Pro Bono Spotlight - Porter Hedges, LLP
Porter Hedges, LLP: Hope Meadows Project, Interviews with John Bodle and Amanda Collins, and Illana Leuchtag
Porter and Hedges, LLP, has been recognized as an Equal Justice Champion with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program and annually sponsors Texas Access to Justice programs. In August 2017, when countless Texas families lost their homes due to Hurricane Harvey, they responded. On April 27, 2020, three of those families received keys to brand new homes thanks to their efforts. To date, they have given 21 new owners keys to their homes.
Porter Hedges has had the privilege of coordinating with the non-profit Victoria County Long Term Recovery Group (VCLTRG) and other volunteer and charitable organizations.
VCLTRG provided for families whose previous homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. The new homes, located in Hope Meadows, a new subdivision in Victoria County, will eventually include 40 such homes. The VCLTRG raised donations to construct Hope Meadows, including $1.4 million from nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse, to purchase the land and build infrastructure. The last piece —$2 million worth of construction labor — is being provided free of charge by volunteers from groups like Disaster Aid Ohio, Habitat for Humanity, and Mennonite Disaster Services.
The Porter Hedges team provided pro bono legal representation for the new homeowners and assisted with the home closing processes. The Porter Hedges team is currently working with several additional families closing on their new homes soon and plans to continue providing pro bono services to new homeowners as the Hope Meadows subdivision grows.
Other organizations and businesses that help make these new homes available for needy families include the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, The Community Bank of Victoria, and Stewart Title of the Coastal Bend. Each of them donated staff, time, and offices to prepare for and hold the closings.
We were able to speak with a few of the attorneys who assisted with this project. Jonathan Bodle and Amanda Collins, and Illena Leuchtag are associate attorneys at Porter and Hedges, LLP, and are all graduates of the University of Texas School of Law.
When asked what prompts you to volunteer your time in addition to an already full caseload, Johnathan stated, “ It has never been clearer to me that lawyers in the private sector have a responsibility to give back to the community – It’s a privilege to have that opportunity. At times, clients pay us a great deal of money to provide guidance and to help protect their interests – it’s satisfying to be able to offer those same services to people who would not otherwise seek out or could afford legal services.”
For Amanda, it was also the chance to give back to her community. “Being from Houston, I was very interested in working on the Victoria County Long Term Recovery Group project and helping those who suffered damage from Hurricane Harvey. I thought it would not only be a chance to practice my legal skills but also would be a rewarding experience.”
For Illana, helping those in need was always a goal for her career. Before attending law school, She taught middle and high school Spanish and English in inner-city Baltimore for three years through Teach for America. “One of the most important aspects of my life is giving back to underprivileged communities. Before attending law school, I was afraid that I wouldn’t give back to my community in the same way I did as a teacher through Teach for America in inner-city Baltimore. However, I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to use my legal skills to give back to my community through the pro bono opportunities at my firm.” For her, volunteering has proved she can still be useful even though she is a transactional attorney. “ Helping clients close on homes after Harvey helped me realize that there are plenty of ways I can serve my community as a transactional attorney. Never tell yourself you can’t help.”
For those considering volunteering as a pro bono attorney, Jonathan’s advice is, “ Don’t worry about taking on pro bono opportunities a little outside of your specialty, if you have one. In my experience, almost all of the available pro bono opportunities come with relevant training, which can frankly provide an opportunity to learn more about an area of the law that might otherwise be foreign to you.”
Amanda echos the sentiment, “not only do they provide an opportunity to practice areas of the law outside of your primary practice area, but it is also rewarding to see the positive impact that you can have on a client in need.” Jonathan agreed, “It’s gratifying to be helpful. As attorneys, we have a special set of skills, and using them, for instance, to guide clients with the purchase of a home is an excellent and satisfying use of those skills.”
When Illana took on her first volunteer case, “ I felt like I didn’t know much of anything, especially because I’ve never owned a home before. However, I realized that pro bono work is just as much of a learning curve as the other legal work in my field. After practice, research, and observing other attorneys, I felt more confident in the legal skills I was bringing to the table for our pro bono clients.”
“For those attorneys out there ready to dive into volunteering, Do it! First, it’s invaluable and essential that we use our skills as attorneys to give back to our communities. The finished product is well worth the learning curve and will be one of the most, if not the most, fulfilling legal experience of your life.”
Texas Disaster Legal Help would also like to thank the other Porter and Hedges attorneys that assisted with the project.
Jack Byrom – Associate Attorney, Christian Siboldi – Associate Attorney, Matthew Stirneman – Associate Attorney, Mark D. Jones – Associate Attorney, Joel Goldberg – Partner, Shelby Shanks – Pro Bono Coordinator.
Thank you for all your hard work and for giving your time so selflessly.