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July 28, 2006

Press Contacts: Jodi Bart, UT Law Communications, (512) 232-1408 or Eden Harrington, UT Law, (512) 232-7068.

New Collaborative Internship Program Places Law Students in South Texas

Photo of TRLA attorneys with UT Law student Amber Vanschuyver at the Edinburg office of Texas 

  RioGrande Legal Aid.

TRLA attorneys with UT Law student Amber Vanschuyver at the Edinburg office of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Bottom row (L-R): Hope Williams, '04, Amber VanSchuyver, '08, Emily Rickers, '04
Top row (L-R): Julia Raney, '04, Eric Rodriguez, '04, Pablo Almaguer

AUSTIN, Texas—The William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at the Law School, in collaboration with the Texas Access to Justice Commission (TAJC) and the eight other Texas law schools, developed a unique academic internship program that began this summer. The Access to Justice Internship Program provides an opportunity for law students from across Texas to help meet the legal needs of underserved low-income communities without a law school. This is the first year of a two-year pilot project, with an initial focus on South Texas.

The program began on June 1st with a two-day training program in Weslaco. Eight students from eight law schools in Texas worked as full-time interns for six to ten weeks with the South Texas Civil Rights Project (STCRP) or Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) in locations throughout South Texas. Students also attended a weekly class, met with faculty instructors, and completed written assignments.

“I had a wonderful experience with the South Texas internship,” said Amber VanSchuyver,’08. “The program provides Texas law students with the fantastic opportunity to work in an under-served area and get great hands-on legal experience. The internship reaffirmed my desire to work in public interest law particularly serving low-income communities in Texas. I hope that the law schools will continue the program in order to provide greater access to legal services in all of Texas,” said VanSchuyver.

The program was conceived by the Law School Deans’ Advisory Committee for the TAJC. “The Law School Access to Justice Internship Program initiated this summer has proven to be an exceptional success," said Jim Sales, '60, chairman of the TAJC and former State Bar President. "The students not only had the opportunity to witness first hand the overwhelming legal problems facing low-income and poor Texans, but they also participated as more “boots on the ground,” in helping deliver legal services to the less fortunate of our communities. We are grateful to the Texas law schools for making this happen, and we are hopeful that the leadership of the law schools will continue working with the Commission to expand the project for next year," Sales said.

The program was developed and taught by two faculty members with extensive clinical experience: Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean and professor at South Texas College of Law and Eden Harrington, clinical professor and director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at UT Law. South Texas College of Law and UT School of Law funded the first year of the program. Additional instructors included Abner Burnett, director of STCRP, Rebecca Greenan (SMU Dedman School of Law), Rodolfo Sanchez (TRLA), and Erica Schomer, ‘03 (TRLA).

"This important partnership between Texas law schools and legal services providers got off to an auspicious start this summer,” said David Hall, executive director of TRLA. “TRLA was fortunate to be able to augment its limited resources along the Mexican border with an eager and motivated group of student interns. The students were equally fortunate to be able to apply the conceptual and analytical skills they have learned in the classroom to real world clients with real world legal problems," Hall said.

"The South Texas Civil Rights Project would be utterly unable to take on any kind of complex litigation without the help of law student interns," said Abner Burnett, director of STCRP. "The Access to Justice Internship Program provided two earnest and relentlessly hardworking law students this summer. If any difference is being made in favor of justice in the Rio Grande Valley, these law students have lent critical talent and effort to get it done,” Burnett said.

Texas Access to Justice Commission:

The mission of the Texas Access to Justice Commission is to develop and implement policy initiatives designed to expand access to, and enhance the quality of, justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans, also known as Legal Aid.

Related Links:
UT Law Internship Programs: http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/clinics/internships.html
Texas Access to Justice Commission: http://www.texasatj.org
Texas Civil Rights Project: http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid: http://www.trla.org/
William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law: http://www.utlawjusticecenter.com