Attorneys used technology before the pandemic to host meetings and to deliver pro bono legal services. As a Trustee of the Texas Bar Foundation Board, I was intrigued by a grant request to fund a program to provide pro bono legal services using computers placed in public facilities such as libraries to connect with clients in remote locations.
Our world changed in March, 2020. As Chief Justice Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court stated during the inaugural San Antonio Legal Services Association’s (SALSA) “Spirit of Public Service Awards” event—“Zoom” no longer means a way to get down the highway. It is the way we connect!
SALSA’s Board of Directors and staff, under the leadership of Board President Robert Soza and Executive Director Sarah Dingivan, responded to this change. Immediately, a plan was put in place to determine the need for health care workers to execute wills and ancillary documents such as powers of attorney.
As the program was ramping up, more than 250 health care workers at University Hospital quickly signed up. Serving on the subcommittee building the dynamic “Remote Wills Clinic,” Board Member Mary Brennan Stich reached out to her law school friends Faye Bracey and me. Faye assumed the role of program director for more than six weeks, managing the pairing of attorneys and clients. Mary and I reached out to our colleagues. Over a weekend, we grew a list of 27 attorney volunteers to 300 plus. One of Mary’s calls was to Laura O’Donnell, a partner at Haynes and Boone, who recruited 80 of the firm’s attorneys, located in offices from coast to coast. After turning my attorney contacts over to Faye and staff members to match with the healthcare workers, I concentrated on sending emails of appreciation to attorneys as they completed their cases. Believing that more recognition would be appreciated, but certainly not necessary, I recruited Broadway Bank and Cappy’s restaurant to participate. These two corporate citizens sent thank-you notes and a $25 gift coin to Cappy’s restaurant to all volunteers. During the next few months, volunteers provided over 1750 legal documents to more than 300 frontline healthcare workers. The experience was magical!
Adjusting to the pandemic for almost a year, we have figured out ways to celebrate while respecting the need for social distancing. In this tradition, SALSA hosted the inaugural “Spirit of Public Service Awards” webinar on Thursday, January 28, 2021. In her first public appearance since retiring from the Fourth Court of Appeals at the end of 2020, Chief Justice Sandee Bryan Marion served as Master of Ceremonies and demonstrated a remarkable talent for urging attendees to donate their time, treasure, and talent to SALSA. She was amazing. Keynote speakers Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Patricia Lee Refo, President of the American Bar Association, made persuasive appeals for continued and increased volunteerism within the legal community. While no doubt “preaching to the choir,” their messages were inspirational.
The highlight of the evening was Chief Justice Marion’s presentation of the Lee Cusenbary Impact Award to Haynes and Boone, “a law firm that dedicated hundreds of pro bono hours and leveraged the talents of firm members across the country to support frontline healthcare workers in San Antonio with critical estate planning services.” * Laura O’Donnell accepted the award on behalf of her firm. SALSA named this award in Lee Cusenbary’s honor to “acknowledge Lee’s deep commitment to leveraging his talents to help others and the impact of his selfless service in the San Antonio community.” Excerpts from the wonderful “Ethics Follies,” an annual performance and fundraiser for San Antonio pro bono legal services programs directed by Lee and his wife, Teri, were played throughout the event.
I must admit that the highlight of the evening for me personally was President Robert Soza’s presentation of the inaugural President’s Award to Faye Bracey and me for our “efforts in spearheading the volunteer recruitment and execution of the SALSA’s Wills for Healthcare Workers Program.” What an honor for both of us! Like the thank-you notes and gift coins sent to all the volunteers, not necessary, but greatly appreciated.
*Quotations are from the San Antonio Legal Services Association email invitation for the inaugural “Spirit of Public Service Awards”