DVAP Celebrates 30 Years
The History of DVAP
by Michelle M. Alden
The idea behind the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP) started with Judge Merrill Hartman in 1982. Judge Hartman began showing up at the Bethlehem Center, a low-income daycare center in South Dallas, on Tuesday evenings to visit with anyone who needed legal advice. In November 1982, Judge Hartman, Will Pryor, Brenda Garrett and Chris Reed-Brown began planning the logistics of the South Dallas Legal Clinic. The first clinic was held at the Bethlehem Center in early 1983 with three lawyers in attendance. After a few months, on Law Day in May 1983, the clinic was relocated to the MLK Center due to the growing number of applicants. That summer, the first pro bono training program was held at Belo to recruit more lawyers to assist at the clinic.
By October 1983, new legal clinics were started in East Dallas and West Dallas. That December, the first Pro Bono Awards program was held at the Belo Mansion, and was very well-attended. The State Bar of Texas filmed and produced a video in 1985 about the Dallas legal clinics and pro bono program, which was used for recruiting lawyers and judges. In 1992, the Dallas Bar Association officially established its pro bono program under the name Pro Bono Projects, Inc., located at the Belo Mansion.
In 1997, DVAP in its current form, was created as a joint program of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, when the two entities merged their previously separate pro bono programs. By the year 2000, the exponential growth of DVAP allowed the program to add more components, including the Mediation Panel, Conflict of Interest Panel, monthly Prove-Up Clinics, a Pro Se Assisted Divorce Program, the Children’s Justice Project, and more continuing legal education seminars and training opportunities for volunteer attorneys. Since that time, DVAP has continued to grow and celebrates 30 years of pro bono as a means of assisting the low-income residents of Dallas County this fall. DVAP currently holds 11 legal clinics each month and places over 1,000 cases with volunteer attorneys for full representation annually.
Thanks to all the volunteer attorneys, judges, paralegals, court clerks, mediators, court reporters, law students and interns who contribute to DVAP’s continued success!
Michelle Alden is Managing Attorney of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.