AUSTIN -- Twenty law students from around the state are participating in the Access to Justice Internship Program this summer.
Student involvement has more than doubled since the program began in 2006 as a two-year pilot project with only eight students.
The program was created by the Texas Access to Justice Commission's Law School Advisory Committee, comprised primarily of the deans of all nine Texas law schools.
The Access to Justice Internship Program is aimed at providing law students with an opportunity to participate in efforts that ensure more low-income Texans have access to the justice system, and it brings much-needed civil legal aid to areas outside cities with law schools.
This year, 20 students are participating in 17 legal aid offices around Texas.
"The ATJ internship teaches much more than the everyday practice of law," Camille Varner, an intern assigned to the Nacogdoches Lone Star Legal Aid office, said.
"It has shown the grim reality that many low-income Texans face, the necessity of balancing compassion and reason, and most importantly, the joy of making a difference in people's lives through law," Varner said.
The law student interns work with legal aid attorneys in Angleton, Beaumont, Bryan, Del Rio, El Paso, Harlingen, Laredo, Longview, Nacogdoches, Paris, San Juan, Texarkana, Tyler, Waxahachie, Weslaco and Wichita Falls.
Prior to their placements, each intern attended a training and orientation session in Austin on May 29 and 30, where they were taught about the basics of poverty law, interviewing and counseling clients, and professional responsibility issues. The internships, which began in June, last at least seven weeks.
Each intern receives a stipend, generously provided by the Texas Bar Foundation and the Texas Legal Protection Plan, to offset living costs. Most students also receive academic credit for the internship.
The Texas Access to Justice Commission (www.TexasATJ.org) 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.
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.