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  Clinical Assistant Professor Alissa Rubin Gomez
For many people, situations arise in which legal services are necessary but not easily accessible. This is why Professor Alissa Rubin Gomez has made pro bono work a priority in her legal career and teaching at the University of Houston Law Center.
A clinical assistant professor teaching lawyering skills and strategies, Gomez’s research focuses on legal writing, pro bono and civil justice reform. Before working in legal aid and teaching, she was a commercial litigator and trial attorney at the Houston office of King & Spalding for 10 years.
After a successful run at the firm, Gomez decided to pursue the passion she always had for helping people by using her legal expertise in a way that would serve those in need. She joined Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the largest pro bono legal retainer in Texas, as executive director. Gomez worked there for six years, where she oversaw the pro bono program. She also did her own pro bono work in family law, immigration, property disputes and more.
When it comes to practicing pro bono, Gomez said that a person must have a license to help someone with a legal problem. When the work and legal services are free and there’s no expectation of payment, it makes it pro bono. She also said pro bono work has to be for someone unable to afford legal services, and it’s similar to the idea of volunteering.
“Pro bono work is specific to lawyers, in that no one else can volunteer the way a lawyer can,” she said.
When Gomez joined the Law Center in 2017, she wanted to bring pro bono into the legal classes she was teaching. She said getting students involved in pro bono during their education encourages them to view it as part of the culture and something to incorporate into their careers.
Now, pro bono work seems to be needed more than ever before. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was only one lawyer per 8,000 qualified people who needed legal help. Gomez said many who are living at the poverty line, especially in the economic fallout of COVID-19, might have problems with food stamps, housing issues or immigration. That’s why it’s crucial for students to get exposure to pro bono work now.
“It’s very hard to get a lawyer,” she said. “One in five get help who apply. That number hasn’t changed in decades.”
At the UH Law Center, students learn about pro bono work through legal aid clinics as well as in the classroom. In September, Gomez took on a new role as Pro Bono Facilitator, and in this position, she encourages students, faculty and staff to do more pro bono work and to come to her as a resource for finding opportunities. Before the pandemic and social distancing, those in need could come to in-person legal clinics and speak with law students about their cases. Now, the clinic has moved online.
Currently, the Law Center is coordinating a new program with Houston Volunteer Lawyers and the South Texas College of Law Houston where students will be able to meet safely with applicants to discuss their cases and help them with the process. Training for the students has begun, and the program will continue through spring 2021.
“Students get experience with actual client contact and report back to Houston Volunteer Lawyers,” Gomez said. “It takes about an hour per client, and students can do however much they can give.”
Gomez also incorporates a program called Free Legal Answers into her teaching and class exercises. The program was launched in 2017 and allows qualified clients to go online and get answers from a licensed Texas attorney. Often, Gomez will present real client questions from Free Legal Answers to students and have them develop responses in groups. Then, she will answer clients using what the students came up with. She said the program has been very successful, and they’ve answered thousands of questions over the years.
As far as the future, Gomez intends to continue incorporating pro bono into her lessons and ensure that students get involved and understand its vital role in law and society.
“Legal services are scarce,” she said. “The only way to bridge that gap is for lawyers in private practice to give their time.”
Briefcase 2020

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