The Texas Access to Justice Commission has honored the St. Mary’s University School of Law with the 2013 Law School Commitment to Service Award, which the law school also earned in 2009.

According to the Commission, the commitment to service award honors the law school that has most distinguished itself by educating students about access to justice issues, carrying forward one the finest traditions of the legal profession. The Commission recognizes the St. Mary’s University School of Law’s commitment to the provision of legal services to the poor as “truly exceptional.”

“The faculty, staff and students at the St. Mary’s School of Law and its Center for Legal and Social Justice are pleased to again be recognized for serving the community,” said Charles E. Cantú, dean of the St. Mary’s School of Law.  “There’s value in virtue. If we can instill our Marianist mission into legal education and teach our students to make society better, that’s reward in itself.”

The St. Mary’s Center for Legal and Social Justice (CLSJ) – created to support the social justice mission of the University and its law school – is composed of three clinical courses, two externship courses and a pro bono program. The clinic courses provide a supportive learning environment for law students who, under the supervision of a faculty member, are the attorney of record for indigent clients not adequately served by other providers. The faculty balances a rigorous teaching agenda while working with law student volunteers to service the needs of clients in three practice areas – civil, criminal, and immigration and human rights.

The CLSJ offers the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which recently was recognized by the American Bar Association for its “faithful and professional execution of public service by providing tax preparation assistance to low income and under-served communities.” VITA is jointly supervised by the Bill Greehey School of Business at St. Mary’s.

The CLSJ also provides legal services through several recurring pro bono clinics held in San Antonio and along the Texas-Mexico border, such as the Haven for Hope ID Recovery Program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“Dreamers”) Project, and the Haven for Hope Criminal Defense Project/Warrants Clinic.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission was created by the Supreme Court of Texas to coordinate services for people who seek legal representation but may not be able to afford it. The Commission works to reduce barriers to the justice system for low-income Texans.

The Commission will present the award at the New Lawyer Induction Ceremony at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin at 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. The honor comes in Cantú’s final year as dean; coincidentally, 2009 was his first as dean. Cantú, a 1964 graduate of the St. Mary’s School of Law, is the longest-tenured Hispanic law professor in the country.

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