LSJA is able to provide pro bono and sliding-scale post-conviction representation to a select number of individuals.
It is our hope to provide pro bono services to as many Texans as we possibly can.
We seek court appointments, supplement all of our work with frequent fundraising and grant applications and endeavor to keep our overhead low. Even then, however, we are unable to offer pro bono services to everyone who desires our legal help. We therefore offer a sliding-scale fee structure.
Why charge money at all? We are committed to representing as many individuals as we can. We recently analyzed data indicating that there are over 600 individuals convicted of the offense capitol murder for a crime committed before their 18th birthday. There are an additional 1700 serving time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for crimes they committed before their 18th birthday. We believe every youth or emerging adult serving time in our state prison system deserves quality post-conviction counsel. Only by charging a portion of our costs of that representation can we hope to reach even a fraction of those who need our services.
How can you provide quality representation at such low prices? Traditionally, clients have thought their attorney was very skilled if they charged a lot of money. You often hear “you get what you pay for,” but we also often hear clients complain that their previous attorney charged a lot of money and didn’t produce a lot of results. Is an attorney that charges $300/hour really twice as good as one that charges only $150/hour?
What if attorneys could run their businesses more carefully and thus be able to charge less? You get the same quality attorney at a lower price. We believe that price is not an accurate indicator of quality and that justice should no longer be available only to the wealthy.
In order to charge less, we have to cost less. Our attorneys have each agreed to accept salaries well below the average for their experience level. We accept donated furniture and purchase our equipment second hand. We share offices and rely as much on electronic materials as possible.
At the Lone Star Justice Alliance, we take advantage of the following factors to provide high quality representation for our clients:
A team approach: Similar to how an attending physician supervises a team of doctors, residents, and nurses caring for a patient in the hospital, all of our staff attorneys are supervised on every case by a supervising attorney. We also assign two attorneys to our cases. Thus if the primary attorney has a scheduling conflict, the secondary attorney is already in place to take over. This has the added benefit that our attorneys can check each other’s work and share their training and experience.
Focusing on what we do best: We are experts in juvenile justice and in particular in cases involving youth tried as adults. All of our clients must have been sentenced for a crime they committed before they turned 25.
Training and Mentoring: Each of our staff attorneys spend 40 hours on a course we designed in house to teach young lawyers how to best represent youth and emerging adults. The attorney will then be given a "mock" case and be asked to prepare the case for trial, where s/he will be critiqued by senior attorneys to improve technique and substantive arguments. Only after this training may an attorney begin to represent clients. Even then, the Executive Director reviews every document filed with a Court.
A systems approach: Doctors and pilots use checklists to prevent mistakes, and they use technology to detect issues before they become problems. We do the same. For example, we use a database system for tracking cases and hours billed, which helps our attorneys manage their caseload and allows them to focus on practicing law instead of getting bogged down in accounting, time tracking, and other administrative tasks. We also rely upon filing checklists and our internal resource folders to make sure that we are always utilizing the best arguments, research, and data for every client.
What will it cost? We charge a flat rate for all post-conviction juvenile lifer cases that includes attorney time, filling fees, and mitigation investigation services for state habeas representation. These cases typically take 5 to 7 years to litigate and we assume that each one will take approximately 400 hours of attorney time for each stage of the proceeding, 500 hours of mitigation and other investigative services, and 40 hours of administrative support.
Depending on the client and family's income, we will charge between $100,000 to $20,000. This works out to approximately $25/hour for those at the lowest income guidelines and around $115/hour for the highest. By comparison, survey results show that most Austin attorneys charge $200 - $450 an hour. The cost is determined by how high your household income is above the the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG).
More than 400%FPG
How do I determine where my income falls on the Federal Poverty Guidelines? The Federal Poverty Guidelines are based on two things: (1) household size and (2) household income. To use the chart below, first use the left column to find your household size. Then go right along that row to see where your household income falls on the chart.
Household = Client + spouse/parent + the number of dependents you can claim on your taxes. We use the IRS's definition of dependent (learn more here, IRS Publication 501). We do not count the the income of separated, estranged, or former spouse.
Income = We will consider all the income you reported on your taxes last year (or if your filing status was "married filing separately," the income on both your tax returns). That means your gross income before your taxes were deducted. If your income has changed significantly since your last tax return, we will use your current income, but we may ask for check stubs and other evidence of your current income.