VLS Monthly Newsletter
Dear VLS Supporter,
In these trying times many of us find ourselves asking what we can do to help others. While current circumstances have impacted everyone and caused us to make adjustments to how we live our lives and pursue our livelihoods, the impact on folks living at or below the poverty line has been significant. One of the things that those of us in the legal profession can do is to volunteer our time to help those that have been impacted by the current circumstances. 

Volunteer Legal Services has adapted and continued to adapt. In person clinics have evolved to telephone clinics. Demand for assistance with family law matters and landlord tenant issues will undoubtedly increase in the coming months as the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus hits families in Austin.

When you ask what you can do to help, consider donating your time and resources to the clients of Volunteer Legal Services to make a difference.  

Keith Maples
VLS Board Member
Noelke Maples St. Leger Bryant, LLP
VLS General Updates
Since launching the phone clinics on April 1st, we have received almost 1,500 applicants. Right now, there is a growing need for family law attorney volunteers. To sign up for a Phone Clinic 1 hour or 2 hour commitment, visit VLS’ volunteer portal at www.vls.volunteerhub.com. For questions, contact Esther Reyes, VLS Community Relations Director, at ereyes@vlsoct.org.
We would like to extend our utmost gratitude to Brorby, Crozier & Dobie, P.C. for recently renewing their support of Volunteer Legal Services.
Attorney volunteers handle challenging divorce case during COVID-19
Attorney volunteer Amerin Whisnant, with seasoned VLS volunteer Tim Whitten advising, took on her first case with VLS at the beginning of 2020. What initially seemed like a straightforward divorce quickly became a divorce, protective order, and termination of parental rights, all in the middle of a pandemic.

In an in-person meeting in January, the client disclosed that there had been a history of domestic abuse, culminating in an attack in 2017 that left her legally blind and deaf. Since she had been separated from her husband for two years, the client didn’t feel a protective order was needed. But during the process of filing the divorce, her husband showed up at the apartment where she and her 3 underage children lived, causing her to reconsider the protective order and ask about terminating his parental rights.

The pandemic complicated things even further. The client’s hearing damage made communicating via telephone or Zoom almost impossible, with the client’s 10-year-old daughter often having to listen in on phone calls and repeat phrases louder so her mother could understand. In addition, because of quarantine, process servers were not working. Amerin spent months trying to serve the client’s husband, including working with a private investigator who offered to help pro bono. Eventually, they filed for substituted service and served him through his family and via email.

Despite all the challenges, Amerin was determined to see the case through. “Having met her and knowing all she went through, the more I learned about the history of domestic violence and the attacks that occurred to her and to her children, I was like, ‘We’re doing this.’”
“Most of us went to law school because we want to do good things. You may be working in an area of law where you’re not feeling that as much, and this allows you to fill your social justice cup.”
Eight months after their first meeting, Amerin’s client’s case was heard on August 18th in front of Judge Catherine Mauzy. The client was able to get her divorce and protective order, and the client’s husband was assigned an attorney ad litem for the termination of parental rights.

Amerin plans to continue working with her client, and with VLS. To new attorney volunteers, she advises familiarizing yourself with ways VLS can help cut costs on pro bono cases, including using the constables for free to serve papers rather than paying a servicer.

Overall, Amerin’s volunteer experience has been a positive way to reaffirm the values that led her to the legal profession. “Most of us went to law school because we want to do good things. You may be working in an area of law where you’re not feeling that as much, and this allows you to fill your social justice cup.”
Summer Fellow Spotlight: Cathy Walters
This summer, UT Law student Cathy Walters joined VLS for a summer fellowship with our general law team. Born in Peru, Cathy moved to Austin when she was just 2 years old. She graduated from Austin’s Liberal Arts & Science Academy, and then studied Political Science and Philosophy at Trinity University in San Antonio. After undergrad, Cathy took a gap year and worked as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm handling family-based petitions. She also previously interned with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) working on issues pertaining to asylum seekers and unaccompanied children.

At VLS, Cathy helped facilitate the general law side of our weekly clinic, coordinating the exchange of information between attorneys and applicants. As someone still exploring her options in the legal field, Cathy appreciated being exposed to a wide range of legal issues through the clinic, and especially valued the ability to help with eviction cases during the pandemic.

While Cathy learned a lot about the practical applications of the law, Cathy’s biggest take-away was a somewhat philosophical one: “I think VLS really taught me you can achieve a balance in your law career – it doesn’t have to entirely be public interest or entirely ‘big law.’” We wish Cathy good luck as she begins her second year of law school remotely this fall.
Looking for something to read next? Check out VLS Attorney Volunteer Elizabeth Brenner's recent opinion piece "How Do Lawyers Help Solve the Pandemic Crisis of 2020." According to Brenner, "Simply put, lawyers have the unique skills to lessen the impact of the economic fallout of the pandemic for vulnerable populations, thereby propping up the rest of society." You can read the full column at the link above or in the September 2020 issue of The Texas Bar Journal.