In 2012, as a volunteer attorney working with survivors of domestic violence at Texas Advocacy Project, Inc. (TAP), I began to personally experience the lack of access to legal services for low-and moderate-income people. I noticed that we at TAP could never keep up with the needs of the “assisted pro se” program.
As part of TAP’s assisted pro se program, I provided limited scope representation which included drafting and reviewing petitions, providing legal advice and court coaching. I loved how providing these services empowered survivors of domestic violence to take control of their lives and their legal matters.
Through this experience, I decided to launch my own 501(c)(3) non-profit law firm, DiFilippo Holistic Law Center (DHLC), to help fill the tremendous unmet need for affordable access to the court system in Texas.
DHLC is a virtual law firm modeled after the Texas Advocacy Project, Inc. “assisted pro se” program to assist with bridging the justice gap in Texas. Through the firm’s website and virtual online platform, I’m able to provide flat-rate affordable legal services in the areas of family law, landlord/tenant, wills & estate planning and business formations.
The benefits of empowering people by providing affordable legal services goes beyond words and cannot be measured in a tangible form. No matter how big or small the legal issue, I feel I impact lives on a daily basis. Specifically, I am able to impact a human life in ways for-profit attorneys may not experience because money is not a barrier between me and my clients. As such, I am totally free to assist my clients in any manner I deem appropriate without regard to cost restrictions.
In addition, DHLC is funded solely through client fees and not grant funding. To me, this is another benefit because it creates freedom and autonomy by eliminating any restrictions which may accompany grant funding.
One of many challenges I’ve encountered while trying to create this new method of delivering legal services has been resistance within the established legal infrastructure in Texas, which includes the trusted resources used by self-represented civil litigants. Such resources include self-help centers, courts, online legal assistance programs, and free legal clinics.
For example, I am presently barred from leaving my brochures at the Travis county self-help center, the court house and the free legal clinics offered through the Volunteer Legal Services organization in Central Texas. I am also not permitted to be listed as a resource on Texas Law Help (online legal assistance program for self-represented civil litigants).
I believe the resistance derives from the fact that I charge fees for my services. It appears that people in the established legal infrastructure do not fully understand how a non-profit law firm can charge fees (and not obtain any grant funding) but yet be different from a for-profit law firm.
This resistance has resulted in an increased marketing challenge for me, to find ways outside the existing trusted resources to connect with Texans in need of affordable legal services.
While I do get some client referrals from other attorneys, most of my new clients come from online marketing efforts. Unfortunately, with the very small budget of a new non-profit, this is limited to running Google Adwords campaigns through my Google ad grant award. Without this free source of advertising, I’d be left with very few outreach platforms to connect with those in need.
Circumstances, however, are slowly getting better. I am excited to report that the Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services has recommended to the Texas Supreme Court to create “pipelines” to connect Texans in need of affordable civil legal services with attorneys providing limited scope representation. It appears that the justice gap problem (and alternative methods to deliver affordable legal services) is finally getting more attention on a statewide level. I am excited about this development and look forward to the eventual implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
I love what I do and would not change a thing even though doing good is really hard without the support of an infrastructure, but nevertheless I will persist.