Lone Star Legal Aid and Staff Awarded Three 2021 Pro Bono Excellence Awards
Annually, the State Bar of Texas Committee for Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters presents awards to individuals, groups, and entities that perform exceptional work in the field of legal services to the poor. Lone Star Legal Aid and staff members, Dana Karni and Lena Engelage, are the recipients of 3 out of the 7 awards that will be presented this June at the 2021 State Bar of Texas Virtual Annual Meeting.
Dana Karni (Houston) – J. Chrys Dougherty Award
The J. Chrys Dougherty Award recognizes an outstanding legal services staff attorney. The award is named for J. Chrys Dougherty, a private attorney and Bar leader, whose efforts helped build a strong working partnership between the State Bar of Texas and legal services providers.
Dana Karni helped create the Eviction Right to Counsel Initiative in July 2020, and currently manages this program within Lone Star Legal Aid. Her team works with a coalition of eviction defenders, comprised of Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, South Texas College of Law, Thurgood Marshall School of Law’s Earl Carl Institute, and the University of Houston Law Center.
The program began to combat the rising need for legal advocates in eviction cases throughout Houston and Harris County. The program, Eviction Right 2 Counsel, is the first of its kind and provides any applicant full representation in court. The program focuses on eviction mitigation and prevention across the Houston area. Since July 2020, that meant legal representation in more than 300 eviction cases, on behalf of nearly 750 people, by LSLA alone. The coalition has provided counsel to thousands of individuals.
Lone Star Legal Aid – Pro Bono Award
The Pro Bono Award honors a volunteer attorney organization (e.g., legal aid organization, local bar association, non-profit organization) that has made an outstanding contribution toward guaranteeing access to the legal system by the poor.
Lone Star Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Office works with 272 volunteer attorneys and approximately 50 non-attorney volunteers. 1,981 hours of volunteer services have been donated through the program. Following COVID-19, the team launched new initiatives including its law school partnership program with Baylor School of Law and St. Mary’s. The law students are partnered with practicing alumni to provide legal aid to eligible clients.
Lena Engelage (Conroe) – Pro Bono Coordinator Award
The Pro Bono Coordinator Award is presented to an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to the delivery of, and access to legal services for the poor, while serving as the pro bono coordinator for a volunteer attorney organization or group, local bar association, law firm, law school, corporate legal office, governmental law department, or legal services organization. Attorney and non-attorney pro bono coordinators are eligible and may self-nominate.
Lena Engelage is a new Pro Bono Litigation Coordinator who has helped re-energize the Pro Bono Team at Lone Star Legal Aid in Conroe. As COVID-19 threatened to halt services to the most vulnerable members of the community, Lena tirelessly pursued innovative ways to serve clients when in-person contact was no longer possible. Lena worked to establish remote legal clinics, which provided an avenue for clients to receive service throughout LSLA’s service area, while providing volunteers the opportunity to serve in a convenient and safe way. Remote legal clinics allowed pro bono coordinators the flexibility to recruit volunteers from all over the state, because the location was no longer an obstacle.
In her short time at LSLA, Lena has founded and/or helped coordinate the Advanced Planning Project, the Divorce Pro Se Project, the Pro Bono Team Monthly Facebook Live Project, and the Remote Legal Clinic (formerly the in-person MCLAC clinic). In 2021, Lena plans to continue these projects while implementing new guardianship clinics, and an eviction project. These projects have been especially beneficial in the rural communities LSLA serves, where resources including volunteers are often nonexistent. The projects have also increased cost effective service opportunities, as well as cost-effective delivery methods.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.