Pro Bono Spotlight - Brian Singleterry
"Helping people, helps you."
“Helping people, helps you.” That’s one of the reasons Cantey Hanger associate Brian Singleterry gives for helping a low-income woman in Fort Worth who had lost her job due to a disability and was facing eviction during the Covid-19 crisis. Brian had taken pro bono cases before through the Tarrant Volunteer Attorney Services (TVAS) and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans (TLTV) programs of the Tarrant County Bar Association, but had never handled an eviction case. Brian had, however, read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted’ by Matthew Desmond, which chronicled the struggles of eight families in Milwaukee as they faced eviction in the aftermath of the economic downturn of 2008. His client could well have been chronicled in “Evicted” because she had lost her job and had been served with a notice of eviction during to the Covid-19 crisis. Brian was aware of the serious nationwide eviction crisis, the value of a lawyer, and the tremendous unmet need for lawyers by low-income individuals and families facing eviction.
When Brian’s client came to him through a joint “virtual” clinic between TVAS and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT), Brian worked to get up to speed on housing and eviction law. He viewed a recent eviction webinar by two LANWT housing attorneys, Stuart Campbell and Brent Schellhammer. “I was able to quickly learn the basics of housing law and evictions and the webinar provided practical tips and the issues to look for in real-world cases. I also was able to speak directly with LANWT attorney Stuart Campbell, who was able to provide information about the assigned Justice Court judge, what she expected, and how she handled her docket.”
Brian had two main arguments: one on defective notice to the client and the other that the landlord had not pleaded the proper basis for eviction. “From the initial email assigning the case to conclusion, the case lasted less than a week and took about eight hours – including learning the law. The judge dismissed the case based on the defective pleading argument. The victory bought my client a few more weeks in her apartment, giving her time to try to work out an agreement with the landlord or find another place to live.”
Brian noted that in light of the Covid-19 crisis, thousands of Texans are facing eviction, most through no fault of their own. Even in normal times, evictions are a serious problem for people who lose their jobs or otherwise face hard times. “I hope other lawyers will get involved with evictions and other legal problems facing low-income Texans,” says Brian. “In a big law firm, you don’t have a lot of opportunities to meet face to face with clients, go to court, make presentations to a judge, or learn new areas of the law. Pro bono work provides these opportunities. It also is a great opportunity to meet other lawyers. I think it will make me a better lawyer for my firm and my private clients.”
“Helping others, helps you,” says Brian. “But most of all, you know you are doing good directly for a person who needs legal help and you see the positive result a lawyer can make for the client.”