Pro bono clinic trains future lawyers

A third-year student at the UH Law Center remembers one of her first opportunities to serve indignant families in the Houston community when she helped a mother fight for guardianship of her child with a disability.

Teal De La Garza has worked at the Civil Practice Clinic, and although her term has ended, she keeps the case that continues to require work.

“Most of the cases I stay working on involve kids, and sometimes parents are going through things, and those kids are going through the most difficult times of their life,” De La Garza said.

Typically, the clinic handles an assortment of civil cases, such as revising wills for veterans or representing minors in a divorce battle to see that the child’s best interest is put first.

Students are given the opportunity to apply and work at the Law Center’s clinic, which accepts pro bono cases in family law, probate, immigration, consumer law, criminal law and mediation certification.

Students are exposed to skills that include case management, client interviewing and counseling, ethics and time management. Some of the cases the clinic has worked on include collaboration with St. Mary’s to represent three minors in an appeal, and also how to represent a child in a custody case. In some instances, students are given the opportunity to attend court settings or trials and feel the legal environment.

In the past year, the clinic has received almost 3,000 phone calls from Houstonians looking for legal guidance and answers, said Janet Heppard, the director of the Civil Practice Clinic.

Heppard also teaches at UH as a law professor and assigns and guides students in their case work.

“They’re learning about how other people live and how much need there is to give back,” Heppard said.

The experience that students gain through the legal clinic is invaluable because they are able to visit with families that have no other means of legal representation and assist the Houston community.

Graduating this year is Valarie Laskowski, who was drawn to family law after hearing from a former insurance lawyer.

“In family law, I can actually help somebody, rather than making someone a little richer or someone else a little poorer,” Laskowski said.

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