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June 6, 2007

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu, or Nick Doughty, Justice Center for Public Interest Law, UT Law, 512-232-6277

Collaborative Internship Sends More Law Students to Communities Needing Assistance

Photo of the group of students in the Texas Supreme Court
Justice Harriet O’Neill (center) and the ATJI students at the Supreme Court of Texas.
(Photo by Mark Rutkowski)

AUSTIN, Texas—The William Wayne Justice Center at The University of Texas School of Law, in collaboration with the Texas Access to Justice Commission (TATJC) and the eight other Texas law schools, has expanded a unique academic internship program that sends law students to low-income communities needing assistance. In its second year of a two-year pilot program, the Access to Justice Internship (ATJI) has placed 14 law students in communities in South Texas and East Texas.

The ATJI is funded this summer through a gift to TATJC from attorney and best-selling author John Grisham and a grant to the Law School’s Justice Center from the Texas Bar Foundation.

This year’s academic program began on May 18 with a presentation to the students by Justice Harriet O’Neill at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. The students then participated in a two-day training program at UT Law. The 14 students from Texas law schools are working full-time as interns for seven to 10 weeks with Lone Star Legal Aid, the South Texas Civil Rights Project, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, in offices in Angleton, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Edinburg, Laredo, San Juan, Tyler and Weslaco.

The program has grown from when it began last year with 8 law students working in low-income communities in South Texas only.

The program was conceived by the Law School Deans’ Advisory Committee for the TATJC. “The Law School Access to Justice Internship Program has proven to be an exceptional success,” said Jim Sales, a 1960 graduate of UT Law, chairman of the TAJC and former State Bar of Texas president.

”The students not only have the opportunity to witness first hand the overwhelming legal problems facing low-income and poor Texans, but they also participate 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,” Sales said.

The internship program is taught by two faculty members with extensive clinical experience: Catherine Greene Burnett, a vice president, associate dean and professor at South Texas College of Law, and Eden Harrington, a clinical professor and director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at UT Law. Additional instructors include David Hall (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), Jim Harrington (Texas Civil Rights Project), Ann Kloeckner (State Bar of Texas), Jeana Lungwitz (UT Law), Erica Schommer, ’03 (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), and Larry Spain (Texas Tech School of Law).

The nine law schools sponsoring the program include Baylor Law School; St. Mary’s University School of Law; Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law; South Texas College of Law; Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law; Texas Tech University School of Law; Texas Wesleyan School of Law; The University of Houston Law Center; and The University of Texas School of Law.

Texas Bar Foundation

Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $9 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably-funded bar foundation.

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—also known as legal aid—for low-income Texans.

Related Links:

Access to Justice Internship Program:
http://www.texasatj.org/Internship

Texas Bar Foundation:
http://www.texasbar.com/Template.cfm?Section=Other_Bar_Groups&CONTENTID=14054&TEMPLATE=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm

Texas Civil Rights Project:
http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid:
http://www.trla.org/

UT Law Internship Programs:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/clinics/internships.html

William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law:
http://www.utlawjusticecenter.com/

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