because of the changing dynamic — the prices charged by law firms are going way up while the need for those lawyers simultaneously increases just as much. The consequences of this dynamic are only going to get worse.