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Texas Supreme Court Looks At Affordable Legal Services

National surveys indicate as many as 80 percent or more of low- to moderate-income Americans cannot afford lawyers.

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The Texas Supreme Court has created an 18-member Texas Commission to bring affordable legal services to those who cannot qualify for legal aid. Former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson leads the commission. He says many fundamental rights are curtailed by those who don’t hire lawyers because legal fees are not affordable.

“Of course we do pro bono, but we encourage our students, once they get out to not only do pro bono, but low bono to help those people who can’t get help from pro bono, because they make too much money, but don’t make enough to really be able to hire an attorney,” says Janet Heppard with the University of Houston Law School.

National surveys indicate as many as 80 percent or more of low- to moderate-income Americans cannot afford lawyers. Legal Aid lawyers in Texas estimate they turn away three-of-four qualified applicants because of limited resources.

Heppard says there are ways to streamline the process.

“Doing more things online, like I may have my client interview via, say, a Skype. That also allows me to provide some legal advice,” Heppard says.

The commission is composed of lawyers, law school deans and professors and judges, including three Houston attorneys and District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of Houston.

They’ll issue their first report next year.

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