Fort Worth attorney committed to helping indigent clients

Betty Dillard

Fort Worth law firm Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP has long been committed to providing pro bono legal services to individuals and organizations of limited financial means. “This commitment is consistent with the ethical responsibility the legal profession places on lawyers to provide pro bono legal services,” said Managing Partner Dee Kelly Jr. “Kelly Hart also believes that pro bono work provides our attorneys with unique opportunities for personal and professional development.” Kelly Hart’s first organized pro bono policy was implemented in March 2009. Since then, the firm has increased annual pro bono hours by 200 percent, and the number of participating attorneys by 300 percent. In 2013, the firm boasted unprecedented partner participation with 41 percent of partners working on pro bono matters. Kelly Hart attorneys contributed more than 2,600 hours of pro bono service last year. Eleven attorneys and one paralegal were admitted to the 2013 State Bar of Texas Pro Bono College.

Shauna J. Wright, a partner in Kelly Hart’s litigation section and an experienced trial attorney, is the driving force behind building, propelling and fostering the firm’s pro bono effort and commitment. Applying best practices from the formal discipline of project management, she formed a firm pro bono committee and brought systemic organization to Kelly Hart’s pro bono policies. Wright, a Fellow of the Texas Bar Association, collaborates with the Tarrant County Bar Association and co-chairs Tarrant Volunteer Attorney Services, a program of Tarrant County Bar Foundation. Through her leadership of TVAS, Wright has coordinated a countywide effort to encourage and engage local Tarrant County attorneys to provide legal services – from family law and estate planning to fair housing practices and consumer matters – for the indigent community. Additionally, Wright and her committee, through TVAS, remain in constant contact with legal aid organizations and other community services programs to support pro bono programs and develop a referral system for care. In the past year, thanks to Wright’s dedicated endeavors, Kelly Hart hosted three in-house events to offer support, continuing education, mentors for pro bono matters and opportunities for attorneys to accept representation of indigent clients. Additionally, Wright managed two different pro bono events this year that included summer clerks – further establishing a culture of pro bono priority in the firm.

“Shauna has established a culture both inside the firm and in the legal community of support pro bono efforts,” Dee Kelly Jr. said. “In a short period of time, she has created a means to access the legal system, made life changing improvements in the provision of legal services to the poor, and led the Fort Worth legal community in this effort. Her tireless work will have a long-lasting impact in this community.” Earlier this year, Wright received the 2014 Pro Bono Coordinator Award from the State Bar of Texas. The Pro Bono Coordinator Award is presented to an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to the delivery of and access to legal services for the poor, while serving as the pro bono coordinator for a volunteer attorney organization or law firm. “Shauna Wright has answered the call to do pro bono work,” said Roland K. Johnson, managing partner at Harris, Finley & Bogle PC. “She leads by way of best example and encourages many others to join the cause. Shauna has given excellent leadership to this program that gives meaning to the phrase ‘and justice for all.’” Wright recently took time from her practice and pro bono work to talk to the Business Press.

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What inspired you to become an attorney? My grandparents set the example for our family. They grew up in the Depression, both served in the U.S. Navy and both obtained their master’s degrees. It was just understood that all of us would get an education and make an impact. The result is a big family full of teachers, nurses, military – a lot of helpers. Being a lawyer is just one way to be a part of a greater good.

Describe your leadership style. I try to lead by example. I have learned from my mentors to do what needs to be done and others will follow. This is true with clients, associates, friends, volunteers. It just works.

Congratulations on receiving the 2014 Pro Bono award. Your enthusiasm and dedication for pro bono activities is clearly evident. How have you successfully built the firm’s pro bono program and how are you able to sustain it? Put simply, start at the top. Our firm leadership is a powerful force, made up of some of the best and brightest leaders I have known. It sends a message when our managing partner is the first to take a case at a clinic, and our entire executive committee contributes to pro bono campaigns. Leadership sets the tone for a culture of giving. That’s where Kelly Hart shines. Of course, you need a strong policy, volunteers need support, and we offer lots of appreciation – all of those things fall into place when leaders are on the front line.

You also co-chaired the inaugural TVAS program. Did you apply the same process you put in place at Kelly Hart to recruit local attorneys in TVAS? Yes, we used a similar framework on a larger scale. The Tarrant County Bar Association and Tarrant County Bar Foundation leadership served as ambassadors for us from the very beginning. And, our judges have been critical in the start-up and sustained effort. Once you get those names and faces in a program, the collaboration just happens. People want to help, mentors come out to guide volunteers, and the result is unstoppable momentum. Tarrant County is well-known for philanthropy, including the lawyers. All we had to do was connect the need with the providers.

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You were formerly employed as a prosecutor for the state of Florida where you were appointed director of the Clay County State Attorney’s Office and the chief of the Special Victims Unit, while also prosecuting murders of small children. How have those experiences played into your career and your advocacy today? It is humbling to work with people suffering unspeakable grief. It was a privilege for me to champion their cause. It can also be a challenge to balance fairness in the system and juggle politics in emotional and complex situations. I think any time you see the world through another person’s lens, you are improved. You are more effective. That is useful skill in any situation, any job, any conflict. I think it makes me a better lawyer and a better advocate to have a variety of experiences.

What are some of the unmet needs in the community you’ve been able to address? We have seen a lot of veterans and their survivors, yet the need continues to be great for those returning from combat, retirees and deploying troops. Over the past year, we have also been able to help some nonprofit agencies with their business formations and bylaws to multiply their effects in various areas. What more needs to be done? The need for advocates for children is overwhelming as well as estate planning and family law. Our lawyers and paralegals really want to give their time and talents. It is a great satisfaction to build that bridge between the need and the solution.