by Michelle M. Alden
When Michael Hurst, of Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst LLP, heard about the threats to funding for civil legal aid in Dallas County last year, he got to thinking. The new administration was threatening to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which funds legal aid nationally. State funding through the Texas Access to Justice Foundation is dependent on approval from the legislature every two years. Even if funding is approved for the current year, what about next year? The instability created by these funding cycles just didn’t seem right, and Michael decided to do something about it.
The Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP) is a joint initiative of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. Since its founding in 1997, DVAP has become the largest and most comprehensive provider of free legal aid to the poor in Dallas. DVAP provides access to justice by recruiting, training, and supporting volunteer attorneys to provide pro bono legal aid to low-income people in Dallas County. A 16-member staff supports over 3,000 volunteers annually in providing these services.
Legal aid programs around the nation face a crisis over how to pay for the legal aid services they provide. Committed volunteers provide their legal services free of charge; however, funds are needed to coordinate clinics, recruit volunteers, train and mentor volunteers, and oversee the thousands of cases DVAP handles each year.
Rather than waiting for the next round of funding cuts, Michael led the charge to establish a DVAP Endowment, which strives to seek and maintain long-term funding to secure legal aid to the poor in Dallas. The DVAP Endowment will be used solely to support DVAP so that pro bono legal aid services to the poor in Dallas will continue should traditional funding methods shrink or cease to exist.
After the new DVAP Endowment was created, Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst/Jane and Michael Hurst committed to contribute $50,000, and Michael began reaching out to community-minded friends and leaders in Dallas to obtain initial funding. Michael is well-positioned to lead the charge as the 2018 President of the Dallas Bar Association. So far, $370,000 has been pledged!
“I believe that Michael is going to be an extraordinary leader of the Dallas Bar Association, and, with his vision and leadership, the DBA will continue to build on its heritage as a pillar of the Dallas community. We at Hunt are thrilled to be able to support Michael’s vision to create an endowment for DVAP that will provide a much more stable funding source for the crucial services that DVAP delivers every year. We hope that the momentum being created through great leadership in the business and legal community will continue to grow the endowment now and in the future,” said David Hernandez, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Hunt Consolidated, Inc. Hunt Consolidated, Inc., through the leadership of Ray Hunt, Mr. Hernandez, Hunter Hunt, and Chris Kleinert, is contributing $50,000. David and his wife Michele Hernandez are contributing an additional $10,000.
AT&T and Vistra Energy also joined the ranks of initial supporters of the Endowment. “AT&T has a proud history of supporting DVAP through lawyer volunteers and annual contributions, so we did not want to miss out on the chance to help launch an endowment that will empower DVAP to do even more in the years to come,” stated David R. McAtee II, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel. AT&T, through David’s leadership, is contributing $50,000; and David and his wife, Cristy, are contributing an additional $10,000.
“The legal department at Vistra Energy, which includes our subsidiaries TXU Energy and Luminant, places significant emphasis on pro bono work and community service. We were pleased to contribute to funding the endowment and hope that it will serve as a backstop that safeguards funding for DVAP in the event state and federal funding for legal aid decreases,” said Dan Kelly, Vice President and Associate General Counsel. Vistra Energy, under the leadership of Stephanie Moore and Dan Kelly, is contributing $50,000. So is Highland Capital Management. “We are proud to help provide legal resources to needy families who are otherwise unlikely to achieve results beneficial to their children,” added James Dondero of Highland Capital Management.
Donors to the DVAP Endowment are encouraged to make gifts in honor of their legal heroes. Aubrey Connatser, of Connatser Family Law, stepped up to make a gift of $50,000 in honor of late Dallas family law attorney Ken Fuller. The DVAP Endowment is also accepting planned giving gifts. Jerry Alexander, of Passman & Jones, P.C., is contributing $50,000 as part of his planned giving. “It is a privilege to share whatever you can with this most worthy of causes—that of equal access to justice. It may be the most important thing lawyers do,” he stated.
Michael Hurst’s leadership in the establishment and initial funding of the DVAP Endowment is a meaningful contribution to a lasting legacy for Dallas—equal access to justice. In the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, back in 1964, “There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” The DVAP Endowment will help to make the goal of equal access to justice for all closer to reality in Dallas County.
If you would like to contribute to the DVAP Endowment, or would like further information, please contact Alicia Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Alden is the Director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. She can be reached at email@example.com.