February 24, 2020
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has partnered with four of Houston’s most prominent law firms to let recently graduated civil litigation attorneys handle misdemeanor prosecutions in the county’s 16 justice of the peace courts.
“The program puts some of Houston’s best new lawyers in courtrooms to get trial experience while lightening the workload for prosecutors assigned to those courts, without costing taxpayers a dime,” said District Attorney Kim Ogg. “Because the lawyers are employed by large law firms, there is no added cost for Harris County.”
It’s a win for the law firms too. Baker Botts, Bracewell, Hunton Andrews Kurth and V&E are participating.
“We appreciate any opportunity for our young lawyers to get in the courtroom,” said Tony Visage with Bracewell. “The Harris County DA program provides real world experience, including working with opposing counsel and interacting with the Court.”
Jason Powers, a partner at participating firm Vinson & Elkins, said “We’re excited about this program, both because of the experience it can provide our lawyers and because it is an honor to provide a public service like this here in our hometown.”
V&E associate Anna Johnson, who tried her first case as a volunteer prosecutor, agreed.
“Being able to try a case before a jury as a first year associate was an incredible opportunity,” she said.
The program is overseen by Yvonne Taylor, chief of human resources and Johanna Craft, chief of the justice court section.
The program allows civil litigation attorneys, working with the approval of their law firm and under the authority of the Harris County District Attorney, to volunteer as pro bono attorneys in the high-volume JP courts, generally for one day a week for six months.
Before they begin, they attend three day-long trainings: a trial skills boot camp, a docket management training and shadowing a prosecutor for a day.
“It’s important for the development of the young lawyers at the law firms, not just for the trial advocacy skills, but also to expand their view of the community,” said Taylor, the HR chief. “It gives them an opportunity to give back, to make the community safer and helps them develop a sense of compassion for people in situations they might not see otherwise.”
Craft, chief of the justice section, said the help is welcome.
“These kinds of partnerships ensure that young lawyers get trial experience while law firms are able to use their pro bono hours to give back to the community in a coordinated and meaningful way.”
Participating Law Firms and Attorneys
Hunton, Andrews, and Kurth
Vinson & Elkins