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November 26, 2008

Jessica Cassidy, ’09, receives the first Law Student Pro Bono Award from the Texas Access to Justice Commission

Photo of Jessica Cassidy Jessica Cassidy, ’09

Photo of Harriet O'Neill, Jessica Cassidy, and James B. Sales Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill, award recipient and student Jessica Cassidy, and James B. Sales, chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission

Jessica Cassidy, a dual degree student in law and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, has won the first Access to Justice Commission Law Student Pro Bono Award based on her outstanding record of public interest work.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission honored Cassidy at the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony on November 18 at the Frank Erwin Center where Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill presented the new award on behalf of the Commission.

The Law Student Pro Bono Award recognizes the dedication and motivation of a law student who has most enhanced the delivery of quality legal services to low income Texans and underserved communities. Multiple students were nominated for the award from each of the nine law schools in Texas and finalists included one student from each school. As the winner of the award, Cassidy, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, received a $2,000 stipend from the Commission.

“Jessica Cassidy’s pro bono efforts during her tenure as a law student on behalf of those less fortunate in our society are truly commendable,” said James B. Sales, chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission and a 1960 graduate of the UT School of Law. “Her commitment to pro bono legal service is exactly what the Commission’s Law Student Pro Bono Award was meant to honor. Jessica’s individual work and unwavering commitment to delivering legal assistance to those otherwise effectively denied access to the justice system reflects the highest credit on the University of Texas School of Law, as well as the legal profession,” said Sales, who is also of counsel with Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston.

In recognizing Cassidy, the Commission cited her legal aid experience as extensive and noted that she served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children in Travis County and worked as a student attorney in the law school’s Capital Punishment Clinic. She was also cited for co-organizing a pro bono legal trip to the Gulf Coast, where students provided civil legal services for the low-income community.

While at UT Law, Cassidy participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Domestic Violence Clinic in addition to receiving a Baron and Budd Public Interest Scholarship to work on juvenile justice issues with the ACLU of Texas. Cassidy is also the Class of 2009 recipient of the Equal Justice Scholarship at the School of Law and a J.J. “Jake” Pickle Fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Through all of these activities, Cassidy worked part time for Texas RioGrande Legal Aide and served twice as co-president of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Association. She has been active as treasurer of the nonprofit student group which helps to raise money for students doing public interest work over the summer and was active in the group that helped to get UT Law its loan repayment assistance program for graduates.

“I am thrilled Jessica was chosen to receive this award. Those of us who know her were not surprised that the Texas Access to Justice Commission selected her as the student with the best pro bono record in the state,” said Annette Lamoreaux, legal director at the Texas Advocacy Project and who nominated Cassidy for the award. Last spring, Cassidy clerked for Lamoreaux at the Project, which works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Lamoreaux said that during her career she’s seen many students dabble in the public interest arena, but noticed that Cassidy showed a true commitment to working “for the public good.”

“One of the many things which impresses me about her is that she takes on projects which would be daunting to experienced lawyers—such as working with Katrina victims in Mississippi, and death row inmates here in Texas. I wish more of my peers would follow her example. I know she didn’t expect recognition for her work—but it’s terrific that she got it from such an august body,” Lamoreaux said.

“While in law school I have been empowered to pursue incredibly worthwhile work. I credit this to the excellent staff at the William Wayne Justice Center, the inspiring clinical faculty I’ve been able to learn from here at UT, and my peers who have led me by their examples,” Cassidy said.”I’m the beneficiary of UT Law’s systematic change to a more public-interest oriented institution, and I owe this all to the people around me.” After graduation in May, Cassidy said she plans to work in the public interest arena full-time and has applied for several fellowships.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created in 2001 by the Supreme Court of Texas 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. The Commission has created several initiatives to increase resources for and awareness of legal aid, including the domestic violence Protective Order Kit, the Texas Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program, and www.TexasLawHelp.org, an online resource for free legal information.

Related links:

William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law

The Texas Access to Justice Commission

Contacts:

Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu.

Eden Harrington, director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, UT Law, 512-232-7068, eharrington@law.utexas.edu.