Our Executive Director, Priscilla Cortez, was recently featured in an article by Giving City Austin! Priscilla spoke to GCA about Volunteer Legal Services’ mission, our programs, and how anyone can help VLS shrink the justice gap in Central Texas. Click here to read more.
Our very own board president Susan Kidwell was quoted recently in an article on Texas Lawyer about the effects that legal services budget cuts will have on VLS and other legal aid organizations.
“With the Legal Services Corp. reportedly on the chopping block under the Trump administration, legal aid organizations in Texas either face dramatic funding cuts or pressure to step into the breach to handle legal work for low-income people in Texas.
“…’The reality is when the federal government cuts funding from what they provide, that means there’s less out there,’ she said. ‘We become one of the organizations that people are probably looking at to fill gaps.'”
Thank you for speaking about this important issue, Susan!
January 18, 2017
Priscilla Cortez named to lead
Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas
VLS provided $4.9 million of pro-bono legal services to 7,000 low-income clients in 2016
AUSTIN—Business and community leader and advocate Priscilla Guajardo Cortez has been selected to lead Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, which helps low-income individuals access the civil justice system by providing volunteer attorneys who donate legal advice and representation. In 2016 alone, the 35-year-old organization provided legal services valued at nearly $5 million to more than 7,000 clients, thanks to its 600 volunteer attorneys.
Cortez comes to the executive director position from the University of Texas System, where she was executive director of philanthropy, and as a nonprofit development consultant for Lee and Associates. Her many accomplishments at UT System included pioneering regional fundraising strategies, leading efforts on collaborative fundraising among the System’s 14 institutions, and raising millions of dollars for higher education initiatives.
Her two decades of experience also include nonprofit governance and program management, including serving as legal counsel and director of special projects for Southwest Key Programs, an Austin-based national nonprofit organization committed to keeping at-risk youth out of institutions.
Cortez and her husband, John-Michael Cortez, helped to create FuturoFund Austin, the first-of-its kind Hispanic-focused giving circle, to raise philanthropic support for Austin nonprofit organizations in the areas of education, arts, and health. The all-volunteer group has given grants totaling more than $150,000 since it was founded in 2008.
She received her law degree from St. Mary’s University, a master of education in higher education administration from the University of Texas at Austin, and undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University.
In her new role as executive director of Volunteer Legal Services, Cortez—an attorney herself—will focus on expanding the organization to serve even more low-income clients in need of legal services through raising more money, improving outreach efforts, and expanding the staff to address the growing needs in Central Texas.
VLS is best known for its effectiveness in addressing the inequality in the justice system by being a matchmaker of attorney volunteers with clients who need their expertise and representation to overcome pressing civil legal problems such as home foreclosures, evictions and landlord/tenant disputes, divorce and child custody cases, and domestic violence. VLS supports its attorney volunteers with resources, trainings, and mentorship from judges and other leaders in the legal community.
According to Volunteer Legal Services board chair Susan Kidwell, “Priscilla brings passion, excitement, and new ideas to VLS. We look forward to her leadership in guiding the organization into the future and ensuring that people most in need have equal access to justice,” Kidwell says.
“I’m honored and couldn’t be more excited to join the dedicated Volunteer Legal Services staff and Board in advancing our important mission,” Cortez says. “More than ever, VLS programs and services are urgently needed. The widening income inequality across Central Texas coupled with the high cost of legal services makes access to justice impossible for the most vulnerable in our communities. We have an incredible opportunity to have an even greater impact, and my goal is to bring the resources and recognition the organization needs to do so.”
Volunteer Legal Services’ Outreach Program
As Austin’s population grows by leaps and bounds, so too does the number of people living in poverty who cannot afford the services of an attorney but live too far from the city of Austin to access free legal help offered within its boundaries.
In response to this massive growth and population change, Volunteer Legal Services launched its Outreach Program in order to address the legal needs of people living in suburban and rural areas outside of Austin. This program is designed to give the community local access to our organization by having our Outreach Coordinator set up a table at local community centers where the general public can inquire about and apply for our services, as well as hosting monthly legal clinics in these outlying areas.
We are currently in search of volunteer attorneys to help staff the Bastrop & Hays legal clinics by briefly meeting with clients and providing free legal advice. We’re also looking for Austin-area attorneys who can take cases in Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays Counties. This can be a wonderful opportunity for attorneys to give back to the greater community by providing aid to those who need it most. If you would like to volunteer for the Bastrop legal clinic, or if you can take cases in any of the other counties listed, please contact our Outreach Coordinator Lexie Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many pro se (self-represented) litigants can’t afford the services of an attorney but also can’t qualify for free legal aid. These are the working poor of Travis County. All pro-se litigants are now required to go to the Travis County Self Help Center before they are allowed in court. Due to this mandate, the Self Help Center has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking help. In response to this overwhelming need, the Austin Bar Foundation created this program to provide assistance for self-represented litigants in the uncontested civil docket. Volunteer attorneys are available in the Self Help Center to answer questions and help fill out forms. They also assist with divorces, obtaining occupational driver’s licenses, name changes and landlord/tenant issues. Additionally, a volunteer attorney staffs the uncontested docket courtroom to help the litigants through the courtroom process.
VOLUNTEER ATTORNEYS NEEDED
Attorneys are needed to help staff two volunteer spots each day at the Self Help Clinic. To sign up using Volunteer Spot, follow these instructions:
- Click here to go to the invitation page on VolunteerSpot.
- Enter your email address (You will NOT need to register an account on VolunteerSpot)
- Sign up! Choose your spots – VolunteerSpot will send you an automated confirmation and reminders.
Note: VolunteerSpot does not share your email address with anyone.
Just a few hours of your time in the Travis County Self-Help Center will make a big difference in people’s lives. Sign up today!