SMU Dedman School of Law’s Legal Helpline honored by White House and Department of Justice
SMU Dedman School of Law’s community-supporting COVID-19 Legal Helpline honored by White House, Department of Justice
Recognition stems from SMU’s work in helping North Texas tenants navigate legal challenges during eviction crisis
DALLAS (SMU) –The White House and the U.S. Department of Justice recognized the pro-bono legal services SMU’s Dedman School of Law offered through its free COVID-19 Helpline to North Texans dealing with consumer, employment and immigration legal issues. The effort was honored for its response to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s call to action to the legal profession to ease the pandemic-related housing and eviction crisis.
Eviction moratoriums were expiring around the country when Garland called for help in August 2021, and SMU Dedman Law’s clinic faculty and students were already in place to respond.
Dedman Law launched the COVID-19 Helpline in June 2020 to assist North Texas residents and small business owners through a free legal helpline with matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as housing, immigration, and consumer protection.
Working under the supervision of SMU Law Clinic faculty, 75 students staffed the phone lines which received approximately 2,400 calls and helped 300 tenants throughout 2020-2021. The Helpline was also a collaborative effort with local legal service providers, law firms, and private pro bono attorneys.
“We are truly honored that the White House and the Department of Justice are recognizing the COVID-19 Legal Helpline - a wonderful project that shows how deeply committed SMU is to helping our students and to serving our community,” said Jennifer Collins, Judge James Noel Dean and professor of law in SMU Dedman School of Law. “I am so incredibly proud of our SMU Law School community and our committed partners for earning this very well-deserved recognition.”
SMU’s Dedman School of Law was one of 99 law schools in 35 states and Puerto Rico that committed their law schools to help prevent evictions. In just a few months, law students across the country dedicated nearly 81,000 hours to provide legal assistance to households and communities across the country.
“Five months ago, I asked the legal community to answer the call to help Americans facing eviction. Law students and lawyers from across the country stepped up to take on cases and assisted their clients and communities at a time when our country needed it the most. Today, our work is far from over, and making real the promise of equal justice under law remains our urgent and unfinished mission,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The SMU Law Civil Clinic continues to collaborate with community partners to provide assistance and representation for eviction prevention. The Clinic is also currently collaborating with a local nonprofit conducting research designed to provide better outcomes for families facing eviction through individual representation as well as advocacy at the local and state levels.
In 2021 the State Bar of Texas honored SMU Dedman School of Law with the W. Frank Newton Award for its exceptional dedication to legal services for low-income North Texans through the Helpline.
“The Helpline has become an important resource for the DFW community. I am proud of our law school’s response and our students’ eagerness to step up to the legal challenges the pandemic presents,” said Mary Spector, associate dean for clinics at SMU Dedman School of Law.