Baylor Law School will host free legal aid clinics each month to help local veterans with a variety of civil issues.
The first clinic will be Sept. 14 at Mission Waco’s Meyer Center. The three-hour event will be open to veterans from throughout McLennan County and Central Texas.
Law Professor Bridget Fuselier, who is coordinating the program, said veterans will meet one-on-one with a local attorney for help with anything from estate planning and help filing for disability benefits to filing for divorce or pursuing a civil suit.
The law school is recruiting local attorneys to provide pro bono legal counsel and case-management services. The attorneys also will be paired with law students who will assist in preparing legal documents or law research.
“A lawyer is actually going to be handling the case and overseeing everything, but the law student is going to be involved in the preparation and research and the hours that really go into the cases,” Fuselier said. “It really gives them a feel for what it’s really like to represent a client.”
The initiative is supported by a $22,500 grant the law school received from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The funds will help purchase laptops lawyers will use to complete transactions at the clinics, as well as purchase legal forms, and cover filing and administrative costs.
Fuselier said the idea for the legal aid clinic grew from a continuing education conference the law school hosted in 2010.
One of the keynote speakers shared successes other universities had in starting similar initiatives, and Fuselier thought the idea was perfect for Baylor because of Waco’s large veteran community and proximity to Fort Hood.
Each clinic also will include a presentation about veteran-related news or policy issues, such as education benefits or general rights.
Even though the clinics will be held once a month, Fuselier said both the attorneys and the law students may end up volunteering additional hours outside the clinic’s hours if they represent a veteran in a civil matter.
The clinics will rotate to different venues throughout the city to reach as many veterans as possible and reduce transportation concerns for veterans with limited mobility. Fuselier hopes to host one at the local Veterans Affairs Regional Office or VA Hospital, and possibly one at Fort Hood.
She hopes the law school will reach about 300 veterans through the clinics this first year.
Steve Hernandez, veterans services coordinator for McLennan County, said a few veterans call him each month seeking help with legal issues.
Recently, he’s had some come to him with landlord disputes.
Hernandez directs them to the local Lone Star Legal Aid office.
He also has referred some to a Houston attorney who runs a free veteran legal aid clinic through a grant program.
“They’ve been pretty good with the people I’ve been sending to them, but I’m glad that this opportunity is coming to Waco so that I can send them over there,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said he also hopes to see a program to help veterans facing criminal charges.
He has talked with county officials about starting a veterans court that would attempt to divert veterans accused of crimes into treatment programs instead of jail.
Fuselier said Baylor’s program has no plans to handle criminal cases, and she is unaware of any similar legal aid clinics that offer those services.