Kristen discusses TLSC's Family Law Clinics, reaching rural communities, and an early experience witnessing injustice.
Kristen is the Managing Attorney of TLSC's Virtual Self-Help Center. She and her team creatively apply technology to reach people without easy access to a traditional legal aid office. They chat with clients on TexasLawHelp.org and txaccess.org, organize pro bono attorneys on Texas Free Legal Answers, and host virtual hybrid clinics in rural counties. It's an agile team that has pioneered how TLSC delivers remote services and how we scale services.
Her origin story
I’m from a small Mississippi town where most people work in a factory, including my father. In the early 1990s, they tried to start a union at the factory. My parents were among the biggest supporters. The union didn’t go through, but it started my passion for helping people who face systematic barriers. Unfortunately, our legal system is not transparent for people who aren’t in it every day. Many of our clients just need to know what to do, where to do it, and when. Serving people through this complicated process is one of the most rewarding parts of being a legal aid attorney.
On our rural family law clinics
We host family law advice clinics in 17 rural Texas counties that don’t have physical legal aid offices and have a high poverty rate. Clients make an appointment online and then meet a TLSC attorney at their local clinic location. Most locations are public libraries, but we are also inside colleges, family violence centers, and low-income housing centers.
The clinics focus on family law because many people in these areas don’t have the resources to change a fundamental aspect of their lives — like changing their name, getting out of a bad marriage, or gaining visitation with their kids.
On the virtues of virtual
Virtual clinics are the best way for people in rural locations to get to meet “face-to-face” with an attorney. Legal aid organizations are not able to have offices in the more remote parts of the state. While it would be amazing to be able to serve all these communities with in-person clinics, it just isn’t feasible.
Our clinics combine the efficiency of virtual with the full-service aspect of an in-person. We partner with local public libraries, colleges, and family violence centers to host monthly clinics. Our partners set up private rooms where TLSC Attorneys and clients can work over Zoom. They help clients print out forms and any other materials and are crucial to our outreach efforts in these hard-to-reach communities.
On expanding remote family law services to all rural counties
To serve areas that wouldn’t support a monthly clinic, we started a statewide project that serves 192 counties. Eligible clients can schedule an appointment to meet with a TLSC attorney over Zoom or the phone. We're able to offer the same services as in our clinics.
Most people can represent themselves in court if they just have the documents and coaching they need from an attorney. We do that for them within the framework of an appointment.
On reaching rural areas
The biggest hurdle when working in rural areas is outreach. We don’t have TLSC attorneys on the ground that can help distribute materials and identify grassroots opportunities. We rely on partners and friends to help us get the word out about our services. We want to make it easy, so we've created downloadable digital and social flyers that are ready to share. Our most successful clinics are the ones where we have outreach support from the local communities.
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