Justice is indeed blind: When it comes to court costs, everyone has to pay up. But for families below the federal poverty level, or $28,813 annually for a family of four, even the smaller procedures like divorce, child custody, housing and consumer issues are out of reach.
Volunteer Legal Service of Central Texas, based in Austin, pulls together an extensive network of volunteer lawyers and experts to provide free legal counsel in the form of advice and representation. In 2011, VLS helped nearly 5,000 people — or more than 17,000 hours of legal services. 84 percent of their clients, VLS says, live below the poverty level.
The nonprofit, formed in 1981 by a group of Austin attorneys, is primarily focused on information clinics headed by lawyers from local firms that walk clients through the legal process. VLS’ lawyers will also represent clients in court and help take on family law cases. They’ll also guide clients in pro se, or self representation, in uncontested cases, like divorce.
But for most of VLS’ clients, it’s the legal problems that arise from living in poverty that they need the most help with: avoiding wrongful evictions or foreclosures, disability benefits, preparing wills, assisting abuse victims and establishing guardianships are the issues that have the potential to seriously impact (and imperil) their everyday lives. VLS estimates that they have saved their clients $4.9 million in legal services in 2011.
Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas is a member of I Live Here, I Give Here. You can donate to VLS directly from our site using the donation tool below.