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GiVE Back: V&E Pro Bono Blog

Project Spotlight: Part 1 – V&E Guardianship Project

V&E Pro Bono Projects come to be in many different ways – from the keen interest of a V&E lawyer, as a result of an inquiring call from a legal service provider or because of a national or international crisis. This project came to be because a former legal services lawyer, now BigLaw Pro Bono Counsel, was just being a parent in the waiting room of a children’s hospital.

In 2010, my then 4-year-old was a patient at Texas Children’s Hospital – she was there for bladder surgery to correct a structural issue. We were there on several occasions – our first meetings with doctors, a few routine procedures hoping to avoid surgery, and pre-operative appointments. At one of those first appointments, I was scanning the room – many of the children in that waiting room had conditions much more serious than Avery’s. I felt grateful that her bladder would be fixed and this would all be behind us, but I felt guilty that I felt so grateful.

Looking around at the room, I noticed many of the children with severe disabilities were on the older side – likely approaching adulthood. And in the “once a legal aid lawyer, always a legal aid lawyer” way my brain works, I wondered:

What happened to these kids once they reached 18?

Were the parents told that they needed to get guardianship for them before further treatment could be done?

Were they told that without guardianship, the doctors and hospital administrators who have been helping them most of their lives would no longer be able to help them?

Were they referred to a lawyer or group of lawyers to help them obtain guardianship over their child?

What if they couldn’t afford a lawyer?

    These questions continued to plague me, so I reached out to a V&E alum in the legal department of Texas Children’s Hospital – and the rest is history, or at least, a wonderful story of the beginning of a pro bono project.

    After several meetings with the legal department, social workers, legal service provider partners, we developed a referral system for low-income Texas Children’s Hospital patients, in need of a guardianship. Our lawyers were trained by experts, and then deftly handled dozens of guardianships for families in need. This program continues today, enveloped in a larger Medical-Legal Partnership that is coordinated and managed by Houston Volunteer Lawyers.

    Because of the popularity and success of the V&E/Texas Children’s Hospital Guardianship program, we were able to expand the program to other offices, helping families at Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, and partnering with the Legal Aid Society of New York to help their clients with similar matters.

    This post could have ended here. V&E lawyers have helped more than 50 families with guardianship, in several different offices. Our lawyers are still handling cases to date – we assigned 4 new ones in Dallas just this week. But this is not the end of the story.

    For the rest of the story, read Part 2 here.

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    Ellyn Haikin Josef Pro Bono Counsel